Landmark Frank Stella painting lands at MFAH thanks to the artist's love forPeter Marzio
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has acquired Frank Stella’s 1961 painting, Palmito Ranch, from the artist’s renowned "Benjamin Moore" series — thanks to the respect the museum's deceased director Peter C. Marzio endears.
The piece is part museum purchase, part special gift from the artist, who donated a portion of the work in Marzio's memory. Building upon the MFAH’s longstanding commitment to the work of Frank Stella, Palmito Ranch was among the last works Peter Marzio proposed to the museum's board before his death in December 2010.
“Peter Marzio was everything you would want from the director of a great museum,” Stella said in a statement. “I got to know Peter when the MFAH invited me to create murals for the 1982 Stella by Starlight gala; from then on I counted him a friend.”
Now on view in the American galleries at the Beck Building, Palmito Ranch is a large canvas, measuring 77 by 77 inches, covered in saturated yellow paint. Combining horizontal painted lines with raw canvas, Stella created a measured composition diverging from the snaking lines of the other works in the series.
Named for the popular brand of commercial paint used throughout the series, the "Benjamin Moore" pieces were each named after a major military battle from United States history, with the new MFAH piece titled after the Texas-fought Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last Battle of the Civil War.
After creating his celebrated “Black Paintings” in the winter of 1958-59, Stella used the "Benjamin Moore" series of the early 1960s to explore color and starkly reductive compositions. Painted during Stella’s marriage to Barbara Rose — the noted art critic known for unearthing the earliest characteristics of Minimal Art — the bold, simple paintings would set the American stage for the minimal art work that flourished at the turn of the 1970s.
The artist has enjoyed a long history in Houston. His first outdoor sculpture, Decanter, was installed at the MFAH’s Cullen Sculpture Garden in 1987. Ten years later, he created a large mural for the Moores Opera House on the campus of the University of Houston.
With nearly 20 Stella pieces already in its collection, the MFAH also recently acquired Black Series II from 1967. An early experiment in lithography, this collection of eight prints, 15 by 22 inches each, are recognized as some of the artist’s most important graphic statements. These prints will go on view in October.
While the museum maintain examples of Stella’s later prints, the Black Series II now fills the MFAH print department’s gap in the revolutionary printmaking of the 1960s.