In 1959, the university received a major additional of almost 12,500 artworks to its collection through the estate of American artist Mahonri M. Young, a grandson of Brigham Young. This remarkable gift and purchase included thousands of pieces by Young, as well as a trove of works from the collection of his wife, Dorothy Weir Young, daughter of notable Impressionist artist Julian Alden Weir. Dorothy’s collection included her own work, over 1,000 pieces by her father, and many artworks that her father had collected.
This significant selection represented three generations of the Weir family as influencers in American Art, as well as the largest single collection of Mahonri Young’s work. With important examples of American artwork collected by J. Alden Weir and Mahonri Young included, it established American Art as the core focus of the university’s collection. It also established the Museum’s works on paper collection with significant prints by European, American, and Japanese masters that the artists collected as source materials.
John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), The Flower Garden, c.1900, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
John Henry Twachtman probably painting this intimate view of wildflowers in the uncultivated gardens of his rural Connecticut home. Twachtman paints the windswept phlox with freely sweeping brushstrokes, capturing the essence of their colorful array rather than specific details.
Considered one of the key players of American Impressionism, Twachtman’s Impressionst approach influenced contemporaries like his friend Julian Alden Weir. Twachtman and Weir developed a lifelong friendship. Twachtman often spent time painting at Weir Farm, also in rural Connecticut, and the two artists influenced each other’s paintings, etchings, and drawings. Weir admired and collected his friend’s artwork, once declaring, “I would sooner lose my right arm than sell one of Johnnie Twachtman’s paintings!” This painting was donated to the museum as part of Weir’s collection in 1959.
John Septimus Sears (1875-1969), The Kodak Fiend (1/30), 20th century. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Artist John “Jack” Sears studied cartooning in New York and worked as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines. His animation style is evident in this witty caricature that captures the rising craze of amateur photography in turn-of-the-century America, largely due to the Kodak Company’s introduction of personal cameras. Like the stealthy figure in this bronze, people could be found snapping candid pictures whenever and wherever they went. Harper’s Weekly magazine reported, “[The camera’s click] is heard on the street, in the cars, at the theatre,… in fact, wherever men and women congregate.”
Sears grew up in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City, where he formed an early friendship with fellow artist enthusiast Mahonri Young, and the two remained very close throughout life. This sculpture was part of Mahonri’s personal collection, donated to the university following his death in 1957.
Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919), Young Peasant Girl, 1875, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Though Julian Alden Weir became a leader in American Impressionist circles, early works such as this portrait manifest his commitment to academic realism. Weir painted this work while studying in Paris in the 1870s, during which time, he first encountered Impressionist art, which he declared to be “worse than the Chamber of Horrors.”
Like many artists of the time, Weir took interest in the life and landscapes of French peasants and traveled into the countryside for inspiration. The girl’s fully modeled face reflects his skill in rendering anatomy; he conveys a straightforward account of her expressionless visage, faded blue apron, and bonnet. Such images of French peasants were considered to be exotic and romanticized subjects and became popular themes in both French and American painting.
Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919), The Hunter, c.1893, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Julian Alden Weir became one of the leading figures in American Impressionism. He experimented with various styles and approaches, using subjects from life on his rural Connecticut farm. This portrait of his nephew following a hunt takes after grand European portraits of early centuries. However, the vivid color and short brushstrokes show Weir’s interest in French Impressionism, while its flat, two-dimensional quality reveal his love of Japanese prints, which he and his fellow artists collected and studied.
Mahonri M. Young (1877-1957), Right to the Jaw, 1926, bronze. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Utah-born Mahonri Young was regarded as one of the America’s most prestigious sculptors in the early 20th century. Mahonri created his dynamic artworks based on observation of life and labor. In the 1920s, he created a series of bronzes depicting prizefighters, inspired by his own interest in the sport and its rising popularity.
The well-defined musculature of the athletes in this sculpture evidences Young’s academic training in New York and Paris and his thorough understanding of the human form in motion. In 1928, Vanity Fair magazine praised his approach, “Mahonri Young is not interested in the beautiful human body. He deals instead with the efficient human body, the struggle for superiority as it is dramatized in glistening sinews and sullen ferocity under the lights of the prize ring.”
Mahonri M. Young (1877-1957), Riding the Girder, c.1940, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Mahonri captured the daily rhythm of life in a variety of artistic media and considered his images of everyday workers “a tribute to honest toil.” Here, he depicts two men heroically poised atop the steel beam that soars above the New York skyline. Such girders were essential in constructing the large, urban buildings for which new York was becoming famous, including the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in the 1930s. Mahonri’s many works on this theme are an ode to the intrepid laborers involved in the great era of early skyscraper construction in New York City.
Paul Manship (1885-1966), Playfulness, 1912, bronze. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Paul Manship’s elegant, Greek-inspired style made him one of the stand-out sculptors of the early 20th century. Manship studied in Rome, and it was there, immersed in ancient classical sculpture than he developed his linear modernist style. Playfulness, cast during his last year in Italy, exudes streamlined harmony that seems to echo the tender relationship between mother and son.
Manship developed a warm friendship with fellow New York sculptor, Mahonri Young. Mahonri considered Paul a “friendly rival,” as Manship’s modern aesthetic countered Young’s own sense of realism; yet the two friends often visited and holidayed together. Mahonri owned this sculpture of Manship’s, which was part of the Young family donation to the university.