The Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, overlooking the lake in a public park off Route 25A, was founded a hundred years ago by August Heckscher, a German-born industrialist and philanthropist whose grandson, August II, was the New York City Parks Commissioner in the Lindsay administration. The senior Heckscher established the park and museum that bear his name in 1920 as gifts to the people of Huntington, “especially the children.” Three of his grandchildren served as the models for “Youth Eternal,” a sculptural fountain by Evelyn Beatrice Longman, which he commissioned for the museum’s lobby.
The Heckscher’s wide-ranging collection includes European and American art spanning three centuries. To celebrate its centenary, the museum is focusing on works by regional artists, from Edward Moran’s atmospheric 1872 study of fog-bound sailboats in New York Bay (one of Heckscher’s original donations) to a pair of mixed-media works on paper from Bastienne Schmidt’s Underwater Topography series, completed last year. Comprising more than 100 works, “Locally Sourced: Collecting Long Island Artists,” on view through March 15, illustrates the diversity of the region’s creative community, with something to please everyone’s taste, including the children’s.
The highlight, however, is a painting with a decidedly adult theme: George Grosz’s 1926 masterpiece, “Eclipse of the Sun,” a mocking critique of the Weimar-era German government by one of the foremost Berlin Dadaists. The artist, who lived in Huntington in his later years and taught art at the museum, brought it with him when he fled the Nazis. After his death, the Heckscher bought it, in part with money raised by local children tossing coins into the Longman fountain. It is unquestionably the most important painting in any Long Island museum collection, but it’s not the only gem the Heckscher owns.
The exhibition is divided into four themes, and each has its share of outstanding works. “Artistic Exchanges” surveys the art colonists who made Long Island, especially the East End, a destination for successive generations, beginning with the Tile Club in the 1870s. Among them was William Merritt Chase, founder of the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, who is represented by a small but characteristic view of the sandy terrain near his Southampton studio. Landscapes by Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran—whose East Hampton home, now a museum, is lovingly depicted by Theodore Wores—capture the bucolic surroundings that attracted them to the area, where they settled in 1884.
Among the works by the next wave of artistic transplants, abstract and representational alike, are fine examples by James Brooks, Elaine de Kooning, Jimmy Ernst, Ibram Lassaw, Alfonso Ossorio, Betty Parsons, Jackson Pollock, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers and Esteban Vicente, all of whom gravitated to the East End. In addition to Porter’s sensitive portraits of his wife and daughter, there’s a handsome bronze head of Porter himself by St. James native Robert White. Brooks and Lassaw are among the many others immortalized in Hans Namuth’s 1962 photograph, “Artists on the Beach.”
The area around the museum also boasts an exceptional complement of artists, as shown by the “Huntington’s Own” theme. In addition to Grosz, chief among them is the modernist master Arthur Dove, whose Centerport home belongs to the Heckscher. Together with his wife, the painter Helen Torr, Dove was drawn to the local scenery, on which he based what he called extractions, rather than abstractions. His 1941 watercolor, “Untitled Centerport #2,” for example, uses translucent strokes and simplified forms to evoke sails catching the wind and shimmering sunlight reflected on water.
Female artists are highlighted under the “Women’s Voices” theme, which includes noteworthy paintings by Torr, Parsons, de Kooning, Louise P. Sloane, Pat Ralph and Lisle Spilman, and sculpture by Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas and Esphyr Slobodkina, whose “The Typewriter Bird” amusingly re-configures the machine’s parts as bristly plumage. Hedda Sterne’s stylized take on an outboard motor and Miriam Schapiro’s three examples of the mixed-media work for which she coined the term femmage, are among the standouts here.
The most comprehensive theme is “Long Island Environments,” including farm fields, beaches, woodlands, backyard gardens and ponds. Scattered throughout the museum’s four galleries, paintings interpret the landscape in styles that run the gamut from the meticulous naturalism of Alfred Thompson Bricher’s shoreline scenes to Jane Wilson’s impressionistic canvas, “Midsummer Midnight.” Among the photographs, Neil Scholl’s panoramic view of Orient State Park contrasts with Stuart McCallum’s close-up, “Beech Study #2,” which zeroes in on the tree’s convolutions. As “Locally Sourced” demonstrates, artists of all persuasions continue to find inspiration here.