Treasures from the Vault: Homer Gordon Davisson

Katy Thompson, Associate Director of Education

Born in Blountsville, Indiana, in 1866, Homer Gordon Davisson made a name for himself in Fort Wayne as the drawing and painter instructor at the Fort Wayne Art School from 1911-1947. Before teaching others, Davisson studied around the US, including at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Art Students League in New York, and the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and abroad. Though he never exhibited overseas, he spent three years in Europe studying in Munich, Holland, and France. An Indiana (Hoosier) Impressionist landscape painter and member of the Hoosier School, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art holds over 40 of Davisson’s paintings, drawings, and prints.

Primarily exhibiting pastoral landscapes at the Hoosier Salon, Indiana Artists Club, and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Davisson’s work features flowers and Indiana landscapes, as shown above in three of his works. In line with the Hoosier School, or Hoosier Group, founded in 1859 following an exhibition in Chicago of five Hoosier painters (Otto Stark, Theo (T.C.) Steele, Richard Buckner Gruelle, John Ottis Adams, and William Forsyth), these artists from the late 19th century returned from study abroad (all were in Munich in the late 1880s, like Davisson), took up residency in Indiana, and began to paint. Following Steele, who opened a studio in Brown County in 1907 to paint en plein air (in the open air), the group founded one of America’s original art colonies and, arguably, the premiere Midwest colony. The Brown County forest and hills provided the necessary elements for en plein air, Impressionist painting: real places, natural light, and nature.

Though not much is written on Davisson in comparison to the founding members of the Hoosier School, their influence on his work is evident in the group of paintings pulled from the vault for your perusal. Peonies, seen below, is a still life of peonies cut and placed in a vase, indoors. The splotches of paint on the table indicate fallen petals, and the peonies on the right are particularly wilted. Multiple colors and sizes overflow the round, blue vase holding the flowers. The rest of the work is plain–a darker background that leaks into the dark surface the vase rests on; the vase itself casts a shadow, the light entering the canvas from the left. Perhaps an early work, a study of the flowers themselves, or painted with his class, this work is not indicative of Davisson’s stays in Brown County.

A painting of peonies in a blue vase. The background is a mix of blues and the surface the vase rests on is a light green with splotches of color indicating fallen peals. The flowers are in full bloom, pinks and reds and whites. Those on the left have begun to wilt, while those to the right and center are full and bright.
Homer Gordon Davisson, American, 1866-1957. Peonies. Oil on masonite, 20th century. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James A. Bixler, 1993.06. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Along with stays in the artist colony, Davisson kept a house on 331 W Pontiac St in Fort Wayne and a cottage in Somerset, IN, near the Mississinewa River. The painting below is of the garden outside his home studio. To the left we can see a side of the house, with other buildings just beyond, visible in the tree line. Front and center are the flowers: pink, white, purple, and red. Impressionists painted to capture a specific moment in time; what flowers has Davisson depicted?

An outdoor scene of the artists' studio shows the side of a building to the far left with other buildings behind partially concealed by a green tree line. In the front are hollyhocks-red, pink, white, and purple. In the foreground is a dirt path leading toward the building.
Homer Gordon Davisson, American, 1866-1957. Back of the Davisson Studio. Oil on artist’s board, ca. 1950. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James A. Bixler, 1993.04. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

The skinny, tall stalks are similar to delphinium‘s but their colors are darker, blues and purples, while foxglove, though they have similar colors, sport a more conical shape. Hollyhocks, however, are both the correct shape and color, as well as an older flower befitting the time period. The lush greens of the trees and grass, along with the full blooms, suggest a summer scene. Painted en plein air, Davisson captured the colors and vibrancy of a summer afternoon outside his studio. The building casts a shadow on the left, blocking some flowers from full sun while others on the far right of the composition have grown taller and fuller along the dirt path. The thick paint and blurry brushstrokes are in a similar style to Peonies and reflect an Impressionist influence.

While the title of this third painting provides us with the type of flower, poppy, it presents a different view than the previous two. Here, we are zoomed into the flowers but, unlike with Peonies, we are outside. The perspective suggests we are lying in the field amongst the flowers, as they are situated at our eye level with the green grasses above them. The grass is angled, indicating a calm summer breeze is blowing. The sky is obscured by greens and light browns, another indication that we are enveloped in the field of grass, poppies, and cattail-like lines. The thick greens and reds are broken up with splotches of purple and blue; a similar color palette to his studio painting but missing any solid structures or dirt path, as we saw in the foreground in the previous work. The flowers take centerstage, like in Peonies, but in their natural environment, like in Studio, a perfect mix of the two previous works.

A green field of grasses and poppies.
Homer Gordon Davisson, American, 1866-1957. Poppies in Flanders Field. Oil on masonite. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James A. Bixler, 1993.07. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Looking at just a sampling of Davisson’s paintings, we can see more similarities than differences. Does the FMWoA need over 40 of these in its permanent collection? While Davisson is remembered as the “Dean of Indiana Artists”, he never reached the acclaim that the original Hoosier School founders did. Despite this, as a native Hoosier, it is important for the FWMoA, as a museum representing the Indiana community, to preserve and share his legacy with visitors. The similar paintings show that Davisson found his style early and stuck with it, unlike other artists who experiment with subject and/or media. We may ask ourselves: is painting the same thing over and over again boring? The answer: to each their own! Whether the style changes or remains the same, a sizable sampling of an artist’s works help us paint the picture of the life they led, the artworks they were influenced by and influenced, and determine their place in art history. Davisson represents a regional artist who brought the European Impressionist movement local and made it his own.

3 Replies to “Treasures from the Vault: Homer Gordon Davisson”

  1. I’m not quite sure what the commentary is supposed to convey. Is the meaning, 40 paintings by the same artist is considered too many? Painting flowers is “boring” even though the paintings (at least the ones chosen for this article), are different in setting, type of flowers, color palette and tone? The only reason to have them is because he’s a native Hoosier? Are they every hung for the public to view or are they always in the museum’s storage? I find them charming, especially “Poppies in Flanders Field”.

    1. We love our Davisson’s! The article is showing that museum’s often hold multiple works by an artist in their collection, whether the artist experimented in their style or not, to tell the story of their life and work. One reason we have them is because Davisson is a Hoosier and tells the story of Impressionism on a regional level. None of his works are currently on display, as our exhibits change every 6-8 weeks, but they have been exhibited in the past two years in various shows!

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