An Enduring Legacy: The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Collection of Impressionist and Modern Art opened on June 14th at the Dallas Museum of Art. The museum’s 45-foot-high Barrel Vault Gallery designed by the celebrated architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, which originally housed Claes Oldenburg’s monumental sculpture Stake Hitch, is now the home of a comparably quiet display of Impressionist and Modern art masterpieces. The new exhibit includes a few unremarkable pieces of furniture previously owned by the museum’s star benefactors, the late Margaret and Eugene McDermott, who lived with the priceless artworks in their Dallas home.
Displayed on one of the McDermott’s coffee tables in the gallery, as if it had been casually lying around their living room for decades, is a “coffee-table” book designed by the Austin office of Pentagram. Reflections: by Margaret Milam McDermott and Richard Robson Brettell, was published by Bright Sky Press in 2012 to accompany the An Enduring Legacy exhibition but the book sat in storage until the show opened this summer–six years after it was printed.
When Pentagram Austin began working on the book with Margaret McDermott in 2011, the longtime patron of the arts, education, and healthcare in Dallas, was a spry 99 years old and still going strong. Margaret, who was generous to a fault and the single largest benefactor in the DMA’s history, wanted to keep the book and her transformative final bequest of 32 19th- and early 20th-century artworks to the DMA under wraps until after her passing. She died on May 3rd, 2018 at the age of 106 and the exhibition opened at the DMA the following month.
Among the masterworks featured in the exhibition are paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Henry Moore.
Born in Austin in 1912, Margaret studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and during the Great Depression wrote for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News, where she was society editor and covered debutante balls and charity events. Her husband Eugene McDermott, who died in 1973, was a co-founder of Texas Instruments. The couple married in 1952 and the combination of Eugene’s business success and their shared love of travel and art set them on a lifelong journey of buying and collecting artworks.
Over the years, the McDermotts donated more than 3,100 works of art to the DMA, including Aristide Maillol’s sculpture Flora (1911) and Vincent van Gogh’s painting River Bank in Springtime (1887). In 2005, Margaret bestowed the Dallas Museum of Art with Claude Monet’s Water-Lily Pond―The Clouds (1903), one of the most important Impressionist paintings ever held in private hands in Texas. The painting is positioned prominently on the front cover of Reflections with its famous companion, Monet’s 1905 oil painting Water Lilies, featured on the back. The pair of priceless masterpieces hung on the walls of the McDermott’s Garden Room until Margaret passed-away last May.
Richard Brettell, the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas, and one of the foremost authorities on Impressionism and French painting of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, wrote the introduction and co-authored the book.
The McDermott’s 70s era house located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas was filled with their most prized and personal acquisitions. The couple literally lived with their art. This fact, and the unusual but charming juxtapositions of priceless masterpieces hanging throughout their elegant, but relatively modest home in today’s standards, gave the Pentagram designers a visual theme for the book.
The DMA’s head photographer Brad Flowers and his staff photographed, or sourced, the majority of the art collection featured in the book and he and Allison V. Smith, Stanley Marcus’ granddaughter and a friend of the McDermott family, documented many of the collection’s most important artworks in their humble home settings. Smith and Flowers photographed Claude Monet’s The Tea Set (1872) hanging on a red brick wall over a couch in the Garden Room, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Blonde Woman Combing Her Hair (1882-83) over the fireplace in the Library, Paul Cezanne’s The Rooftops (1898) in the Small Dining Area, Edgar Degas’s Dancer with A Fan (1979) in a hallway and a dozen more masterworks shot in conventional locations in and around the residence.
Another benefit of the design team having access to the actual artworks, often in their original frames, was the ability to photograph the vintage labels, shipping instructions, price tags and handwritten notes, found on the back of the paintings. The images of that haphazard documentation, is featured on the front and back flysheets of Reflections.
A set of graphic maps in the book, designed by the Pentagram team, plot selected works from the McDermott’s numerous purchases of artwork from all over the world and an index in the back of the book catalogs the benefactor’s game-changing gift to the DMA. The photographs of priceless masterworks hanging in their unpretentious settings are emphasized with layout–scale and pacing–throughout the book. The environmental images used in combination with archival imagery, snapshots, and personal portraits by Nan Coulter, another family friend, gives the book a friendly, approachable persona―much like Margaret McDermott herself.