As we brace ourselves for the city’s sesquicentennial hoo-ha on July 31 (Fireworks! Parades! Vendors! Tens of thousands of Downtown celebrants, spectators, vendors, politicians and assorted scoundrels!), here’s a story about another 150th anniversary.
In 1871, Paris art dealer/promoter extraordinaire Paul Durand-Ruel figured out how sell art and make serious money at the game. During the following decades, he employed then-sophisticated marketing techniques to sell canvases by obscure Impressionist and Barbizon artists. He bought up their production, identified them as geniuses and trumpeted the “exclusivity of the artist’s production.” During Durand-Ruel’s long run, he bought and sold 1,000 Monets, 1,500 Renoirs and more than 2,000 Picassos.
Forget collaboration and partnership — a profitable and persistent myth implies that great art only comes from inspired geniuses working in lonely splendor.
Yet during the long history of our community, enduring partnerships between artists have brought strength and power to their shared endeavors, creating work that neither could have produced singly. Here are two such tandems.
Artus and Anne van Briggle
Anne and Artus met in Paris in 1896 while both were art students in their 20s. They soon became engaged and moved to Colorado Springs in 1899, hoping that the drier climate would cure Artus’ tuberculosis. For the next two years, she taught school while he worked on designs and glazes for their nascent pottery business. He succeeded in recreating the centuries-old matte glazes of the Sung Dynasty, but his increasingly fragile health required Anne to take over the pottery’s operations in 1901. The business grew rapidly, and Anne entered their work in multiple competitions, culminating in the Paris Salon of 1903, to which she sent 24 pieces, all marked by both their names. They won two gold, one silver and 12 bronze medals. Their obscure little pottery became world-famous overnight.
Artus’ health continued to deteriorate, and he died on July 4, 1904. Anne took the reins, building a powerful national brand and a sustainable business. She eventually remarried, sold the firm and moved to Denver. The pottery remained for more than a century, closing in 2012. Collectors worldwide have long prized pieces created during the earliest years. Luckily for us, the Pioneers Museum has one of the finest collections of early van Briggle in the world. Absent their too-brief partnership and collaboration, would either have become major artists? Probably not.
Adolf Dehn and Lawrence Barrett
Dehn (born 1895 in Waterville, Minnesota) and Barrett (born 1897 in Guthrie, Oklahoma) had lifetime careers as professional artists. Dehn studied at the Minneapolis Art Institute and then at the Art Students League in New York before leaving for Europe in 1920, where he stayed for a decade. Returning to New York just as the Great Depression took hold, the prolific Dehn slowly established himself as a significant artist.
In 1920, Lawrence Barrett’s family moved him to Colorado Springs, hoping to hasten his recovery from TB. He enrolled at The Broadmoor Art Academy, recovered and eked out a modest living as an artist for the next 15 years. He became the Fine Arts Center’s instructor of lithography and etching in 1938.
Just a year later, the impecunious Dehn arrived in Colorado Springs thanks to funding from a Guggenheim scholarship. The “endless waste” of the prairies hadn’t impressed him, but reaching Colorado Springs he was inspired by a “landscape so magnificent that I decided to stay.” He did sketches, watercolors and drew two lithographs in the first weeks of his stay, including one that “seems to be a very good one.” Both were printed by Dehn’s new acquaintance, Lawrence Barrett.
Dehn’s hunch was right. Art historian Clinton Adams describes “Spanish Peaks” as “rich and powerful … large in scale and complex in execution.” It was the beginning of an extraordinary partnership, one that resulted in scores of masterful works by the two artists. In 1946, Dehn and Barrett authored a comprehensive book, “How to Draw and Print Lithographs” and illustrated “Selected Tales of Guy de Maupassant.” Together, they depicted mountain landscapes, rodeos, parties, burlesque dancers, the Manhattan skyline and many other subjects. A 1949 print, L.B. and A. D. shows the artist and the printer at work in Barrett’s lithography studio — two amiable middle-aged guys at work.
Thanks, guys! You did good.