Fired by their shared admiration for the artist, collector Roland Sabates, M.D., and Albrecht-Kemper Museum director Dr. Brett Knappe teamed up to organize a major exhibition of Ross Braught (1898-1983), who built a significant presence in Kansas City during the course of his career.
Now on view at the Albrecht-Kemper, “The Art of Ross Eugene Braught: Man of Imagination” contains nearly 80 works by the artist, offering an excellent overview of his accomplishments. Braught established strong connections to Kansas City through his two stints (1931–1935 and 1947–1962) teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute as well as having works in local institutional collections; his major mural, “Mnemosyne and the Four Muses,” is a cornerstone of the collection of the Kansas City Music Hall.
Braught followed a path similar to that of many artists of his time. Born in Pennsylvania, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he received a scholarship to study in Europe. For many American artists, an opportunity to study abroad was considered an essential part of one’s education. An oil from 1922, “Normandy Village,” is a charming work from this period of his career.
Back in the States, Braught continued working and exhibiting while living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Woodstock, New York, in 1928 and continued to augment his printmaking skills. Nearly half of the works in the exhibition are some type of print: linocuts, linoleum cut prints, lithographs. “Birches,” a color lithograph from the Sabates collection, depicts the intersection of trees and their shadows in a snowy landscape. Braught had excelled at drawing trees in his youth and this theme was one he would return to over and over again throughout his life.
“Mako Sica,” a lithograph from the museum’s permanent collection, is the study for the 1935 oil painting, “Tchaikovsky’s Sixth” at the Nelson-Atkins. The title translates to Badlands, which the artist visited in South Dakota in 1933. Although the dramatically rendered landscape won first prize in graphic arts at the 1934 Midwestern Artists Exhibition, John Bender, a local collector and connoisseur found it unacceptable. “. . .this print represents nothing that any sober human being ever saw in this world or dreamed of in the next,” he wrote. Braught’s colleagues at the Art Institute defended his vision. To our 21st-century eyes, it has lost its ability to shock but remains an intriguing interpretation of a rugged landscape. Sabates included a quote from William Blake, an artist much admired by Braught in the catalogue: “. . . but to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
Braught lived on the island of Tortola for nearly ten years; “Untitled (Tropical Scene)” is one of several works featuring elements of the Caribbean landscape. He produced many works on paper during this time, mainly detailed drawings — the best example here is “Union Jack,” also from the collection of the Albrecht-Kemper.
The most surprising works are those from the 1950s, hanging together in the museum’s Tower Gallery. The artist began to experiment with space, manipulating planes and redefining gravity. “Venus from the Sea,” presents the viewer with various nudes, human and sculpted, defying any traditional organization of composition.
Braught moved back to Pennsylvania after he left the Kansas City Art Institute and became a virtual recluse for the last two decades of his life. He continued to make drawings, such as “Wolf Woods,” which were provocative intertwinings of figures and trees. Knappe feels strongly that Braught deserves to be re-evaluated as an artist: “The artwork Braught left behind is strong. The sinuous use of line, complicated planes of space, and dynamic use of color, all suggest a talented artist who has much to share with the art world today.”
The exhibition offers us a glimpse into the life and work of a restless artist who was equally adept at celebrating reality or embracing his fantasies.
“The Art of Ross Eugene Braught: Man of Imagination” continues at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, 2818 Frederick Ave, St. Joseph, through Jan. 6. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults; $2 for seniors, $1 for students with valid ID, and free to children under 6. For more information, 816 233.7003 or albrecht-kemper.org
A book, “The Art of Ross Eugene Braught: Man of Imagination” by Roland Sabates, will be published in May 2019.