The appeal of the nude form has gripped artists for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans set the bar high; since then artists from Michelangelo to Auguste Rodin to Gustave Courbet to today's Charles Ray and John Currin have dug into this timeless subject with the combination of sensitivity and boldness the nude requires. We return to the human body again and again because it speaks directly to our universal and intimate daily existence.
The late, great Dallas philanthropist Cary M. Maguire (1928-2021) amassed a fascinating collection of modern and contemporary nudes in two and three dimensions. These bronzes and paintings were a prominent part of his family's overall collection, which also includes presidential artifacts and historical documents. The Maguire nudes tell the story of 20th century artists' evolving relationship with the naked form, ranging from the idealized neoclassical in the bronze sculptures to more personal and domestic portraits in the paintings.
Maguire, a popular and conscientious oilman, was probably best known for his robust relationship with Southern Methodist University. His contributions helped establish SMU's Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, and he also founded the Maguire Energy Institute in 1974 at SMU's Cox School of Business.
The Maguire collection, some of which is included in Heritage Auctions
' Sept. 8 Fine & Decorative Arts Showcase Auction, features nudes by a trio of painters who also happened to be impressive and notable commercial illustrators: Howard Rogers, Ramon Kelley and Joe Bowler. All of them developed their styles as prolific commercial artists in the heyday of hand-painted illustration, working for leading magazines and media companies but their passion was fine art painting. Each of these artists shows a particular sweetness and nuance in their portraits of women, with assured personal touches that evoke their illustration backgrounds while paying homage to the late Rococo manner and Impressionism. These are lovely, close portraits of women in private settings, each of them brimming with the subjects' contemplative presence.
"These are fascinating paintings by artists who show an evolved and assured hand," says Ed Beardsley, Vice President and Managing Director of Fine & Decorative Arts at Heritage Auctions. "They show us a commitment to mastering the nuances of the human form and present us with charming subjects who feel as though they are in the room with us."
Howard Rogers, a California native and former Army man, was a prolific illustrator for leading magazines throughout the 1970s. He also illustrated the covers of Simon & Schuster and Harlequin paperbacks, and created the main poster image for the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. By the late '70s he transitioned to making fine art exclusively, and continues to this day.
Ramon Kelley, born in Wyoming and based in Colorado, used his time serving in the military overseas to study masterpieces of Renaissance and Impressionism, and in the 1960s kicked off his career in commercial illustration until he could pivot to making fine art full time. He's a current member of a number of artist societies, including the American Watercolor Society, Allied Artists of America and the National Academy of Western Art.
Joe Bowler, born in Queens in 1928, launched his illustration career at age 19, working for magazines in New York. By 1952, he was elected to the Society of Illustrators, and in 1967 the Artists' Guild of New York named him Artist of the Year. During this time, Bowler was prolific in commissioned portraits for major magazines, including a 1968 article in McCall's profiling presidential candidates' wives. He painted the cover portrait of Rose Kennedy for the August 1971 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, and rendered Julie and David Eisenhower for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. In 1992, Bowler was inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame.
In combination, Maguire's collection of paintings by illustrators who turned to fine art painting tell the story of contemporary art's ongoing love affair with the nude.