In preparation for the annual Hollensteiner Lecture, staff and students at the Wright Museum of Art have been revisiting the histories of those works that have been chosen for conservation in previous years. After some poking around it was discovered that the Indianapolis Museum of Art has in its collection a second version of “Picnic on the Allegheny” by Henrik Mayer, the work featured in the 2013 Hollensteiner Lecture.
Artists will often make multiple versions of a single composition. Monet famously painted over 30 versions of the Rouen Cathedral façade. But with each painting at a different time of day or day of the year, the cathedral was just a way to orient himself to the same spot in front of an unchanging model, and the real study was how light and atmosphere affect color. Another art history heavy, Vincent Van Gogh, also painted multiples. On two occasions the artist painted sunflowers in similar though not identical orientations. Most historians believe this series was a study in composition and an attempt to refine his technique.
Mayer’s intentions are not clear concerning the repeat. Whether he was studying how the light fell on the landscape, or experimenting with the compositional elements—including a figure in one, excluding it in the other, emphasizing the landscape in one and simplifying it in another.
What is clear, however, is that one of these “Picnic on the Allegheny” pictures took home second place in landscapes at the 1937 New York Armory Show. The provenance from the Indianapolis Museum of Art does not indicate if theirs was the prizewinner, neither do the records from the Wright Museum. And the reference to the painting does not mention particular details that could distinguish one from the other. Take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself which you think is the superior version.