Our “Winter Art Show” made its debut early in the February/March 1986 issue, but its wellsprings are far, far older. One of the great pleasures of this job is the number of eloquent, significant, and startling American paintings the editors come across in the course of the year. One of the great frustrations is—or was—how many of them we had to pass by because even the most devious caption writing could not plausibly tie them to a particular story. Everyone on the staff had a mental inventory of favorite pictures that had never made it into print.
One day a few of us were grumbling about having had to sacrifice some treasure or other, when my predecessor, Byron Dobell, said, “Galleries are always having winter art shows. Why can’t we?” So we did.
That first show succeeded beyond our expectations. The wide variety of works, and the juxtaposition of those by famous artists and unknown ones from every era, reflected in the pleasantest way what a vigorous artistic legacy Americans are heir to. We did it again in our pages the next year, and the next. Then, caught up in the revolution of rising expectations, we started talking about how great it would be to actually do the winter art show.
Eventually this reached the Forbes curatorial department, and if they were less than elated at having a bunch of people down the hall come up with a difficult task for them, it never showed. They set to work with their usual zeal, and the result is a marvelous sampling of all our winter shows, which will be on display in the Forbes Galleries at 60 Fifth Avenue from January 25 to February 27. We hope you’ll come see it.
There’s a good deal more in the gallery too. As most of the world knows, Forbeses are collectors, and in their museum you can see everything from the definitive marshaling of Fabergé to imaginatively deployed phalanxes of toy soldiers (you might pause in a moment of sympathy for the nineteenth-century German boy who opened his Christmas box expecting dragoons or riflemen and instead found little metal figures representing the entire hierarchy of the Lutheran Church). But of particular interest to our readers is a brand-new exhibit called “Presidents on Presidents: Chief Critiques.” Mounted to coincide with the inauguration, the show is drawn from Forbes’ very impressive collection of American manuscripts, and each exhibit features a President being assessed by one of the thirty-nine other people who really know what the job involves. There are some marvelous things here. Listen, for instance, to John Adams’s broad-spirited analysis of George Washington’s Farewell Address: “It would be easy my Friend to compose an Address which should contain nothing but obvious Truths that all Men would at once approve. Such was Washington’s.…Both parties quote it as an oracle. But neither cares one farthing about it.”
The exhibition is full of such interesting documents, and you should come prepared to spend some time there. But most important, make sure you take in our first real “Winter Art Show.” We’re very proud of it, and I’m confident you’ll find many of the pictures compelling. It’s powerful material. In fact, who knows what effect it may have had on the man who originated it? After running it for five years, Byron left his job here to become a professional artist.