Robert Bauer (b. 1942)
Oil on canvas, mounted on wood
Sloan Fund Purchase
Brauer Museum of Art, 2012.14
Adam, an incredibly realistic painting by the noted American realist artist Robert Bauer, is a fine addition to the Brauer Museum of Art’s permanent collection. Born in Iowa, Bauer has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, with his art represented in many national exhibitions and respected public and private collections. Acquired through the museum’s Sloan Endowment, a fund designated specifically for purchases of works of a representational nature, this painting adds to the Brauer’s holdings of pieces that reflect artists’ sensitive transcriptions and interpretations of the world and people around them. At approximately seven by five inches, Bauer’s painting rewards close and careful scrutiny, and the intimacy of its scale rhymes nicely with the warm, personal story that accompanies its acquisition.
Several months ago, founding museum director Richard Brauer and I went to a large annual art fair in Chicago. We have been to this fair many times and will likely attend the next time it is held. Typically, we go to see the latest work and dream about having in our collection some of the major pieces by major artists that are featured at the various dealer booths. During this particular visit, we spent the day looking, talking, stopping for lunch, looking some more, and discussing how gaps in the museum’s collection of American art could be filled. We were nearly at the point of art saturation when we saw the artist Joel Sheesley, someone whose works we had on display in a lovely large-scale exhibition several years ago. Joel’s is always a welcome face, and we were eager to catch up on news with him.
The five portraits we saw when we entered the booth looked like softly printed color photographs, each nicely framed under glass. None of the subjects for the portraits looked directly at the viewer, giving the impression that each sitter was caught in a private moment of thought, a tender moment of reflection. As we viewed the portraits, we thought of the meticulous Christian-themed paintings of the Northern Renaissance, where multiple glazes and fine detail conveyed skin tones, subtle expressions, and a wide variety of textures in a miraculous manner. One portrait of a woman with downcast eyes and a look of mild resignation interested me in particular because of its possible connections with representations of Mary in Northern Renaissance works. As we left the fair and drove home, we continued to talk about Bauer’s paintings, thinking that we could perhaps afford one through the Sloan Endowment and with the female portrait enduring as the strongest contender.
One of the first things Joel mentioned was how impressed, even amazed, he was by the small portraits in Forum Gallery’s booth, a booth toward the back of the fair that we had not yet seen. As a realist artist himself, Joel marveled at the level of detail and precision in these pieces, each one capturing the spirit and likeness of the particular sitter. Respecting Joel’s taste and noticing his enthusiasm, we set a course for this booth as our last destination before heading home.
The next day, I contacted Dick Brauer to let him know that sufficient funds existed for a Bauer purchase. Dick then told me that while he admired the female portrait we were considering, he seemed to prefer the male portrait titled Adam. The sitter’s youthful face, his delicate masculinity, the glow seemingly emanating from the full face figure—all of these qualities spoke to his heart and spirit. I trusted Dick’s instinct and admired his thoughtful description, and soon after our conversation I contacted the gallery to reserve the painting for us. The Brauer’s Collection Committee then authorized the purchase and officially voted the painting into the collection in honor of Richard Brauer.
Several times in our conversations about whether or not to buy the painting, Dick mentioned that Jesus was sometimes referred to as the Second Adam. In Bauer’s painting, a man perhaps in his early to mid twenties looks downward, lost in thought. A personal acquaintance of the artist’s, his likeness has appeared in numerous other Bauer pieces. His pinkish, largely smooth and unblemished skin and light growth of facial hair visually convey his youth; his slightly furrowed brow, set mouth, and squarish jaw subtly reveal his masculinity, tempered somewhat by the cool skin and background tones as well as the mild softness of the overall focus. Wearing an ordinary white t-shirt, Adam is simultaneously a unique person and, in his pensive gaze and general lack of pronounced or distinctive traits, a universal figure that allows the viewer easily to think of him as Man, or Youth, as well as an individual. Perhaps he is the First Adam or Second Adam, and as viewers we see in his countenance presented on a humble or intimate scale one who ponders the meaning of all that surrounds him and all that he faces in this life, this existence, as he grows as a person.
Perhaps Dick Brauer identified with this young man, someone filled with uncertainty but resolved to use his strength of body and character to fulfill a benevolent destiny. Dick can rest assured that Adam, aglow with an inner light and determination of purpose that reassures us as viewers, is here now in the Brauer to live forever.
Gregg Hertzlieb is Curator and Director of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University. Hertzlieb is the editor of the books The Calumet Region: An American Place (Photographs by Gary Cialdella), published in 2009, and Domestic Vision: Twenty-Five Years of the Art of Joel Sheesley (2008), as well as a contributor to The Indiana Dunes Revealed: The Art of Frank V. Dudley (2006). He has been awarded the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship by the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and a Conant Writing Award for Poetry from Millikin University. His artwork has been exhibited widely, including at the Aron Packer Gallery, August House Studio, the Central School of Art and Design in London, Columbia College, Elgin Community College, the Goodman Theater, and Struve Gallery.