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Charles Courtney Curran’s Evening Illuminations at the Paris Exposition

Featured Article

Inside the Curator's Circle

Building the Dixon's Permanent Collection One Gem at a Time

Article by Jeannie Tabor

Photography by Sarah Bell, Sélavie Photography

Originally published in River City Lifestyle

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens is a true gem in the heart of Memphis. It boasts 17 acres of beautiful trees, plants and flowers that all Memphians and visitors to the city are invited to walk through and enjoy. The Dixon hosts ever-changing exhibitions, tours, programs and events throughout the year. And set against this backdrop of dynamic horticultural and programming is a permanent collection of more than 2,000 pieces of art.

The Dixon’s permanent collection has grown in recent years because of the involvement of the Dixon’s Curator’s Circle. Founded in 2016, the mission of this magnanimous group is to build interest and support in collection-building for the Dixon. “The Dixon has always had an amazing permanent collection, rooted in French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, but we had gotten out of the habit of building and strengthening that collection,” according to Julie Pierotti, the Dixon’s Martha R. Robinson Curator. The primary objective of the Curator’s Circle is to acquire one significant piece each year, and the group focuses on finding works of art from the 19th and 20th centuries that were missing from the Dixon’s permanent collection. 

Anne Keeney, a founding member of the Curator’s Circle, discusses its origin: a legacy of her father, Joe Orgill. “My father was a true believer in building the permanent collection of the Dixon. He was, in fact, the first member of the Curator’s Circle. The first year we had 37 members and we were thrilled. Over the next 12 months, my father enlisted the help of friends, and we grew the membership to 107 members by the next year.”

The Curator’s Circle is open to anyone with an interest in seeing the Dixon continue to grow and thrive. Most of the members live in Memphis, but several hail from other states and attend the annual dinner during which the new art is selected.

“Every dinner is special, but one in particular stands out,” Anne says. “As a rule, my favorite painting does not win. 2018, was no different. My favorite painting, by Henry O. Tanner of Notre Dame in a rainstorm, came in 2nd. I figured that I would never see it again, but then an anonymous donor acquired the painting for the museum in memory of my father. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Julie adds that she is most proud of the group’s first purchase, Charles Courtney Curran’s Evening Illuminations at the Paris Exposition. “Buying Curran’s painting, in which visitors to the 1889 Paris World’s Fair are looking into a bright new future, was really an apt choice because the Curator’s Circle really launched the Dixon into a new era for our collection.”

Julie adds, “When you look at all the works of art that the Curator’s Circle has purchased, and think that just a few years ago, these objects were scattered all over the world in private collections and galleries and that they are now hanging on the walls of a museum that is free and welcoming to its community, it gives you a great sense of pride!”

  • Anne Keeney, a founding member of the Curator’s Circle
  • Julie Pierotti, the Dixon’s Martha R. Robinson Curator
  • Another memorable selection is this late marine painting by Gustave Courbet, one of the most important figures in the history of art.
  • View of the Seine, looking toward Notre Dame by Henry O. Tanner
  • Bowl of Cherries, by Charles Ethan Porter, the first major Black American painter to travel to Paris for art education
  • Charles Courtney Curran’s Evening Illuminations at the Paris Exposition