- Rounded Up in Glory: Frank Reaugh, Texas Renaissance Man by Michael Grauer
The setting of Rounded Up in Glory is framed by the American Southwest but focused in Texas. The biography represents impressive scholarship, exhaustively documented research, and adept handling of the historical method. It is the story of Charles Franklin Reaugh, an important Texas artist whose life and career straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (1860–1945), whose work was shaped by the increasingly potent tensions [End Page 530] of rural versus urban and tradition versus modernity. It is the story of an artist forever captivated by the subtle, shimmering beauty of the “great Southwest as God has made it” (287) and devoted to preserving it—and the early Texas longhorn who once roamed its prairies—through his art.
Taken from an old cowboy lament, the book’s title suggests a paean to Reaugh, a tribute at times reverential, perhaps even emotional. The arc of Reaugh’s life is so compellingly told, his successes and accomplishments so well delineated, that the reader comes away better understanding the author’s early declarations that he was “a genius”; that he was “Texas’s ‘Leonardo [da Vinci]’”; that “his paintings are unparalleled in American art”; and, that he “may have had greater impact on the future of Texas art than any other artist or teacher prior to World War II, and possibly even today” (2).
The book is the definitive biography of Reaugh, following his artistic trail over seven decades. This “Texas Renaissance Man” was first and always an artist, primarily working in the Impressionist style, but he was also an inventor, teacher, and arts promoter. Early sketches confirm that his lifelong “chosen muse” (27) was the landscape of the American Southwest. Between 1890, when he moved from tiny Terrell to big city Dallas, and 1920, Reaugh gained national attention and received critical acclaim. He exhibited in major cities and at important events, including the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, having at the time perhaps “a more prestigious national exhibition record than any artist in Texas history” (97). From the 1920s onward, his focus turned to teaching young artists. His countless roster of students reads like a “Who’s Who” of pre-1945 Texas art. Chapter titles for the 1930s and 1940s (“Betrayal” and “Slow Fade”) warn that the climbing arc of Reaugh’s career was headed back towards the dusty earth. The aging Impressionist, in his seventies, was no longer in the game, marginalized (perhaps not intentionally or maliciously) by the current arts establishment and eclipsed by younger, modernist artists.
While an excellent biography, Rounded Up in Glory is much more, suggesting the author, too, is a Renaissance man. Michael Grauer’s commanding knowledge of Texas art has been developed over a long career, including twenty-eight years at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the primary repository of Frank Reaugh’s oeuvre, made up of thousands of small, plein air pastel sketches and dozens of larger pastels and oil paintings. Grauer is equally knowledgeable about the Southwest: his descriptions of the cattle-drive era and the government’s early western expeditions are firmly grounded. He is just as comfortable discussing the complex philosophical, aesthetic, and artistic movements popular in nineteenth-century America, demonstrating their relevance to Reaugh’s artistic temperament and subject matter. By the by, he also provides a perfect crash course in nineteenth-century American art. [End Page 531]
Historian by career he may be, Grauer has the soul of a poet, a quality that enriches his scholarly writing and one well suited to tell the story of a man who deeply valued the spiritual connection between nature and art.