Robert N. Blair (1912-2002), Brandenburg Gate, Evening, 1945; watercolor on paper, Overall: 22 3/16 x 30 15/16 in. (56.4 x 78.6 cm) Frame: 27 1/4 x 35 1/4 in. (69.2 x 89.5 cm); Gift of the Artist, 1985
Robert N. Blair and the Watercolor Tradition in Western New York
On View Saturday, December 9, 2000–Sunday, February 4, 2001
Robert N. Blair was one of Western New York’s most accomplished watercolor painters and Robert N. Blair and the Watercolor Tradition in Western New York celebrated his accomplishments. This important retrospective took place in two sites: works covering Blair’s whole career were shown at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and works featuring Western New York subjects were shown at the Art Dialogue Gallery located at One Linwood Avenue in Buffalo.
Robert N. Blair and the Watercolor Tradition in Western New York included works from each critical phase of Blair's life as an artist with examples of themes that have dominated his work. Best known for landscapes of Western New York, Vermont, Maine, and the American Southwest, he also painted in Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and the Virgin Islands. Horses captured his imagination – often as symbols of strength in rural life. During World War II, Blair documented his experiences in Europe as an enlisted soldier in the paratroop-glider division of the U. S. Army, including his first-hand observation of the decimation of cities and their struggling survivors. Figurative works and portraits of family and friends represent another aspect of Blair’s work. In addition, the artist produced abstract works of vibrant color. The artist lent the majority of watercolor paintings for the exhibition, which was supplemented by key works from private collections. Numerous pieces, especially from the WWII series, were drawn from the Burchfield Penney’s collection.
Robert Blair was at the forefront of advocating watercolor as a serious painting medium. As a teacher at the Art Institute of Buffalo and throughout his career, Blair found colleagues and students who shared his enthusiasm for watercolor. To complement this retrospective, the Burchfield Penney also presented works by a selection of artists who have contributed to the wealth of watercolor production in Western New York including Jeannette and Bruce Blair (the artist’s wife and son, respectively), Charles E. Burchfield, Thomas Aquinas Daly, Jean Henrich, Margaret Martin, Catherine Parker, David Pratt, Arthur Smith, and William E. West, Sr., among others.
A smaller touring exhibition version traveled to the F. Donald Kenney Museum, The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, New York, January 8 through March 17, 2002.