Dawson W. Carr, Ph.D., Retires as the Portland Art Museum’s Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art

Curator Dawson Carr discussing Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art at an event of the Museum’s European and American Art Council in February 2020. Photo courtesy of the Council.

The Portland Art Museum and its community are expressing their deep gratitude to Dawson W. Carr, Ph.D., as he retires this month as The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art. Dr. Carr’s final day at the Museum is April 30.

Dr. Carr joined the Museum in 2013 as the Museum’s first full-time curator of European painting and sculpture. He was responsible for the research, documentation, and interpretation of art made in Europe from antiquity to 1900, as well as the organization of exhibitions and the development of the collection. Dr. Carr has been a vital member of the Museum’s curatorial team, collaborating across collection areas and energizing the European collection. His passion for European art and history, combined with his thoroughness and storytelling talents made him a visitor and member favorite at lectures and education programs. A virtual celebration for Dr. Carr took place earlier this month, and a search for his replacement will commence in the coming months. 

“It has been such an honor having Dr. Carr as our first-ever curator of European Art these past eight years. His deep knowledge and passion for his work is evident to anyone who has ever heard him speak or read a label he wrote,” said Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso. “His way of drawing people into his world was second to none and he welcomed everyone to see his vision of beauty and join in his curiosity. Dr. Carr’s presence will be missed, and we are so thankful to Janet and the late Richard Geary who had the foresight to endow this position, allowing the Museum to continue the excellent work that Dawson started.”  

Dawson Carr, Ph.D., The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art, with Brian Ferriso, Director and Chief Curator, December 2019.

Highlights of his tenure include organizing and overseeing a wide range of exhibitions, culminating most recently with Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art (2020). Volcanoes have long fascinated Dr. Carr and the unique opportunity to work with ancient Native American objects, 19th-century paintings, and 20th-century photography in an exhibition that spanned centuries and mediums provided a fitting career finale. 

Dr. Carr was the presenting curator on several large, touring special exhibitions at the Museum, bringing his unique expertise and interpretation to the magnificent works in Venice: The Golden Age of Art and Music (2014); Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (2015); and Rodin: The Human Experience–Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections (2017). 

Evaristo Baschenis, Still Life with Musical Instruments in an Interior, 1660s, Oil on canvas, Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York, Photo: Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York.

Michel-Martin Drolling, The Wrath of Achilles, 1810, Oil on canvas, 44 1/2 x 57 1/2 in., École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (PRP 48), Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), Fallen Caryatid with Urn, modeled 1883, enlarged 1911-17; Musée Rodin cast 4 in 1982; Bronze; Coubertin Foundry; 45 1/4 x 36 3/4 x 31 1/8 in. Lent by Iris Cantor.

Carr also brought more intimate exhibitions to Portland, such as Reunited: Francescuccio Ghissi’s St. John Altarpiece (2015) and Carl Kahler: My Wife’s Lovers (2016), and he originated Art from the Andes: Spanish Colonial Paintings from the Elvin A. Duerst Bequest (2016). Dr. Carr played a major role in the curatorial teams that developed Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection (2016) and Quest for Beauty: The Architecture, Landscapes, and Collections of John Yeon (2017)

Reunited: Francescuccio Ghissi’s St. John Altarpiece (2015). Francescuccio Ghissi (Italian, active 1359–1374), St. John Altarpiece, 1370s, tempera and gold leaf on wood, including paintings from the Portland Art Museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Installation view of Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection (2016).

He also oversaw two MASTERWORKS | Portland exhibitions, a series that focuses on individual works of outstanding quality by great artists not represented in the Museum’s collection. These included MASTERWORKS | Portland: El Greco (2015) MASTERWORKS | Portland: Georges de La Tour’s The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame (2019). 

Dawson Carr in conversation at a Members’ night.

Georges de La Tour (French, 1593–1652). The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, ca. 1635–37. Oil on canvas. Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, M.77.73.

Dr. Carr acquired a number of important works for the permanent collection, including an 18th-century depiction of Mount Vesuvius by Francesco Fidanza (Vesuvius Erupting at Night, ca. 1790); a rare example of 18th-century cross dressing in Naples (Giuseppe Bonito, The Femminiello, 1740/1760); Marianne Loir’s exquisitely detailed Portrait of a Man Seated at a Desk, ca. 1750; Dominique Maggesi’s marble sculpture Portrait of Dr. A …, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1844; The Village Party and The Game of Bowls, two joyous 1727 depictions of English village life by the Flemish painter Pieter Angillis; and a splendid example of court portraiture from the Golden Age of Spain (Felipe Diriksen, Portrait of Infanta María Ana de Austria, 1630). Two photographs of Mount St. Helens by Emmet Gowin and one by Frank Gohlke were also purchased in Dr. Carr’s honor after they were on view as part of Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art

Giuseppe Bonito, The Femminiello, 1740/1760, oil on canvas, Gift of The Ross Family Fund of Equity Foundation, public domain, 2014.107.1

In Dr. Carr’s honor, the Museum’s European and American Art Council joined with other grateful Museum supporters to fund the purchase of a full-scale portrait by 17th-century Italian painter Carlo Ceresa, Portrait of Baron Ignazio de Pizzis, ca. 1650. “I am thrilled that this portrait will enhance the representation of seventeenth-century art in Portland,” wrote Dr. Carr in an online Daily Art Moment last week. He said the swashbuckling portrait of a male ruler will interact beautifully with Diriksen’s portrait of a Spanish princess, once installed in the European galleries this summer after minor conservation work.

Carlo Ceresa (Italian, 1609–1679), Portrait of Baron Ignazio de Pizzis, ca. 1650, oil on canvas, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the European and American Art Council; Kent and Carol Ann Caveny; George and Barbara Dechet; Ann Flowerree; Laura Meier; H. Pat Ritz; Sabine Artaud Wild; Marilyn Podemski; Dan Bergsvik and Don Hastler; Michael and Mary Klein; Robert Trotman and Bill Hetzelson; Tom and Carol Shults; Don and Linda Van Wart, 2021.3.1

Felipe Diriksen (Spanish, 1590–1679), Portrait of Infanta María Ana de Austria, 1630, oil on canvas, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by William and Helen Jo Whitsell; European and American Art Council; John S. Ettelson Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation; Nani S. Warren; May Van Dyke Fund; Laura Meier; Marilyn Ross Podemski; Janet Geary; Ann Flowerree; Kent and Carol Ann Caveny; James FitzGerald and Karen Howe; Shawn and Lisa Mangum; George and Barbara Dechet; Sharon and Keith Barnes; European Art Purchase Fund, 2017.59.1

Conservation is a large part of a curator’s stewardship of the collections, and Dr. Carr led a number of important conservation projects on objects in the collection, including Diriksen’s Portrait of Infanta María Ana; Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John (1540/1560) by a follower of Agnolo Bronzino; and Gabriel Revel, Portrait of a Sculptor (ca. 1680).

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, 1725-1805), The Drunken Cobbler, 1776-1779, oil on canvas, 29 5/8 in x 36 3/8 in, Gift of Marion Bowles Hollis. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 59.1

An engaging public speaker and an enthusiastic participant in education programs of all kinds, Dr. Carr has been integral to some of the most popular programs in the past few years, inviting members, donors, and new visitors alike to explore art in new ways. In 2014 Dr. Carr played an integral role in the Museum’s program Art and Beer: The Drunken Cobbler, for which five local breweries were invited to create beers inspired by the Museum’s lively 18th-century painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze. He also applied his signature scholarship to the world’s greatest cat painting and brought his good humor to related marketing and public programs.  

Carl Kahler (Austrian, 1855–1906), My Wife’s Lovers, 1891, Oil on canvas. Collection of John and Heather Mozart. Image: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Prior to joining the Museum, Dr. Carr served as the Curator of Spanish and Italian Paintings 1600–1800 at The National Gallery in London and as curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He received a B.F.A. from Southern Methodist University, where his passion for the art of Spain began while working at the Meadows Museum. He earned his doctorate from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Dr. Carr has written extensively on Italian and Spanish art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“Looking back on a long and fortunate career, I know that the most rewarding time has been in Portland,” said Dr. Carr. “I am very grateful to our community of devoted art lovers for their interest and support in realizing an amazing array of enlightening exhibitions, programs and acquisitions. I am especially proud that we have enriched and diversified the Museum’s collection of European art by adding wonderful works of art that will delight and inspire the people of our region in perpetuity. 

“Special thanks are due to my glorious colleagues throughout the Museum for their camaraderie and world-class professionalism. They have made every day interesting and fun, and I will miss them very much,” he continued. 

“But this is not goodbye,” said Dr. Carr, who plans to enjoy his retirement in Portland’s natural splendor and cultural attractions, including the Museum that drew him here. “I will see you in the galleries again soon!”

IN THE NEWS: Read an appreciation of Dawson Carr in Oregon ArtsWatch.

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