Vagabond Artist: "Pop" Hart in Tahiti, Mexico, and the Caribbean

Sep 01, 2015 - Feb 07, 2016
Eisenberg Gallery

Throughout his career, George Overbury “Pop” Hart (1868-1933) made annual travel experiences the primary source for his art. While most American artists went to Europe to perfect their representational skills or to pursue innovative styles inspired by avant-garde artists, Hart preferred extended trips abroad to more exotic (and affordable) destinations, preferably in warm climates. Between his first expedition to Egypt in 1900 and his last trips to North Africa in 1929 and Cuba in 1930-31, Hart journeyed extensively about the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Tahiti and Samoa. The everyday life of local residents fascinated Hart and he was prolific at sketching what he observed—from market vendors to women washing laundry to fiestas. In 1904, he returned to the United States from the South Seas with a long, patriarchal beard, so his friends called him “Pop.” The nickname stuck (although the beard did not), as it conveyed the artist’s itinerant lifestyle and unconventional approach to art. Executing only a few dozen oil paintings during his career, Hart is noted primarily for his idiosyncratic style of realism executed in watercolor and drawing on paper, in addition to his adventurous handling of various printmaking techniques.  

Starting in 1907, Hart made his home for part of the year in Coytesville, New Jersey, which enabled him to develop his art career in New York. During the 1920s, when Hart became an avid printmaker, his watercolors and prints were exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States. Increasingly, his art received favorable attention from leading art critics, curators, and collectors, as well as admiration from his artist peers.  When he died on September 9, 1933, the art world responded with an outpouring of tributes and memorial exhibitions. Although attention to Hart’s art was eclipsed by the rise of abstract painting, recent scholarship helped to secure his place in American realist art of the early twentieth century.

This exhibition features over forty of Hart’s watercolors, drawings, and prints of daily life and rural landscapes he depicted of Tahiti and Samoa (1903-04); Trinidad, Dominica, and Santo Domingo (1912-1919, 1922); and Mexico (1923, 1925, 1926-29). These vibrant images are selected from the Zimmerli Art Museum’s extensive collection of almost 5,000 works by Hart, a 1983 bequest from Jeanne Hart, the artist’s niece.  

Organized by Marilyn Symmes, Curator of Prints and Drawings and Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts

George Overbury “Pop” Hart

The Shopkeeper’s Daughter, Tahiti, 1903

Watercolor over graphite on paper

11 ¾ x 11 5/8 in. (29.8 x 29.5 cm)

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University

Gift of the estate of Jeanne Overbury Hart