Explore the World with Vagabond Artist "Pop" Hart

August 31, 2015


The Artistic Travelogues of “Pop” Hart at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers


New Brunswick, NJ – Enjoy a virtual adventure with George Overbury “Pop” Hart, whose diverse travel experiences captured scenes of daily life in locales where few tourists ventured during the early part of the 20th century. While most American artists visited Europe to perfect their drawing and painting skills or to pursue styles inspired by avant-garde artists, Hart preferred extended trips abroad to more exotic – and affordable – destinations. Crisscrossing the globe between his first expedition to Latin America starting in 1900 and his last trips to North Africa and Cuba some 30 years later, these excursions were the primary source for his art throughout his career. Vagabond Artist: “Pop” Hart in Tahiti, Mexico, and the Caribbean, on view September 1, 2015, to February 7, 2016, spotlights more than 40 watercolors, drawings, and prints.


The works in Vagabond Artist demonstrate how George Overbury “Pop” Hart (1868-1933) not only introduced aspects of other cultures to American audiences, but also mastered watercolor and printmaking techniques that were admired by art critics and peers. “The everyday life of native inhabitants fascinated Hart and he was prolific at sketching what he observed – from market vendors to women washing clothes to fiestas,” noted Marilyn Symmes, the Zimmerli’s Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts Director and Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized the exhibition. “These subjects often served as source material for his later prints. He took up printmaking in 1921, gaining a critical reputation during his lifetime and, ultimately, historical importance for his innovative efforts. This is a rare opportunity to see his original watercolors and drawings next to the prints in which he revisited favorite subjects.”


Born in Cairo, Illinois, and raised in Rochester, New York, George Overbury Hart took up sketching while still living at home. After working unsuccessfully in his father’s printing factory, he briefly studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1890s. Starting in 1897, Hart regularly traveled to countries near and far. For several years, he earned his living as a sign painter to support his passion for sketching the sights he encountered. His trip to Tahiti and Samoa in 1903 and 1904, where he made his first accomplished portraits and figure studies, proved to be significant in the development of his unconventional art career. As examples of his promising skill during this early period, the exhibition features captivating watercolors of a Tahitian man reclining on a bamboo pillow, Samoan dancers, and a remarkable finished watercolor portrait, The Shopkeeper’s Daughter, Tahiti (1903). This charming half-length portrait shows a young girl calmly gazing at the viewer as she stands in front of shelves laden with assorted items; yet one can also see Hart’s effort to capture her proportions correctly. In 1924, Hart returned to this portrait by redrawing it as a black and white drypoint image, and then experimentally rubbing sandpaper onto the plate surface in order to create rough areas that would translate into the rich tonal effects he wanted when he applied ink to make the completed print. In 1904, after Hart returned to the United States from the South Seas with a long, patriarchal beard, 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.


Hart later remarked that his time in the South Seas islands provided him with a desirable sense of escape from Western “civilization” and all its social conventions, so decided to spend much of his life wandering about other locations that were “unspoiled” in his eyes. Between 1912 and the early 1920s, Hart made trips almost every year to the Caribbean, visiting Trinidad, Dominica, and Santo Domingo. A prolific draftsman, he sketched market scenes, fisherman, laundresses, and other aspects of rural village life, in addition to making remarkable finished watercolors, such as the portrait Girl of the Tropics and a sweeping panoramic landscape of Santo Domingo. Hart later redrew a Santo Domingo landscape into two different etchings, executed in 1925 and 1926, which are also on display in the exhibition. Hart regularly referred to his earlier drawings and watercolors as a resource for inspiring the subject matter of the prints he began to create in the 1920s. Hart’s interest in exploring unconventional printmaking techniques resulted in daring experiments. His mastery of applying dramatic black and white tonalities to scenes capture the energy of local activities in the villages he visited, as exemplified in the intaglio prints Native Baptism, Trinidad (1924) and Bringing Goats to Market, Trinidad (1924).


Hart traveled extensively around Mexico in 1923, 1925, and annually from 1926 to 1929. Again, he produced a multitude of drawings resulting in lively images that reveal his fascination with picturesque scenery, colorful characters encountered in markets or on the road, and local pastimes, such as cockfighting or music-making. His views from his visit to the Mexican state of Veracruz are particularly noteworthy: there is a lovely watercolor of the church in Huiloapan (c. 1923-25) and he dramatically colored variant impressions of his 1925 etching Orizaba, Mexico. One view shows a storm-threatened scene, while the other features a majestic, sunlit vista accented by a turquoise river rushing through the valley.


In 1907, Hart built a house and studio in Coytesville, New Jersey, which became his home base between trips and enabled him to develop his career and social life in New York. Hart designed and painted stage sets for World Pictures, one of the many film studios in Fort Lee, which was the motion picture capital of America before the industry relocated to Hollywood. Hart also became acquainted with residents at the nearby Ridgefield Art Colony, a popular escape from the city for artists. He regularly spent time with Walt Kuhn, one of the organizers of the Armory Show in 1913, which introduced American audiences to avant-garde European art.


From 1917 onwards, Hart regularly exhibited his work in both group and solo exhibitions; he also began to receive awards for selected prints. Meanwhile, newspapers of the day delighted in writing about his travels embellished by the artist’s colorful anecdotes about his adventures. In 1927, Edith Halpert began to show Hart’s work in her Downtown Gallery, a pioneering New York establishment promoting modern American art, which boosted interest in Hart’s art. Not long before his death in 1932, Hart had a one-man show at the New Jersey State Museum. After Hart’s death the following year, the art world noted his passing with an outpouring of tributes and memorial exhibitions in Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, New York , and elsewhere, followed by a major retrospective at the Newark Museum in 1935.


Sporadically during his lifetime, Hart visited his brother’s family in the Queens neighborhood of Kew Gardens, and tutored his niece Jeanne Overbury Hart in art. As the sole beneficiary of his estate, she dedicated much of her life after World War II to promoting his work to galleries and museums across the United States; thanks to her efforts, the Smithsonian traveled a small exhibition of his work in 1964 and 1965. In 1983, she bequeathed more than 3,800 works by Hart to the Zimmerli Art Museum. Three years later, the museum presented a large retrospective exhibition accompanied by the monograph George Overbury “Pop” Hart, His Life and Art (1986) by Gregory Gilbert, a landmark publication that reexamined the artist’s significance as an early 20th-century American realist; this book remains the primary reference on the artist today.


Vagabond Artist: “Pop” Hart in Tahiti, Mexico, and the Caribbean was organized by Marilyn Symmes, the Zimmerli’s Curator of Prints and Drawings and Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts. Ms. Symmes was assisted by three Rutgers art history students – Leeza Cinar (BA, 2016), Yarden Elias (BA, 2014), and Reshma Nayyar (PhD, 2014) – in updating the documentation of hundreds of Hart’s prints, drawings, and watercolors in the museum’s records.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Tuesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.


For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.



The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.


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