Taubman Museum of Art collection highlights

John Singer Sargent — “Mrs. George Gribble”
She has red hair, pink cheeks and enormous eyes.

English, artistically inclined and beautiful, Norah Gribble died in 1923 — but she lives on in this portrait by John Singer Sargent at the Taubman Museum of Art.

An American citizen who lived in Europe, Sargent was one of America’s best-known portrait artists. Though most famous for his portraits of beautiful society women, he also painted presidents, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, novelist Henry James and actress Ellen Terry.

Norah Gribble apparently was painted in England around 1888, when she was in her mid-20s. She was a poet and artist herself, with many literary friends; her son Philip later recalled her “intensity … She was a marvelously beautiful woman, blessed with divinely golden red hair and immense, almost violet, blue eyes varying in depth with her moods.”

Museum officials believe the 7-foot-plus portrait is an overlooked gem from Sargent’s early years.

Norman Rockwell — "Framed"

Painted as a cover for the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell’s humorous “Framed” shows disapproving portraits gazing at a clueless museum worker. The painting is one of several Rockwell did on museum subjects.

The famed illustrator, who painted hundreds of covers for the Post, has become increasingly prized by serious art collectors in recent years.

“It’s a pretty big coup for us,” said Georganne Bingham, museum executive director, when the painting was unveiled in February 2007.

Winslow Homer — “Woodchopper in the Adirondacks”

Homer is one of the best-known names in American art.

Born in Boston in 1836, he made drawings of the Civil War for Harper’s magazine, then focused on painting. By the time of his death in 1910, his work was bringing top prices.

Well-known for his sea paintings — “Fog Warning,” with its lone fisherman rowing his dinghy toward a faraway ship, is often reproduced — he also made a number of trips to the Adirondack Mountains.

“Woodchopper” shows a green woodland with a bearded man at the far left. But the focus of the painting seems less the man than the mossy trunks of three enormous trees.

“The dominant mood in the Adirondack pictures is one of quiet, of stillness, remoteness and solitude,” James Fosburgh wrote in “Winslow Homer in the Adirondacks.” “He seems to have been preoccupied with the loneliness of the human spirit.”

Betty Branch — “The Dancer”

“The Dancer” belies its medium with its fluid movement and graceful curves.

The marble sculpture looks more like a snapshot of a supple body than a work in stone.

A gift of the Collector’s Circle, which campaigned to purchase the work in time for the opening of the museum, “The Dancer” will have a permanent home inside the museum, said Kimberly Templeton, external affairs director, but as of press time they had not yet decided where.

Branch, whose Roanoke studio is on Warehouse Row, has works in numerous public and private collections around the country. She is perhaps best known locally for her grieving bronze firefighter in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Susan Macdowell Eakins

Though she was nowhere near as famous as her husband, Thomas, the most striking painting in the museum’s Eakins collection is arguably hers.

A large (57-by-45 inch) oil painted before her marriage, it depicts her sisters Mary and Elizabeth sitting close together in floor-length black dresses while Elizabeth works on a piece of fabric with needle and thread.

Elizabeth Macdowell Kenton lived in Roanoke in later life, and there are stories of the imperious “Aunt Lizzy” scolding a judge and crossing streets by flinging up her hand to stop traffic. Shown in profile in Susan’s painting, her personality is revealed in her strong nose and chin.

Thomas Eakins’ later portrait of Elizabeth’s husband, Louis Kenton, shows a lean, brooding figure; it is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Kentons’ marriage was “stormy and apparently brief,” according the Met’s Web site.

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