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1 Painting in Collection

Virginia True


Works in Select Public Collections 

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana; Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis; Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver, CO; University of Colorado at Boulder, CO; Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 


Selected Recent Exhibitions 

Women Making Their Mark, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 2021 


Pioneers: Women Artists in Boulder, 1898-1950, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO, 2016-17 


Retrospective, Andrew Dickson White University Art Museum (now the Johnson Museum of Art), Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1965 


Trends in American Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, 1941 

Born 1900 St. Louis, MO
Died 1989 Gillett, PA

Virginia True was the daughter of two classical musicians and while she was well versed in musical history her personal inclinations were towards the visual arts. She attended high school in Hannibal, Missouri and went on to enroll at Butler University’s College of Education in 1919. The desire to make art was strong so she left Butler after a year and enrolled at the John Herron Art Institute (now The Herron School of Art and Design) in Indianapolis. The Institute had been founded by artists trained at the Munich Royal Academy and was known for teaching students in the realist tradition and providing a strong foundation in drawing. In an atmosphere that was famously (and unusually) egalitarian at this moment in history, True was mentored by American Impressionist William Forsyth from whom she absorbed the technicalities of painting and composition. By the early 1920s True’s family situation necessitated that she earn her own living so the Herron Institute took her on as an instructor while she completed her studies.

In 1925 True was awarded a one year scholarship to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She also studied briefly at Columbia in New York City. During this period of her life True was exposed to the art of Robert Henri, Charles Prendergast and John Sloan, all of whom were challenging traditions and defining painting in new ways. The possibilities offered by these fresh approaches energized True and she began to show her work at the Herron Institute’s gallery and the Hoosier Salon in Chicago. Fellow exhibitors included Gustave Bauman, Victor Higgins and Olive Rush all painters associated with New Mexico art colonies in the early 1920s.

In 1928 the call to see the American Southwest took hold and True traveled to New Mexico with her husband, Clement Trucksess and friends. Enchanted by the southwest’s light and brilliant color, she began to loosen the strict realist style she had been taught and moved toward a more modernist approach. She showed a group of semi abstract watercolors at her first solo exhibition at Lieber Gallery in Indianapolis. While in New Mexico she met fellow painter Victor Higgins and was intrigued by his dry brush method of painting. Her paintings from this time are less specific in their detail; she uses soft, flat shapes and organic forms to distill the southwest’s mountainscapes.

In 1931 True’s work was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Sante Fe (now the New Mexico Museum of Art). A solo show at the same museum in 1932 prompted a local art critic to offer what is today a backhanded compliment that confirms the confidence with which True was painting “She paints with a boldness and strength of purpose that leads one to think of a man’s work.”

In 1927 the couple had moved to Boulder, Colorado. In 1929 True accepted a teaching position at the University of Colorado. By 1930 she had established herself and was invited to join the Boulder Artists Guild and later served as the organization’s President. In 1931 she worked with other fine arts faculty members to form The Prospectors—a group of regional modernists who were influenced by the west’s landscape as well as its human history. Their manifesto “claimed inspiration from the natural beauty of the mountains and plains of Boulder, as well as the ghosts of Indians, mountain men and pioneers.”

The Prospectors promoted their work for over a decade securing exhibitions in museums and universities in 24 states. True was reportedly one of the most accomplished of the group; her watercolors and oils demonstrating that she was a keen observer of the natural world. In addition to showing with the group, she also had solo shows. In 1933 she exhibited at Chappell House in Denver, the early iteration of what would become the Denver Art Museum. In this body of work, True’s palette begins to brighten and paintings are composed of a series of arranged planes but only rarely are her works completely abstract. Her subjects remain rooted in the land and culture of the west. In 1935 a piece called The Wood Chopper received first prize in the Midwestern Artists Exhibition at the Kansas City Art Institute. This and other paintings from this time period are similar in style to the American Regionalists.

In 1935 True returned to school to get a master’s degree, enrolling in a two year program at Cornell University in New York. In 1937 the University commissioned her to do a large mural, Home Economics, for an amphitheater at the school. True also designed a wood relief carving for the Mann Library at Cornell. During this time, she also did a series of works on paper in charcoal and ink that explored urban life in New York City. Developing sharp contrasts between shadow and light and open and closed spaces, she translates the harshness and energy of the city.

In 1939 True was not able to secure a teaching position in Colorado so she joined the faculty at Cornell and eventually became head of the Department of Housing and Design. Despite her inability to return west, True continued to paint images inspired by that landscape. It is difficult to know exactly when True painted the work in the Wolfson Collection. It was probably painted between the mid 1930s when her palette brightens from the more traditional regionalist canvases and the early 1940s where we see brighter, more abstracted works. The bold triangles that make up the mountains are rendered in exuberant colors and the clouds articulated in sweeping gestures. It could be that True made this work while still living in Colorado or it could have been done from memory years later. Nevertheless the vibrancy and energy of this picture demonstrates her affection for the west’s dramatic landscape.

True remained at Cornell for over two decades and proved to be an important and enthusiastic leader at the University, inviting artists and designers to share their work with the academic community. She retired from her position in 1965 and moved to Cape Cod where she spent the remainder of her life.

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