CODY, Wyo. — A singular collection of distinctive work by an American master and 20th century icon, Harry Jackson, is up for sale in Cody.
Jackson, an acclaimed painter and sculptor who began his career as a Marine combat artist, died three years ago at age 87. Jackson’s son, Matthew, has worked since then to catalog what he describes as “a lost treasure of the art world that has been hiding in plain sight for years.”
More than 5,000 of Jackson’s sketches, sculptures, paintings and other works have been in storage and on display since 1980 at the artist’s studio and home in Cody and his foundry in Camaiore, Italy. Now, after three years working to assemble and survey 75 years of artwork, Jackson’s five grown children will be searching for a new home for the collection.
“Harry Jackson’s body of work can only be fully examined now that he has passed away and stopped creating,” said Matt Jackson, trustee of the Harry Jackson Trust. “The collection tells the full story of an unparalleled artist’s life, and it’s unlike any other.”
Matt Jackson said his father’s collection is “something the art world has never had the chance to fully examine, and now that he is absent, we’re learning so much more about his invaluable contribution to American art.”
Though he was best known as the pre-eminent Western artist of his generation, Jackson’s wide-ranging career defied category.
Jackson left his Chicago home at 14 for Wyoming, where he found work as a ranch hand. It was the start of a lifelong attachment to the region that would lead the New York Times to describe Jackson in a 2011 obituary as the “artist who captured the West.”
He enlisted in the Marines at 18 and was a World War II sketch artist during some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific. He was wounded in battles at Tarawa and Saipan, earning two Purple Hearts and suffering a traumatic brain injury that would result in seizures and mood disorders for the rest of his life.
Jackson was acclaimed as one of the great mid-century abstract expressionists, with LIFE Magazine in 1956 devoting eight pages to a profile that hailed him as an “American painter of surging talent and ambition.”
Clement Greenberg, art critic of the modernist era and principal champion of abstract expressionism, said Jackson delivered “the best first show since Jackson Pollock’s.” In fact, Pollock was born in Cody, and Harry Jackson moved to the East Coast in 1947 where he sought out the pioneering painter to work with him, developing a close bond that would last until Pollock’s death in 1956.
Despite critical accolades and surging interest in his work, Jackson turned his back on the New York modern art scene, and rededicated himself to mastering realism. Jackson went to Europe in 1954 to study the work of the Renaissance masters, and strove to incorporate modernist perspectives into a more classical approach. That duality of purpose would remain a driving force for the rest of his life, and define his approach to a career that sets Jackson apart from any other artist of his era.
Fiercely loyal to his friends, Jackson often painted or sculpted others he considered to be fellow mavericks.
That includes musician Bob Dylan, who sat for a portrait around the same time, in the mid 1960s, when the famed acoustic folk musician shocked the world by switching to electric guitar.
Jackson’s close friendship with actor John Wayne spanned several years, and in 1969 he created “The Marshal,” a sculpture for the cover of Time magazine of Wayne as Rooster Cogburn from the film “True Grit.”
Presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson all admired and displayed Jackson’s work, and gave his sculptures as gifts to foreign leaders.
John Giarrizzo, artist and associate professor of art at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., said “ ‘The Italian Bar’ is one of the most important portrait paintings in American 20th century art.”
“Harry Jackson is the consummate American master,” Giarrizzo said.
The Harry Jackson Trust has selected Cody-based Life’sWork, LLC, to present the collection to potential buyers.
In addition to Jackson’s original paintings, sculptures, sketches and other works, the collection contains hundreds of photos, home videos, tools, brushes, props, an extensive library of reference books and more than a half-century of business and personal records, including 120 volumes of personal journals.
For more information, visit www.harryjacksonstudios.com.