The cultural resonance of ‘Texas’ may not be overwhelming, yet the oil and livestock barons of this southern state were philanthropists to rival any on the eastern or western seaboards. The result: art collections of staggering richness in buildings developed by the leading architects of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Among the highlights are some of the very personal collections these patrons of the arts acquired. The Meadows Museum in Dallas, for example, the gift of oilman Algur Meadows, houses the finest display of Spanish art outside the Prado. While John and Dominique de Menil’s dazzling Menil Collection in Houston – built up with money from the Schlumberger oil-drilling fortune – contains over 15,000 works by the greatest names of twentieth-century European and American art. Painter and heiress Marion Koogler McNay, too, used an oil fortune to establish The McNay – the first modern art museum in the Lone Star State – in her colonial revival mansion in San Antonio.
But private wealth in Texas has always been matched by public investment and the entire history of art is abundantly represented in the major city galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, one of the largest in the US, has an extraordinary 62,000 works spanning six thousand years, while the Dallas Museum of Art is as renowned for its Impressionists and Post Impressionists as Austin’s The Blanton is for its Renaissance masterpieces.
The searing Texan landscape, with its expanses of sand and scrub and distant sierras, is a work of art in its own right, and a visit to Marfa provides the moment where art, architecture and nature meet. The Chinati Foundation was established by minimalist sculptor Donald Judd to display large installations of his own work and other leading contemporary sculptors and, in its wake, this tiny desert town has become one of the liveliest contemporary art scenes in the US.
As rich as the art is the architecture. The Dallas Arts District includes buildings by four Pritzker Prize winners (Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano); while in Houston, admirers of Mies van der Rohe can view one of his very rare museum buildings at the Fine Arts Museum, followed by Piano’s simple and striking cypress-clad Menil. However, it is without doubt Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth that shows off these big hitters at their memorable best.
London to Houston. Fly at c. 9.45am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Houston, arriving c. 2.30pm local time (flying time c. 10 hours 45 minutes). Drive to the hotel in Houston’s ‘Museum District’ with time to settle in before dinner. First of three nights in Houston.
Houston. The morning is spent in the Museum of Fine Arts, an outstanding collection built up over the last century. Highlights include the Impressionists and American art of the 19th and 20th centuries, but there is much variety, from the Renaissance to contemporary works by minimalist Dan Flavin. It is architecturally varied too, with extensions by Mies van der Rohe and Rafael Moneo. Bayou Bend houses a good collection of American decorative and fine art, with beautiful gardens around. Overnight Houston.
Houston. The Menil is one of the world’s greatest private collections of modern art. Across the road is another Piano museum dedicated to Cy Twombly’s abstract works. Also visited are the Rothko Chapel, built as a sanctuary for fourteen of the artist’s canvases, and Richmond Hall, a grocery store converted into a Dan Flavin light installation. Some free time to return to the Fine Arts Museum or walk in the neighbouring Rice University campus. Overnight Houston.
Houston to Marfa. Fly to Midland, in westernmost Texas (United Airlines), and drive south across the Chihuahuan Desert (c. 190 miles) through a landscape of scrub and shrub, fringed by distant sierras. Marfa is little more than a handful of dusty intersections and yet is laden with western charm. Thanks to Donald Judd, it also has a thriving contemporary arts scene and a sophistication out of all proportion to its size. First of two nights in Marfa.
Marfa, the Chinati Foundation. In the morning, visit Judd’s home and library (by arrangement). Afterwards, visit the Chinati Foundation. Judd’s decision to convert 340 acres of former US military land into an art installation stemmed from a need to escape the East Coast and a desire to display large-scale installations in a setting which linked art with landscape. Works by Judd, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin have been joined over the years by Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarson, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Most of the day is spent here with some free time to visit Marfa’s excellent bookstore and main street. Overnight Marfa.
Drive to San Antonio. Drive through deepest countryside to bordertown Del Rio and then to San Antonio (journey time: c. 10 hours with several refreshment breaks, including the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center in Langtry). Arrive San Antonio c. 6.00pm. First of two nights in San Antonio.
San Antonio. The McNay was the first modern art museum in Texas and alongside the excellent 19th- and 20th-century works is a substantial sculpture collection in the landscaped park and a new wing for temporary exhibitions. The San Antonio Museum of Art has excellent American and Latin American collections. Free time to visit The Alamo, of Davy Crockett fame. Overnight San Antonio.
Austin, Dallas. Drive north via Austin, a major university city and the state capital. Visit the Blanton Museum of Art, with fine collections of Renaissance as well as 20th-century American art. Brief stop at the Harry Ransom Center, an incredible resource of rare books and manuscripts. Continue to Dallas (c. 195 miles), arriving early evening. First of three nights in Dallas.
Dallas. Begin with Philip Johnson’s Thanksgiving Chapel and JFK Memorial before continuing to the Arts District. The Dallas Museum of Art is one of the finest in the US. Next door is the Nasher Sculpture Center, a superb collection including works by Calder, Chillida, Serra and Hepworth. Some free time – the Asian Art Museum is a possibility. Overnight Dallas.
Fort Worth, Dallas. The day is spent in Fort Worth and its astonishingly rich ‘Cultural District’. The Kimbell Art Museum is a magnificent collection, particularly the European paintings with Titian and Tiepolo to Matisse and Mondrian. Kahn’s building is sublime: a series of barrel vaults providing lighting and acoustic perfection for the masterworks. Across the road is The Modern (designed by Tadao Ando), another collection of 20th-century greats: Pollock, Hockney, Picasso, Bacon and a room of Sean Scully canvasses. See also the Amon Carter Museum of American art including works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, the two greatest artists of the American west. Overnight Dallas.
Dallas. Leave the hotel late morning for the Meadows Museum, a world-renowned collection of Spanish art, particularly strong on the Golden Age. Continue to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for the overnight flight to London, departing c. 10.00pm.
The flight arrives at London Heathrow at c. 1.00pm.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE. Twitter: @GvanHensbergen | Website: gijsvanhensbergen.com
Price, per person
Two sharing: £6,510 or £5,990 without flights on days 1 and 11. Single occupancy: £7,460 or £6,940 without flights on days 1 and 11.
Flights with British Airways (World Traveller; Boeing 747 & 777) on day 1 from London to Houston and day 11 from Dallas-Fort Worth to London, and a further flight with United Airlines (Canadair Regional Jet 200) on day 4 from Houston to Midland; private coach for all transfers and excursions; accommodation as described below; all breakfasts, 2 lunches and 7 dinners with wine (plus meals on flights); all admission charges and donations; all tips for restaurant staff, drivers, guides and porters; all taxes (federal, state, city and airport); the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
Hotel Zaza, Houston: a contemporary hotel next door to the Fine Arts Museum. Hotel Saint George, Marfa: a modern hotel, opened in 2016, in the centre of town. Mokara Hotel & Spa, San Antonio: an attractive hotel in colonial style, well located on the River Walk. The Joule Hotel, Dallas: a 1920s neo-Gothic building in downtown Dallas.
This is a long tour with a lot of travelling and a significant time difference to contend with. There is a fair amount of walking and standing around in museums. Fitness and stamina are essential. Average distance by coach per day: 62 miles.
There may be an opportunity to attend an opera, concert or play in Dallas. Programmes will be sent nearer the time.
Between 12 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.
'I loved the scope – we saw so much of Texas in a short time and the museums and other institutions were all well worth seeing.'
'The lecturer was excellent; so often he went the extra mile to make the tour that little bit more special.'
'All the cities visited were fascinating and the stay in Marfa was particularly memorable. It has been a wonderful experience with a very friendly group.'