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Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Art of Golf

Fig. 1: Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634) Winter Landscape, ca. 1610–1620 Oil on copper, 11-1/4 x 16-3/4 inches National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (NG 647)  Hendrick Avercamp’s winter scene conveys a message about democratic social values: various classes—rich and poor, old and young, male and female—are bound together through leisure. Nevertheless, kolf was connected to status in seventeenth-century Dutch society, here evidenced by the players’ colorful, elegant clothing.
Fig. 1: Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634)
Winter Landscape, ca. 1610–1620
Oil on copper, 11-1/4 x 16-3/4 inches
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (NG 647)

Hendrick Avercamp’s winter scene conveys a message about democratic social values: various classes—rich and poor, old and young, male and female—are bound together through leisure. Nevertheless, kolf was connected to status in seventeenth-century Dutch society, here evidenced by the players’ colorful, elegant clothing.

The Art of Golf by Catherine Lewis
Fig. 2: Unknown artist View of St Andrews from the Old Course, ca. 1740 Oil on canvas, 14 x 39-9/16 inches By kind permission of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews  This view of St. Andrews golf course is the earliest known representation of golf being played in Scotland. Two rustic shepherds watch golfers and caddies, while a nearby flock of sheep is seemingly unbothered by the game afoot.
Fig. 2: Unknown artist
View of St Andrews from the Old Course, ca. 1740
Oil on canvas, 14 x 39-9/16 inches
By kind permission of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews

This view of St. Andrews golf course is the earliest known representation of golf being played in Scotland. Two rustic shepherds watch golfers and caddies, while a nearby flock of sheep is seemingly unbothered by the game afoot.

by Catherine Lewis

Mark Twain considered the game of golf “a good walk spoiled,” while J. Carter Brown believed games like golf invite us to “leave behind the toils and trouble of daily life in search of pleasure, exercise, and spirited competition.” From Hendrick Avercamp’s seventeenth-century scenes of people playing kolf, a cousin of the game, to Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jack Nicklaus, artists too, have approached the subject of golf from a variety of perspectives. In ninety works from artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Charles Lees, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol, The Art of Golf, organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the National Galleries of Scotland, explores how European and American artists have depicted the royal and ancient game across four centuries, its origins in Scotland, and its growth in America in the twentieth century.

Although Scotland is acknowledged as the birthplace of the modern version of the game of golf, its origins are still a source of mystery and speculation. In the seventeenth century, Dutch artists, including Rembrandt van Rijn, Paul Bril, and Hendrick Avercamp (Fig. 1) painted joyous winter scenes filled with people playing a variety of games, including kolf, in which players—usually men—were equipped with long sticks and balls and played in pairs, aiming at a target, often a tree stump. While the modern game of golf that developed in Scotland is quite different from the games played in the Netherlands, historians believe that active trade between the two countries helped influence the game of golf played today.

Fig. 3: Charles Lees (1800–1880) The Golfers, 1847 51-1/2 x 84-1/4 inches National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh Scottish National Portrait Gallery, purchased with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund, and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, 2002 (PG 3299)  Perhaps the greatest of all golfing pictures, The Golfers contains portraits of more than fifty identifiable golfers. They are clustered around a foursome match between Sir David Baird and Sir Ralph Anstruther against Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Campbell of Glensaddell.
Fig. 3: Charles Lees (1800–1880)
The Golfers, 1847
51-1/2 x 84-1/4 inches
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh Scottish National Portrait Gallery, purchased with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund, and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, 2002 (PG 3299)

Perhaps the greatest of all golfing pictures, The Golfers contains portraits of more than fifty identifiable golfers. They are clustered around a foursome match between Sir David Baird and Sir Ralph Anstruther against Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Campbell of Glensaddell.

Fig. 4: Sir John Lavery (1856–1941)  Golfing at North Berwick, ca. 1920  Oil on canvas, 32-1/4 x 35-1/2 inches  The collection of John and Mary Ellen Imlay Jr  Lavery and his wife visited North Berwick regularly between 1919 and 1924. There the artist painted a series of landscapes documenting North Berwick’s spectacular links.
Fig. 4: Sir John Lavery (1856–1941)
Golfing at North Berwick, ca. 1920
Oil on canvas, 32-1/4 x 35-1/2 inches
The collection of John and Mary Ellen Imlay Jr

Lavery and his wife visited North Berwick regularly between 1919 and 1924. There the artist painted a series of landscapes documenting North Berwick’s spectacular links.

Fig. 5: Wayman Adams (1883–1959) Bobby Jones, 1926 Oil on canvas, 80 x 47 inches The Atlanta Athletic Club  In 1926 a group of prominent Atlanta businessmen commissioned Wayman Adams to commemorate Jones after he won “The Double”—the U.S. Open and the British Open. The portrait was paid for by subscriptions to the Atlanta Georgian and the Sunday American and presented to Jones.
Fig. 5: Wayman Adams (1883–1959)
Bobby Jones, 1926
Oil on canvas, 80 x 47 inches
The Atlanta Athletic Club

In 1926 a group of prominent Atlanta businessmen commissioned Wayman Adams to commemorate Jones after he won “The Double”—the U.S. Open and the British Open. The portrait was paid for by subscriptions to the Atlanta Georgian and the Sunday American and presented to Jones.

The eighteenth century, arguably the game’s formative era, is also the period in which Scottish artists, many of them avid golf players, were first inspired by the subject. In 1740, an unknown artist depicted the Old Course at St. Andrews (Fig. 2), renowned as the “home of golf” and where a version of the game has been played since around 1400. More typical of the period were grand portraits representing kilt-clad members of the great Scottish golf clubs equipped with club and ball.

By the mid-nineteenth century, artists had turned to a more representational approach, showing golfers on the links in verdant landscapes. This period produced two of golfing art’s masterpieces, Golf at North Berwick by Sir Francis Grant (1803–1878) and Charles Lees’ (1800–1880) The Golfers (Fig. 3). Lees’ work, which portrays in detail a match played on the Old Course at St. Andrews in 1847, has never before traveled to the United States though reproductions of it hang in golf clubhouses around the world. Displayed in the exhibition alongside the painting are several preparatory sketches of individuals who can be identified in the work, and an early photograph to which Lees referred as he composed his painting.

Early twentieth-century paintings of the game are imbued with an air of elegance, as in Golfing at North Berwick (Fig. 4), by Sir John Lavery (1856–1941), which illustrates the importance of the game to the Scottish elite. Golf’s popularity had expanded beyond the British Isles, and its international appeal was evident in Art Deco railway posters of the same period, for example, that advertised Scotland’s premier courses to an expanding leisure class.

Golf was popularized in America by such notable figures as Atlanta native Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. (1902–1971). As the only player in history to win golf’s Grand Slam, he left an enduring legacy that extends to the building of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. Jones served as an important ambassador to the golfing world, building a lasting bridge between the United States and Scotland. Many artists were fascinated by Jones and the amateur sporting ideal he came to represent and the exhibition includes several portraits of Jones (Fig. 5) as well as photographs, sculpture, and film footage that illustrate his importance to the game and the bond he created between the United States and Scotland.

Fig. 6: George Bellows (1882–1925) Golf Course, California, 1917 Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 inches Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati  The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial (1966.6)  George Bellows focused most of his work on the gritty social conditions of urban environments, quite unlike the elegant landscape shown here, which conveys the companionship, sociability, and status afforded to golf players. The composition also speaks to the growing independence of women in public life.
Fig. 6: George Bellows (1882–1925)
Golf Course, California, 1917
Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 inches
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati
The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial (1966.6)

George Bellows focused most of his work on the gritty social conditions of urban environments, quite unlike the elegant landscape shown here, which conveys the companionship, sociability, and status afforded to golf players. The composition also speaks to the growing independence of women in public life.

Fig. 7: Childe Hassam, American (1859–1935) Dune Hazard, No. 2., 1922  Oil on canvas, 22 x 44 inches Courtesy American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York  Hassam’s painting likely depicts a course he played often, the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, Long Island, founded in 1891, and professionally designed by Scottish immigrant Willie Tucker. A member, Hassam called Maidstone “a country club discovered by artists.”
Fig. 7: Childe Hassam, American (1859–1935)
Dune Hazard, No. 2., 1922
Oil on canvas, 22 x 44 inches
Courtesy American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York

Hassam’s painting likely depicts a course he played often, the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, Long Island, founded in 1891, and professionally designed by Scottish immigrant Willie Tucker. A member, Hassam called Maidstone “a country club discovered by artists.”

Fig. 8: Andy Warhol (1928–1987), Jack Nicklaus, 1977 Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 40 x 40 inches The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (1998.1.702)  The celebrity status of golfers particularly appealed to Andy Warhol, who also focused on everyday commercial objects such as the iconic Campbell’s Soup can and Brillo packing boxes. This 1977 work was part of Warhol’s Athletes Series that presented ten sports stars as celebrity brands to be marketed and consumed by an eager public.
Fig. 8: Andy Warhol (1928–1987),
Jack Nicklaus, 1977
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 40 x 40 inches
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (1998.1.702)

The celebrity status of golfers particularly appealed to Andy Warhol, who also focused on everyday commercial objects such as the iconic Campbell’s Soup can and Brillo packing boxes. This 1977 work was part of Warhol’s Athletes Series that presented ten sports stars as celebrity brands to be marketed and consumed by an eager public.

George Bellows (1882–1925) was among a number of American artists who were drawn to the subject of golf (Fig. 6). Others include James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) and Childe Hassam (1859–1935) (Fig. 7), whose impressionist landscapes featuring golfers underscored the relationship between the game and modern ideas about recreation. Later, Norman Rockwell’s (1894–1978) illustrations in The Saturday Evening Post poked gentle fun at the foibles of a new generation of middle-class golfers, and Andy Warhol (1928–1987) chose golf superstar Jack Nicklaus for his Athletes Series, a group of ten paintings of the greatest sports figures of the day (Fig. 8).

Photographers have also found golf an enduring subject, among them, Harold Edgerton (1903–1990), who developed stroboscopic photography and created a series of photographs featuring Bobby Jones hitting a golf ball. The haunting black and white landscape photography of Chinese-American John Yang (b. 1933) and images of notable early African-American golfers are presented alongside contemporary images that capture the beauty of Scottish courses.

The Art of Golf reflects broad transformations in artistic traditions. For American artists, golf was not a homegrown sport like baseball or basketball; it cannot even be said to be America’s game. In fact, it retains the connection to its heritage as a Scottish import now sewn into the American social fabric. While the friendly amateur competitions of golf’s early years have given way to satellite television and million-dollar purses, artists have reflected this evolution in the past century. The spirit of the game that grips players with what Bobby Jones called “considerable passion,” however, remains unchanged.


The first-ever exhibition devoted to the game by a major American art museum continues the High Museum’s multi-year partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland. The Art of Golf will be on view at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, from February 5 through June 24, 2012. It will then travel to three additional venues in the United States through 2013. For information call 404.733.4400 or visit www.high.org.


Catherine Lewis is director of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education, executive director of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, and a professor of history at Kennesaw State University, Ga. She co-curated The Art of Golf with Julia Forbes of the High Museum.

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