The primary focus of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens’ Permanent Collection is French and American Impressionist and Post Impressionist art. Built as the residence of civic and social leaders Margaret Oates Dixon (1900-1974) and Hugo Norton Dixon Degas Dancer(1892-1974), the Dixon is their legacy to Memphis. Upon completion of their home in the early 40s, the Dixon’s became interested in collecting eighteenth century English paintings. Eventually, with the guidance of John Rewald, a leading authority of French Impressionism, the Dixons began collecting works by Eugene Boudin, Edgar Degas, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse.
While the Dixon is the creation of the Dixons, the collection has expanded in both depth and breadth since their deaths. The museum acquired several major paintings in the ‘70s and ‘80s through purchases and individual gifts. Renoir’s Picture Book was the first major purchase of the Dixon after it became a public museum. In 1986, the Dixon added the largest and a popular work to the collection, The Joyous Festival by Belgian artist Gaston Da La Touche. This work is one of several works that Da La Touche completed with this subject and large-scale.
In 1993, the Dixon acquired fifty-three works of art by French artist Jean-Louis Forain through the Galérie Hopkins-Thomas in Paris. The drawings, watercolors and paintings were created during Forain’s Impressionist years from the 1870s to the 1880s. Friend and fellow artist Degas encouraged Forain to join the fourth exhibition of the Independent Artists in 1879. Eventually, Forain met with commercial success, not only exhibiting in the Salon, but also by producing satirical drawings that were published in the latest journals of the time. Several more works by Forain have been added to the Dixon collection since this major acquisition in 1993.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the museum in 1996, the Dixon acquired more than twenty-five works from the Montgomery Ritchie family of Palo Duro, Texas. This combination of gift and purchase greatly expanded the museum’s collection of paintings and added several major works to the collection including two excellent examples of Monet’s landscape painting and a very unusual seascape by Renoir, The Wave. It has become a major work in the collection and has traveled to exhibitions all over the world. Paul Cézanne’s Trees and Rocks Near the Chateau Noir is the only work by this artist in the Mid-South and displays the brushwork, colors, and technique that characterize Cézanne’s mature style. Other artists in the Ritchie collection include Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall and John Singer Sargent.
Throughout the years, acquisitions and individual gifts have contributed to the expansion of the Dixon’s Permanent Collection and have helped create an extraordinary collection enjoyed by both scholars and visitors.