In 2015, the Saint Louis Art Museum acquired Sunday Morning Breakfast, a 1943 painting by the esteemed African-American artist Horace Pippin. Sunday Morning Breakfast was offered by the Alexandre Gallery in New York. The price was $1.5 million.
Depicting a scene drawn from the artist’s childhood memories, the painting is one of the finest examples of the African-American domestic scenes for which Pippin is best known, said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum.
“Sunday Morning Breakfast will occupy a place of pride in the museum’s American art galleries and will underscore the Saint Louis Art Museum’s ongoing commitment to build the collection through thoughtful and strategic acquisitions,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said the purchase builds on—and will complement—acquisitions beginning in the 1940s of significant works by African-American artists, including Edward Mitchell Bannister, Eldzier Cortor, Robert S. Duncanson, Norman Lewis, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Kara Walker and Charles White.
Sunday Morning Breakfast depicts a warm family scene. Two young children sit at a central table, as a woman serves them breakfast. A man sits on the left, watching the simple moment. A kettle whistles on boil, the stove glows orange, and the children eagerly await their freshly plated breakfast.
“Pippin’s reputation rests on the sophisticated balance between abstract design and an evocative, simple narrative, which Sunday Morning Breakfast exemplifies in the charm of its family scene balanced by the modernist geometric order of the room,” said Melissa Wolfe, the museum’s curator of American art.
Pippin celebrated his connection to folk art, showing with other major folk artists of the time like Grandma Moses, while moving successfully into the milieu of early 20th-century American modernism by also showing with artists Jacob Lawrence and Charles Sheeler, Wolfe said.
“The painting will serve as a bridge within the broader American collection to reveal complex and often-overlooked relationships between styles and practices typically presented as quite disparate.” said Wolfe. “Pippin’s work shares interests equally with our great works by Thomas Hart Benton, Ralston Crawford, and Alexander Calder. It brings new connections that will push the viewer to see the collection afresh.”
Wolfe, who will oversee the reinstallation of the museum’s American art galleries next year, said Sunday Morning Breakfast will have a permanent presence as a major cornerstone of the American collection, along with works by Benton, George Caleb Bingham, William Merritt Chase, John Singleton Copley, John Steuart Curry, Philip Guston, Winslow Homer, Norman Lewis, Ben Shahn and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Pippin (1888-1946) became an artist by way of the battlefields of World War I, where he served in an infantry unit known as “Harlem’s Hellfighters.” He lost the use of his right arm after a sniper shot him in the shoulder, and he took up drawing as a therapeutic outlet upon his return from Europe.
After his work was “discovered” at a local art exhibition in 1937, four of Pippin’s works were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1938 exhibition Masters of Popular Painting. In just a few short years he was heralded by other major figures in American art, and he received the support of influential patrons such as collector Albert C. Barnes and Hollywood figures Edward G. Robinson, Albert Lewin, and Charles Laughton.
By the time of his death from a stroke in 1946, Pippin’s work already had been included in major exhibitions and the permanent collections of several museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art and the Phillips Collection.