Property from the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
Like The Great American Novel, The Great American Family is exceedingly rare. Its fortune must be created by hazard and determination; its sons and daughters must be their forebears’ equal; its members must be civic-minded and their causes, reasoned and just. In short, The Great American Family leaves its country and community much the better for it. There are few such Great Families—and few greater than Bass.
Beginning with Perry Richardson Bass and his wife, Nancy Lee, members of this distinguished family have enriched America, the state of Texas and the city of Fort Worth through an unwavering commitment to philanthropy and culture. The extraordinary Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass reflects the beauty and joy that defined the lives of two remarkable individuals and their shared, lasting legacy.
Perry Bass was born in 1914 in Wichita Falls, Texas. When his father died in 1933, maternal uncle Sid W. Richardson became Perry’s mentor and, before long, his partner. A noted philanthropist and collector in his own right, Richardson rose from humble beginnings to make his mark as one of America’s savviest businessmen, amassing wealth through the discovery of oil fields in West Texas. Perry Bass joined Richardson in the oil industry in 1935; he would earn his BA from Yale in geology and geophysics two years later. Nephew and uncle remained partners until Richardson’s death in 1959, whereupon the fabled entrepreneur left most of his estate to charity. In 1960, Mr. Bass established Bass Brothers Enterprises, which went from strength to strength under his leadership and that of his four sons, Sid, Lee, Edward and Robert.
Perry and his beloved wife, Nancy Lee Muse Bass, met in Fort Worth 1938 and married in 1941. A Fort Worth native and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Mrs. Bass’s passion for the arts—classical music, in particular—was fostered at an early age. Over the course of their sixty-five years together, Nancy Lee and Perry Bass led the transformation of Fort Worth into one of the nation’s most vibrant communities. “Nancy Lee was the first lady of Fort Worth,” remembered Kay Kimbell Carter Fortson, chairman of the Kimbell Art Foundation. “She was the matriarch and the mother not only to her family, but to all of Fort Worth.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry declared that “Texas is a much better place because [Perry Bass] was Texan.” And the late pianist Van Cliburn—the Basses’ longtime next-door neighbor and friend—called Mr. Bass “a legend” and “a giant.”
“Fort Worth,” The New York Times wrote in 2002, “has acquired the cultural ambitions of Florence under the Medicis.” For decades, Nancy Lee and Perry Bass stood at the heart of these efforts, providing significant financial support and unflagging energy to local institutions including the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth; the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame; the Sid W. Richardson Foundation; the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History; the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; and the Kimbell Art Museum, which mounted an exhibition of the Bass Collection in 2015. “I don’t know if you could go to a museum or a cultural institution or any institution in Fort Worth,” observed Patricia W. Riley of the National Cowgirl Museum, “and not find [Nancy Lee’s] footprint.”
The exceptional rarity and quality of the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass epitomize the couple who assembled it. From their earliest acquisitions in the early 1960s—the thickly impastoed avant-garde paintings by Poliakoff and Riopelle and vivid Raoul Dufy harbor view—to Vuillard’s striking portrait of Yvonne Printemps, bought at auction in 1997, these works represent the best of Impressionist, Modern and Post-War Art. There is Bonnard’s Diebenkorn-before-Diebenkorn interior, from 1927; Calder’s “cosmic” 1947 oil, Seven, Black, Red and Blue; Chagall’s mysterious Fleurs, from 1928 and unimprovable circus scene from 1970; Van Dongen’s celebrated Portrait de Madame Malpel (circa 1908); Matisse’s exquisitely patterned, light-suffused Femmes sur un balcon (1921); Miró’s monumental 1933 Peinture; the large, lifetime cast of Rodin’s famous Baiser, which Perry gave to Nancy Lee on the occasion of their twenty-fifth anniversary; Rothko’s fiery red and yellow Untitled painting from 1969; and Van Gogh’s 1889 masterwork, Paysage avec laboureur.
Aided and advised by Eugene V. Thaw, Klaus Perls and William Acquavella, the Basses were drawn to Impressionism, Fauvism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism—above all, to strong and expressive colorists. “A collection born with enthusiasm,” recalled Sid Bass, “became a lifetime of pleasure and joy.” In addition to her longstanding connection to the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Mrs. Bass was also involved with the Collector’s Committee of the National Gallery of Art. In Washington, the Basses endowed an eponymous fund that has enabled works by Post-War and Contemporary artists from Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and Morris Louis to Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin and Brice Marden, to enter the National Gallery’s permanent collection. For Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, sharing art in the public sphere was an extension of their lifelong dedication to improving communities.