Artwork of Fred Nagler
A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Fred Nagler (1891–1983) studied at the Art Students League of New York from 1914 to 1917 under Thomas Fogarty, Frank DuMond, George Bridgman, and Robert Henri. Although Nagler practiced woodcarving early in his life he is known chiefly as a painter. Biblical panels and agrarian landscapes brought notoriety to Nagler, but from his home in Riverdale, New York, and his farm in the Massachusetts Berkshires, he also produced drawings, woodcuts, and etchings studying a variety of subjects. He was featured in Life magazine, March 25, 1940, with his painting Crucifixion which had received the purchase prize in a contemporary art exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Nagler served as chairman of the art department of the Connecticut College for Women, succeeded Grant Wood at Iowa State University, and was chairman of the art department at Eastman School of Music. Through much of his career Nagler was represented by Midtown Galleries, New York. His work can be found in the collections of the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Academy of Design, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Cathedral of St. John the Devine, and The University of Texas.
Nagler and his wife Edith, a landscape painter of note, moved to Dallas in 1973. His work was represented by his friend, artist Donald Vogel at Valley House Gallery. Vogel, as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, had become aware of Nagler’s work. “Nagler’s painting intrigued us with its color and distortion of the image. We would look for his paintings whenever possible, for we found them exceptional and exciting. We discussed them at times during dinners at the Community House. His subjects, mostly religious, seldom entered the discussions, for our interests lay in the beautifully controlled, painterly surfaces and nuances of color and line.” —Donald Stanley Vogel, Memories and Images: The World of Donald Vogel and Valley House Gallery. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2000.
Nagler’s subjects here are mainstays of the European art tradition. The Mother or Madonna and Child from as early as the third century of the Christian Era supplied a reverential focus not specific to the gospel accounts. The affection portrayed, both maternal and spiritual, is sometimes coupled with a sense of apprehension. Nagler’s elongated mother wears a wash of halo as her child reaches a comforting hand to her cheek.
The iconography of Rest on the Flight to Egypt was not prominent until Life of Christ cycles began to be celebrated in medieval liturgy and the arts. The scenes tell of the Holy Family indulging in a brief respite as they flee the horror of infanticide described in the Gospel of Matthew. Nagler chose an arrangement of figures reminiscent of woodcuts by Schongauer and Dürer with Joseph at the right steadying the donkey on which the seated Mary cradles Jesus. The towering Mary in Nagler’s version stands behind the daisy-adorned donkey as she pulls Jesus from a basket. The basket may serve as Nagler’s allusion to the deliverance of Moses from the Egyptian infanticide reported in Exodus.