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GUNTHER GERZSO (1915-2000)

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The Thomas Ireland Collection


Van Cleve Fine Art represents the Thomas Ireland Collection of early works by Gunther Gerzso. The Ireland Collection consists of more than 400 drawing and paintings Gerzso produced while working at the Cleveland Play House and during his summers in Mexico between 1935 and 1941. Several works from this collection were included in the traveling exhibition "Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso" organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. This archive or works is a visual diary of the artist's thoughts, feelings, interests and emotions during this very formative period. The works were collected by Thomas Ireland, a Play House actor, and stored for many years until they were discovered by his daughter, Thomasine Ireland, following her father's death.

The friendship between Thomas Ireland and Gunther Gerzso began upon the young Gerzso's arrival to the Cleveland theatre to work as a student, later becoming a costume and scenic designer. Ireland and his wife, Patricia, were actors at the Play House and they took a great interest in the talent and work of the young Mexican artist. The Irelands were devoted to the cultural arts and encouraged Gerzso to explore his artistic vision.

Thomasine Ireland Jacobs recounts the friendship between her father and Gunther Gerzso:

"My father, who saved and preserved so many of the pieces, always held Gerzso's work and talent in high regard, and encouraged him in every way he could. Gerzso inscribed a number of paintings to my mother and father, and painted a wonderful portrait of my father...These works, which covered the walls of our house, were such an important part of the environment of my childhood.

"My mother, father, Gunther and Rilla (Rilla Gene Cady, then an intern at the Play House and later, Gunther's wife) worked on many of the same productions. They were part of an intimate and dynamic community of people focused on the common goal of excellence in all aspects of theatre production. Their lives were intwined through professional respect and personal friendship."


The works from the Ireland Collection are mainly figurative and are pivotal to understanding the abstract visual language that Gerzso later created. Within four years of leaving the Play House and returning to Mexico, Gerzso's work had transitioned into pure abstractionism. Particularly, the stage sets from the Ireland Collection offer insight to the meticulously organized, abstract works for which Gerzso is so famous. The style of abstraction that Gerzso perfected: orderly, fastidious and detailed, clearly has roots in the drafting skills that the artist developed while working at the Play House.

During the years documented by the Ireland Collection, Gerzso investigated a myriad of styles and subjects including European modernism, cubism and surrealism. Many of the drawings are strongly reminiscent of Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse. Other works show the influence of Mexican masters including los tres grandes, Carlos Orozco Romero and Julio Castellanos. The influence of surrealists including Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Roberto Matta are also visible. As these early influences demonstrate, Gunther Gerzso began his artistic journey by inundating himself with these established styles. After mastering the figure, Gerzso was able to break away and explore his own vision. Using defracted space and layered planes of color, he created a new Constructivist vision.

Gerzso referred to Thomas Ireland as his "first collector." The drawings, watercolors and paintings from the Ireland Collection document the path of a young naive artist, a skillful set designer to becoming a brilliant Modern Master.

Works from the Thomas Ireland Collection have been accessioned into the permanent collections at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago and the San Diego Museum of Art.