From childhood tragedy, a business giant’s love of art

Posted Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A closer look To learn more about the Haddock Center or to schedule a private tour, visit www.haddockcenter.com or contact Michelle Brown at michelle@haddockcenter.com or 817-885-8922.

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Floyd Haddock was crippled by polio as a boy and spent the next half-century proving he was the equal of any person with two healthy legs. As a young man, he bought several heavily forested acres on Caddo Lake in East Texas, cleared the land and built what would become one of the state’s most popular fishing resorts.

In the process, he became a larger-than-life figure to his youngest son, Gerald.

“How does a man with polio build something like that out of the wilderness?” Gerald Haddock wondered recently. “He cut the trees and had a successful business. … He convinced me that I could do whatever I set my mind to do.”

The son spoke of the father a few weeks ago at his Fort Worth mansion, built on a bluff overlooking Eagle Mountain Lake. From that rustic childhood in East Texas, Gerald Haddock went on to a successful career as a lawyer — he was general counsel of the Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s — a businessman who made a fortune in real estate and investments, and a philanthropist.

But on that day, Floyd Haddock, not business, was on Gerald Haddock’s mind as he showed off a most unusual collection of world-class art. For the son, there is a deep and abiding connection between the two.

Outside it was a cold, gray afternoon and a stiff north wind roiled whitecaps on the water below.

“It was a day a lot like this one,” Gerald Haddock said.

On Dec. 3, 1956, he was 9. Young Gerald and his mother had attended a Christmas parade in nearby Marshall. On the 20-mile drive home they were passed by emergency vehicles, speeding toward the fishing camp with sirens blaring.

“My mother and I both were scared,” Gerald Haddock said.

An acquired appreciation

Education was paramount to his parents, so Gerald Haddock went from Caddo Lake to Baylor in Waco, earning degrees in accounting and law. He added a Master of Laws from New York University, then landed a job with the prestigious Houston firm Fulbright and Jaworski.

Haddock was still in his 20s when he was picked to head a legal team representing Houston socialite and art collector Cecil Furstenberg, then in a battle with the Internal Revenue Service. Furstenberg had donated a painting from her collection, by the famed French artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, to the University of Houston. Her appraisers valued it at $250,000. Art experts at the IRS said it was worth only $60,000.

The dispute landed in federal court in New York City. During weeks of testimony in late 1977, Haddock called some of the nation’s top art experts as witnesses. In 1978, the court appraised the Corot painting at $160,000, a big victory for the young lawyer.

But the case had much deeper meaning for Haddock. It was an intensive primer in art appreciation for the boy from Caddo Lake. Haddock was taught to look for fine details in paintings he was oblivious to before. When looking at a picture, he now saw new layers of meaning and emotion.

“The light came on and made me want to know more,” he said.

For much of the next two decades, Haddock carved out time on his travels to visit the world’s great museums and galleries.

“I’d find myself in New York and go to one of those old classic bookstores on 57th and Fifth and hide out for a day, looking at those old art books,” he said. “I knew from the beginning that the passion would take me somewhere. I had no idea where.”

The answer came in the spring of 1997. During a visit to a showcase home in one of his real estate projects, the exclusive Mira Vista development in Fort Worth, interior decorator Pam Flowers said she had a surprise. She led Haddock to a stairwell.

On the wall was an original 1910 painting by the British artist Stanhope Forbes.

The picture was called Son of the Sea, depicting an old woman sitting in shadow with her hand on the shoulder of a boy. The boy holds a toy ship and looks intently at the woman. Behind them a fishing village and the ocean beyond are bathed in brilliant sunlight.

From his decades of study, Haddock knew immediately it was art of the highest order. But his reaction to the piece went far deeper.

“The boy was listening with such a strong feeling that she had to be telling him about a father who had perished in the water,” Haddock remembered recently. “But she wasn’t running away from it. She’s saying, ‘I want you to do exactly what your father did. It’s dangerous, but we love it, and we enjoy the life that’s given us.’”

A revelation

On that cold December day in 1956, Floyd Haddock and one of his young fishing guides had gone duck hunting on Caddo Lake in a small boat. Authorities later speculated that Floyd fell out while shooting and his companion had gone in after him. The water was frigid. Both were found dead, floating near the boat.

“It was devastating,” Haddock said, his voice catching. “It still is. You feel shortchanged. I had so much respect for him because of who he was and how hard he had worked. To lose that at such an early age …”

So Gerald Haddock was that boy in the painting. That day in the house at Mira Vista, the love and tragedy of his childhood coalesced with his adult passion for art.

“It was a magical moment. There was so much about it I connected with,” said Haddock, now 65 and the father of two grown sons and a daughter. “Obviously it evoked memories of my dad. You feel the poignance, the serious nostalgia. Then, all of a sudden, a calm comes over you because of the art, the beauty. … It carries you to calm, serene and enjoyable moments.”

Haddock bought Son of the Sea, nearly on the spot, for $60,000. But that was just the beginning.

‘The human condition’

Stanhope Forbes is known as the father of the Newlyn School of British painters, named for a tiny fishing village in Cornwall, on the southwestern tip of England. The colony of artists, painting at the turn of the 20th century, were also known as the British impressionists. They had indeed been greatly influenced by French painters of the same era. The methods of applying paint to canvas and the use of light were similar on each side of the English Channel.

But the Newlyn painters were also inspired by the lesser-known French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, who, unlike the French impressionists, used working-class people and their lives as the subjects of his paintings.

“The Newlyn School painters weren’t interested in being commissioned to paint portraits of the wealthy and important people, and they weren’t painting subjects of ancient Roman history,” said Malcolm Warner, former curator of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and an expert on British art. “They were interested in the ordinary scenes of working life in their own time.

“They’re not exactly like Monet or Renoir,” Warner said. “The sympathy they express for the working poor is so powerful, and it adds such a human dimension to the art.”

Which is what caused Gerald Haddock to buy more than one painting. Over the next three years, he would purchase nine more by Forbes and another by fellow Newlyn School artist George Clausen. All of them depicted working-class people and scenes from their lives, many of which took place in or near the remote fishing village.

“Why did I build this collection? Because I was attached to it,” Haddock said. “It evokes an emotional feeling. This particular genre is of the beauty of ordinary people, the beauty of a simple way of life. I got away from the simple way of life in business. It got very complicated. I wouldn’t trade anything for doing that, but that didn’t change my appreciation for this collection.

“It’s a reflection on the human condition, the beauty, the hard work,” he continued. “When I think about my dad, he was crippled and working in a fishing camp, yet I knew he was happy, satisfied every day. I see that in this art.”

Haddock and his wife, Diane, soon visited Cornwall.

“The Newlyn School paintings have a sort of emphatic quality, a sort of moral dimension to them, so the collectors tend to be lovely people, and Gerald and Diane certainly fall into that category,” said Alison Bevan, director of the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Cornwall. “They asked if we could arrange for them to see some of the places where they painted. It was a wonderful day, standing in the footsteps of the artists.”

At dinner during their visit, a waitress overheard Bevan and the Haddocks discussing the Newlyn painters. The waitress said her grandfather had been one of their models.

“It turns out he was in one of my paintings,” Haddock said. “That was pretty special.”

Bevan came to Fort Worth a few years later to help christen the Haddock collection, now displayed at the lakeside mansion that has been turned into a gallery, the Haddock Center. The center is home to what is probably the finest private collection of Newlyn School works in the United States.

“They’re very well-known in England but almost totally unknown elsewhere,” Warner said. “That’s why Gerald Haddock is so amazing. He has such a passion for such an unusual thing among American collectors. There are thousands of American collectors, and he is probably the only one to have homed in on the Newlyn School.

“The best collectors work that way,” Warner said. “They don’t just collect trophies. They don’t collect to show off. They collect because they have deep feelings for the art.”

‘A collection that

people can enjoy’

Two pieces are particularly coveted. One is Son of the Sea.

The other is a painting that Haddock came across while browsing through an art book. The picture, Charity by Walter Langley, is of a beggar boy invited in to eat by a mother and daughter, who look on with sympathy. In his book What Is Art?, the legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy celebrates the Langley painting and the emotions it evokes.

“This picture by an artist who, I think, is not widely known, is an admirable and true work of art,” Tolstoy wrote.

Haddock immediately wanted to buy it, contacting Dallas art dealer David Dike to help track it down. Dike said Haddock need not look far.

The work was hanging in a house in Fort Worth and had been part of a divorce settlement. It took Haddock several visits to convince the owner that he would give the painting a good home.

“You know, this painting needs to be among its brothers and sisters,” he told the owner. “She said, ‘Well, what do you intend to do with all this?’ I said, ‘I want this to be a collection that people can enjoy. That’s the ultimate goal.’”

There is now talk in England of his paintings being part of a major Newlyn School exhibition.

“The Penlee House has been hoping to put our collection and Gerald’s in a proper exhibition of the Newlyn School,” Bevan said. “The Royal Academy of Arts is very interested in doing a survey show. There is huge potential for that to happen.”

Standing in front of Charity on a recent day at the lake, Haddock spoke of his own plans, still in the early phases, of sharing his art with the world.

“Tolstoy basically says that fine art needs to be more than beautiful. It needs to evoke feeling,” Haddock said. “We still have the same human condition. We need to make this available to everybody.”

He moved a few steps away to Son of the Sea. Whenever he looks at it, he said, thoughts of his father and his simple upbringing are never far away.

“He would have absolutely loved this,” said Floyd Haddock’s son. “It was part of his life. He would see a different lake, a different time, but the same type of people.”

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544 Twitter: @tsmadigan

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