The Art of Golf

Organized by the High Museum of Art and the National Galleries of Scotland, The Art of Golf is the first-ever exhibition devoted to the game by a major American art museum. Comprising approximately 90 works from artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Charles Lees, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol, The Art of Golf will examine the game’s origins, its foundation in Scotland, and its growth in America in the twentieth century. The exhibition also will include an introductory video that features golf legends Sir Michael Bonallack and Jack Nicklaus.

The exhibition will explore the depth and richness of the history of the sport, beginning with early Dutch landscape and genre paintings of the seventeenth century depicting kolf, a cousin of the modern game. See Rembrandt’s famous etching The Ringball Player (1654) and winter landscapes by Hendrick and Barent Avercamp, which depict kolf being played on the frozen canals of Holland. Also included will be a series of iconic, Scottish golfing portraits from the National Galleries of Scotland, such as a stunning full-length portrait of the tartan-clad Sir James and Sir Alexander MacDonald (ca. 1749) by William Mosman and an incisive portrayal of William Inglis, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (1787), by Scottish painter David Allan. Among many objects lent from the collection of the world-renowned Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, is the charming portrait of Old Tom Morris by Sir George Reid. Morris was one of the great early players, winning four British Opens in the 1860s and also earning fame as a clubmaker and course designer.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is known as the greatest golfing painting in the world: Charles Lees’ The Golfers, which portrays in detail a match played on the Old Course at St. Andrews in 1847. Jointly owned by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, this masterpiece has never before traveled to the United States, though reproductions of it hang in golf clubhouses around the world. Displayed alongside the painting will be several preparatory sketches, all portraits of individuals who can be identified in the painting, and an early photograph by Hill and Adamson to which Lees referred as he composed his painting. Also included in the exhibition will begolfiana—an antique ball, clubs, and clothing—to illustrate the very different equipment used in the earliest days of the sport.

Moving into the early twentieth century, the exhibition will present a series of elegant golfing scenes by Sir John Lavery, which capture the chic glamour and appeal of the game in the Roaring Twenties. This will include art deco railway posters advertising Scotland’s premier courses to an expanding audience in Britain and a series of photographs by Harold Edgerton, developer of strobe photography,  that features the great Bobby Jones, Jr., hitting a golf ball. Other artists featured are Childe Hassam, James McNeill Whistler, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol.

The exhibition also will feature a special section on legendary American hero and Atlanta native Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, Jr. (1902–71), who popularized golf on the international stage. The exhibition will include portraits of Jones and notable photographs that illustrate his importance to the game and the bond he created between the United States and Scotland, where he came to love and admire the Old Course at St Andrews.

The Art of Golf will close with a series of aerial photographs by Patricia and Angus Macdonald, newly commissioned by the National Galleries of Scotland, which capture the beauty of iconic Scottish golf courses and explore the effects that human activity has had on the land.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue featuring essays by Dr. Tico Seifert, senior curator of Northern European Art, National Gallery of Scotland; Jordan Mearns, research assistant, National Galleries of Scotland; Dr. Catherine Lewis, consulting curator for The Art of Golf; Dr. Richard A. Lewis, curator of Visual Arts, Louisiana State Museum; and Rand Jerris, senior managing director of Public Services, United States Golf Association.