When he's not transforming downtown Los Angeles with L.A. Live and the Staples Center, or buying up the local daily, Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz loves collecting Western art.
According to a January 2012 article in the New Yorker, Anschutz made his first major art acquisition in 1972, and since then has created a staggering collection that continues to grow: "His collection of American Western art is among the finest in private hands," writes author Connie Bruck. Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich has been quoted as saying it's one of the best he's ever seen.
Anschutz purchased the Navarre building in Denver in the late '90s to house the collection of more than 650 pieces. Dubbed the American Museum of Western Art — The Anschutz Collection, it opened to the public this past May.
However, you can see a portion of the Anschutz assemblage right here in town, and for free. It's at the Broadmoor, which Anschutz bought in 2011. Since April, he's been outfitting the luxury hotel with around $350 million worth of artwork, says Luke Stephens, the Broadmoor's concierge supervisor and unofficial resident art historian. What used to hang on the Broadmoor's walls has now been sent back to the El Pomar Foundation.
What you'll find while strolling the lobbies, hallways and conference rooms are works by Maxfield Parrish, Charles Deas, Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Alfred Bierstadt, Ernest Blumenschein, and, in the future, Georgia O'Keeffe. According to Stephens, "This is a scratch on the surface of what he has."
What Anschutz's collection represents, he says, is the evolution of Western art, and how it expressed the changing West. It begins with "expeditionary artists" like Alfred Jacob Miller, who scouted the open West and painted trappers and vast fields of buffalo. Around that same time, the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain schools emerged, capturing (and later creating) grand landscapes.
Following the Civil War, the West began to industrialize in earnest, and artists flocked there to document a vanishing landscape, and the similar plight of American Indians. Cowboys now populated the canvases of Remington and Russell, and soon trains and fences dissected the great plains.
Following that era, style became more important, as evidenced by N.C. Wyeth and Parrish, cornerstone figures of "the golden age of illustration." In the Southwest, the Taos and Santa Fe schools developed, paving the way for modernism, regionalist painters like Thomas Hart Benton, New Deal artists like Frank Mechau and eventually, post-war Abstract Expressionism.
So far, what's found at the Broadmoor only reaches through the Taos and Santa Fe schools, but it's arranged accordingly, beginning in the oldest part of the complex, the main lobby and tower, and progressing to Broadmoor West (complete with conference rooms filled with works by Remington, Russell and contemporary Charles Schreyvogel, and named after the artists).
It took less than 100 years for the U.S. to spread and "conquer" the West. With similar expediency, each generation of artists retooled their predecessors' styles, techniques and artistic principles. It's one of the aspects Stephens likes best about the collection, and the artistic era.
As he puts it: "It's only proper to evolve."
There's just one catch in all this. Replicas are interspersed throughout the resort as a security measure. Not even Stephens knows for sure which are originals and which are not, but writes in an e-mail, "My understanding is that we tried to have a fine balance between authentic real paintings and very well done replicas."
Darlene Dueck, curator for the AMWA museum, writes in an e-mail, "The items hanging at the Broadmoor consist of very high quality replicas and some originals."
(Those replicas, Stephens adds, were made expressly for the Broadmoor. One would likely believe that Deas' seminal work, "Long Jakes," hanging in the main lobby, is one of those, since Anschutz owns the work jointly with the Denver Art Museum.)
Which brings us back to Denver's Navarre building. There, you can find the real pieces hung salon-style. But truly, you don't have to go that far to get a feel for the collection. And that's what Anschutz wants, Stephens says: to give a gift to the community.
Thus, non-guests are more than welcome to wander about and view the art, and pick up a brochure outlining the works at the concierge desk. Stephens says he's in the process of starting art tours as well.