Borrowing from Mark Twain, Dallas wildlife artist Reveau Bas-sett would like the world to know “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Not long ago a local church newsletter published a note to the effect that Bassett was no longer among the living. Bassett and his wife Virginia still are battling that “exaggeration.”
Bassett was able to take it in stride, but his wife of 49 years couldn’t. She continued to get baffling calls from ghouls who wondered if their Bassett paintings had skyrocketed in value since the artist’s demise. She also received a citation from the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society eulogizing her late, great hu3band – “Reveau Bassett has departed this life and made significant contributions to society through his works.”
The last straw came when a group of Bassett’s artist cronies asked Mrs. Bassett if they could call. They expected to console a grieving widow. She didn’t know what was up. Instead she greeted them cheerfully, opened a bottle of wine and then presented them with the apparition of Reveau Bassett.
When the shock wore off, Bassett made it clear he was “enjoying bad health” but very much alive. And he would appreciate it if his friends would help spread the word.
Nearing his 80th birthday, Bassett has lost the vision in his right eye and is under treatment for a nervous disorder. He looks healthy, though. He’s straight and tall and well-built. His once wavy black hair is all there, but it’s snowy white.
Months after his vision failed, Bassett still hadn’t picked up a brush. “He was in a depression for a long time,” Mrs. Bassett remembers, “then finally he just came out of it.”
Today Bassett paints with the aid of a wire attached to his brush to steady his hand. Virginia Bassett works with him and tells him when to touch brush to canvas. It’s grueling and sometimes discouragingly slow. He has been working six months on his latest painting of ducks on the wing. But at last he is back at his first love – painting. And while he can’t get out in the field any more, he can use old sketches and the ducks he raises in his backyard to refresh his memory on true coloring.
But there were scores of years when he got his inspiration from nature by tramping the fields, marshes, woods and deserts of the southwest. In the early years, Bassett’s father introduced him to artist Frank Reaugh. He became Reaugh’s unofficial pupil. He quit school in the ninth grade to hunt, fish, sketch and study the nature he has depicted on canvas. With Reaugh he traveled the southwest. A landscape from one of those trips launched his professional career in 1916.
Bassett has dabbled in ceramics, carving, even writing. But first and foremost he is a painter. And what he wanted to paint was in the Southwest. It was inevitable that he return to Dallas. Old barns, houses and fields in Dallas County have been his subjects. But wildlife, especially ducks and geese, is his favorite subject. A 100-foot mural of southwest wildlife is in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Murchison. Ten five-foot bird and animal paintings are owned by Mr. and Mrs. Clint Murchison. Other paintings are owned by the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the natural history museum, and by Houston museums. Another large mural hangs in the Dallas Petroleum Club and still others are owned by art collectors throughout the state and nation.
Today, when Bassett isn’t painting he spends much of his time lounging on a day bed in the living area of his home near Bachman Lake. The room is filled with stuffed ducks, photographs of paintings he has sold, a gun collection and a cowboy hat on a wall rack within easy reach.
He works in a separate, airy studio with high windows to spread the light. But this room is the sanctuary where he receives frequent visitors and pontificates on anything which amuses or interests him.
Critics and modern art are good topics. Bassett never has had much use for either one. And to this day he never will forget the critic who called him an “uncommitted paranoid.” He knows when his painting is off. More than once, he confesses, he has thrown paintings down a creek. When the tantrums pass he sheepishly retrieves them and goes back to work.
Once very vocal about modern art, Bassett doesn’t verbalize his dislike for it so much these days. It’s evident, however, he doesn’t care much for the trend in museums to collect modern art. He once told an art class, “I have no brief for the dry pleasures of pure self-expression such as the indiscriminate splatter of paint in pursuit of some unexpected pleasing color combination which has nothing to do with creativity.”
Nor does he like artists who bow to society. That’s why he refused Lady Bird Johnson’s request that he paint and donate a work to the LBJ Library.
Bassett now regrets hunting wildlife as a kid. He has watched the animal and plant life in Dallas County disappear. “There’s nothing around here now. Bulldozers have gotten everything. There’s concrete everywhere.” Today he considers painting a sport superior to hunting and killing wildlife. “A man with his guns in the woods is not unlike a painter. There is the same expectancy. The artist must be able to observe his quarry or subject . . . It’s like looking for a quail to jump up.”
Bassett can also prove that the life of an artist is not always easy. In fact, it can get you into big trouble. “I was interested in clays. I happened to be on the site when Parkland Hospital was being built. They uncovered some clay. I just walked down, picked up a handful and promptly got myself arrested . . . for trespassing I think. I knew the contractor and he gave me what-for. But I acted real humble [at the hearing] and got off. The next day that man had a truck load of that clay dumped in my front yard. I loved it.”
All these years Bassett has enjoyed national and international acclaim enabling him to live in exotic cities all over the world. But he loves Texas and he likes being a hometown boy.
Says the Reveau Bassett who is very much alive and prospering in North Dallas, “People talk about Paris in the spring. But all I can think of is East Texas. I say the hell with spring in Paris. Give me Mineola in the fall.”