“Triple Underpass” by Florence McClung — 1945

by Paula Bosse

mcclung_triple-underpass_1945_david-dike-fine-art“Triple Underpass” by Florence McClung (photo: David Dike Fine Art)

by Paula Bosse

The word “iconic” is used way too much these days, but I suppose Dallas’ triple underpass is something that truly deserves to be described as “iconic.” Aside from the beauty, the engineering, and the usefulness of the underpass/railroad bridge, it is also, of course, known around the world for its cameo appearance in the Kennedy assassination.

Built in 1936, after years of back-and-forth planning and negotiating, the triple underpass was open in time for the Texas Centennial Exposition. It finally opened up a straight shot from Fort Worth to Dallas via Highway 1, and it and the concurrently-built Dealey Plaza served as Dallas’ welcoming “gateway” into the city for visitors approaching from the west.

The 1945 painting seen above — “Triple Underpass” by Dallas artist Florence McClung (1894-1992) — may be one of the first depictions of the structure in a fine art context. This painting goes up for sale this weekend, as the featured lot in the David Dike Fine Art Texas Art Auction. The estimate is $75,000-$175,000. Florence would be shocked by that, as her original price — which she wrote on a checklist for a show at the then-Dallas Museum of Fine Arts was $300 (which would, today, be about $4,000). (UPDATE 10/27/18: The painting sold for $210,000 — which, I assume, includes the buyer’s premium.)

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As a fan of Texas art — and especially of the Dallas regionalist group, the Dallas Nine (with which McClung, though not a member, was closely associated) — I hope this wonderful piece of Dallas art (and you can’t get much more quintessentially Dallas than this!) goes for much more than the gallery estimate. (I wrote about McClung previously, here, with images showing a couple of other Dallas “cityscapes” done around the same time as “Triple Underpass.”)

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Below is a photo from 1945 showing an aerial view of the scene captured by McClung that same year. (A photo from a little later, with a view to the west, is here.)

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Dallas, 1945 (click for larger image)

A few things are interesting to me:

  • McClung neglected to include the ever-present billboard atop what was then the Sexton Foods building (later the School Book Depository) — in the photo above, U. S. Royal tires are being advertised.
  • I love that little oval, landscaped island, which is also seen in McClung’s painting.
  • Those four obelisk-y pillars, seen in both the photo and the painting, two on either side of the roadway, west of the underpass — what are those?
  • Is that large white building in the lower middle of the photograph Pappy’s Showland? Maybe the Sky-Vu Supper Club (which I have meant to write about for years)? (No! It’s the Chicken Bar, at the northeast corner of Commerce and Industrial. A photo of it under construction in 1945 is here.)

See here for as close to the angle of McClung’s view as I could get, from a 2014 Google Street View. (The painting shows the Dallas County Courthouse as it was then, without its now-replaced tower.)

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Good luck to the bidders this weekend. It’s a great painting!

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Sources & Notes

Image of Florence McClung’s painting “Triple Underpass” is from the David Dike Fine Art catalog, which is illustrated with the works to be auctioned on Saturday, October 27, 2018; the catalog can be viewed in its entirety, here (this painting and its description are on p. 45). The website of David Dike Fine Art is here.

I am unsure of the source of the 1945 aerial photo — I saved it years ago and did not make note of the source, although I highly suspect it is from one of the many fine collections held by SMU.

See McClung’s application for the DMFA show where “Triple Underpass” was shown, here; her checklist of works to be shown is here (both documents are from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Exhibition Records, via UNT’s Portal to Texas History).

The earlier Flashback Dallas post “Dallas Scenes by Florence McClung — 1940s” (with two other paintings from the same period as “Triple Underpass”) is here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.