Benjamin Chambers Brown

2011/06/02 § 1 Comment

Brown's "Laguna Vista" is at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art

Benjamin Chambers Brown

Dean of Pasadena Painters

By Jeffrey Morseburg

Benjamin Chambers Brown (1865-1942) was known as ‘The Dean of Pasadena Painters.’ He was one of the leaders of Pasadena’s artistic and intellectual community for more than forty years and a vital figure in Southland art.  Brown’s earliest works exhibit the influence of the tonalist aesthetic, but soon after settling in California he adopted the painterly brushwork and chromatic palette of Impressionism.

Benjamin Brown was born in Marion, Arkansas, and he received his initial training at the St. Louis School of Fine Art. Trained in photography, Brown made his first trip west in 1885. He sketched in and around Los Angeles, but returned to St. Louis, unable to make a living in Southern California, which then has a very small circle of collectors and a lack of exhibition venues. Brown then sailed for Paris, where he studied for a year at the Academie Julian.

After he arrived back in St. Louis he struggled to build a following for his still-lifes until he and his family moved west to Pasadena, arriving in the San Gabriel Valley around 1895.  In his early years in the Southland he painted with the limited palette and closely-related values of Tonalism, but as Impressionism took hold in California, his palette brightened and his brushwork loosened. Brown took on students in order to augment his income from art sales and one of them was Eva Scott Fenyes (1846-1920). Both Benjamin Chambers Brown and his younger brother Howell Brown, who concentrated on printmaking, maintained a long friendship with Eva Scott Fenyes (1896 – 1930), the amateur watercolorist and one of Pasadena’s most important patron of the arts.

Brown's San Bernardo Mountains

Brown was a tall, gaunt man with an eccentric personality.   He was a gentle soul and like his brother Howell, he was a lifelong bachelor and the siblings lived with their mother until her death. The Brown home was the site of artistic discussions and hosted a salon for Pasadena intellectuals. The Brown brothers were founders of the California Society of Printmakers and helped popularize the graphic arts in Southern California. Like John Gamble (1863 – 1957) and his friend, Granville Redmond (1871-1935), Benjamin C. Brown’s paintings of California poppies became popular with collectors. At the turn of the century, the spring rains would bring bright fields of poppies to the Altadena meadows above Pasadena. Brown only had to venture a short distance from his home to paint the swaying eucalyptus and golden poppies.

Brown was also one of the founders of the California Art Club, which helped to popularize the Impressionist style in Southern California and he served as its President from 1915 to 1916.  Later in their lives, the Brown brothers made extended trips to Europe and North Africa, where they painted and sketched. In California, he painted frequently along the coast- in Yosemite and the high Sierras. Brown also traveled east to the desert near Palm Springs to paint, a favorite spot for many San Gabriel Valley painters. The elderly Pasadena artist continued to paint and make prints through the years of the Great Depression and died in Pasadena in 1942.  Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without the specific written permission of the author.

William Wendt: The Sculpted Landscape

2011/05/18 § 1 Comment

"Verdant Hills" by William Wendt

William Wendt

The Founding Father of California Impressionism

Founder and President of the California Art Club

by Jeffrey Morseburg

In the history of California Impressionism, William Wendt (1865-1946) was the one indispensable figure. Because of the quality of his bold, masculine landscapes and his many abilities as a leader, the art scene in southern California coalesced around the figure of the quiet, sober German immigrant.  William Wendt’s mature style reduced the elements that he saw in nature to broad forms. His short, vigorous brushstrokes gave a heroic solidity to the hills and rocky outcroppings that he favored in his work.

Wendt’s works were rarely panoramic, for he liked to get close to paint. When he painted a hill near Laguna Beach or Morro Bay, the size of it in relation to the size of the composition gave the image an iconic quality. It was this ‘big picture’ approach of Wendt’s that made his the artist that eastern or western viewers thought of when the considered the California landscape.

Wendt was a deeply religious man and his love of nature was reflected in each and every painting, and a number of his works were given religious titles. With little deviation, Wendt took his compositions directly from what he saw on location. He was not one who felt he could ‘improve’ on what God created. The ‘style’ that we know him for today was not a labored attempt at finding a mannered way to paint but the natural outgrowth of his unique artistic voice.

"Creeping Shadows" by William Wendt

William Wendt was born in Bentzen, Prussia, in 1865- soon to be a part of the re-unified Germany. He attended rural schools and worked unhappily as a cabinet-maker’s apprentice before immigrating to America at the age of fifteen. Wendt joined an uncle in Chicago, where he attended school and began working as a commercial artist.

With only a few evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago for formal training, Wendt began painting out-of-doors in his spare time. His earliest works was in the tonalist style, then favored by leading American painters. In 1893, he won the Yerkes prize in the Annual Society of Chicago Artists Exhibition, an event that helped launch his professional career.

Wendt made extended painting trips to California with fellow painter, George Gardner Symons (1862 – 1930) in 1894 and 1896. At the request of the Rindge family, he painted a series of canvases on Rancho Malibu in 1897. In 1899, he held an impressive show of his works of California in conjunction with its 12th Annual Exhibition.

"Vibrant Spring" by William Wendt

It was clear that Wendt had fallen in love with the California landscape, but it was not until 1906 that he put down his roots in southern California, purchasing Elmer and Marion Wachtel’s home in the Highland Park district. He brought his new bride, the sculptor, Julia Bracken Wendt (1871 – 1992), home with him to California. Wendt forged a successful career in the Golden State and was one of the few California artists to build a following in the Midwest and the east.

Wendt was instrumental in the founding of the California Art Club, the organization most responsible for the dissemination of the Impressionist aesthetic in southern California. He served as president for six terms, a record in the early years of the organization. Wendt opened his Laguna Beach studio I 1912 and helped form the Laguna Beach Art Association eight years later. It was Wendt’s skill and reputation that helped popularize plein-air Impressionism in California eighty years ago, and he remains its most original voice today.  Copyright, 2001-2011,Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.

Franz Bischoff

2011/05/16 § Leave a comment

Franz  Bischoff

The California Colorist

California Art Club Founder

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864-1929) was one of the most innovative colorists of the early Southland painters. Even his smallest plein-air studies reveal the dynamic range of his palette and his unusual color choices. Bischoff’s landscapes featured fluid, expressive brushwork with dabs of intense color applied in an almost mosaic-like fashion- perhaps an outgrowth of his background in china decoration.

Bischoff arrived in the Southland as a successful ceramic artisan and floral watercolorist, but there is no evidence that the forty-two-year-old artist painted landscapes before he arrived in California. His California landscapes seemed to be an organic response to the beauty of the land and the influence of the California painters who befriended him. Although he continued to paint his richly colored florals for patrons in Los Angeles, he dedicated his last fifteen years of his life to the California landscape.

Franz Bischoff was born in Stein Schonau, a small town in Bohemia, then part of the large Austro-Hugarian Empire. When he was twelve, Bischoff began his apprenticeship in the ceramics trade. At eighteen, he went to the cultural capital of Vienna for a more formal education in ceramics, watercolor paintings, and applied design.

In 1885, Bischoff sailed for America, joining the massive wave of immigration from middle Europe. Initially, he found employment as a china decorator in New York. Later he moved to Pittsburg and then to Fostoria, Ohio. In 1890 he married Bertha Greenwald, and after they started a family, the Bischoff moved to Detroit, Michigan, where Franz opened his own school and studio. He began to build a national reputation for his richly painted vases and plates, usually decorated with roses.

Franz Bischoff - Emerald Cove - Private Collection

Although Bischoff first visited Los Angeles in 1900 and purchased a lot in South Pasadena in 1905, the family didn’t move to Southern California until 1906. In 1908, he built and impressive home and studio along the Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena. Bischoff exhibited his florals and landscapes in his studio gallery and began to build a following for his work in Southern California. In 1909, he helped to form the California Art Club and participated in its First Annual Exhibition in January of 1911. In the early years of his landscape career, Bischoff painted along the waterfront in San Pedro and down in the Arroyo near his Pasadena home, where he enjoyed the patterns of light and shadow. As the Bischoff family summered near Corona del Mar, he ventured down the coast to paint in Laguna Beach. Gradually, marine subjects became a significant part of his artistic ouvre.

Possibly inspired by the dramatic early works of Edgar Payne, Bischoff began painting in the Sierras, but his treatment of the subject was more expressively colorful than that of Payne’s. During the 1920’s he began to paint the central California coast near Cambria and Morro Bay. In the last phase of his career, Bischoff produced his most distinctive series of paintings, including large-scale compositions of Point Lobos and the Carmel Coast. After a last painting trip to Utah’s Zion Canyon in 1928 with the artist, Christopher Smith (1891 – 1948), the aging Bischoff passed away of heart failure in 1929.  Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.

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