2011/06/02 § 1 Comment
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 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.
2011/06/01 § Leave a comment
Plein-Air Painter of South Pasadena
President of the California Art Club
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Victor Stanley Matson (1895-1972) was one of the most prominent of the second generation of California plein-air landscape painters. Matson began exhibiting his work in the early 1930’s and was a tireless advocate for the plein-air tradition, serving as an officer in virtually every Southern California arts organization, most prominently as President of the venerable California Art Club. Recognized for his scenes of the Mojave desert and the local foothills, the South Pasadena painter was also an early fine Camera Pictorialist photographer and a printmaker.
Victor Matson was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1895. Not much is known of his early life. Apparently, he attended a military school during his high school years and he may have been trained as a flyer during the First World War as photos of him in flying gear from that time period were part of his estate. He graduated from the University of Utah about 1917 with a degree in engineering. Matson showed promise in the arts and he received training in drawing, perspective, drafting and rendering during the course of his studies.
Matson moved to southern Califonria in 1922, initially settling in Long Beach . In 1924, he and his wife, Virginia, purchased a house in South Pasadena, bordering Alhambra Park and the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra. In those days, Alhambra had a very active fine arts community, with Jack Wilkenson Smith (1873-1949), Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939) and Clyde Forsyth (1885-1962) presiding over a small artists’ colony. The Alhambra painters all lived on Champion Place, a small, eucalyptus-lined street on the edge of a wash, bordering the San Gabriel Country Club where Matson visited frequently.
Nestled in cozy South Pasadena, Matson began work as an engineer for the City of Los Angeles and began to study art with a number of California painters. He studied with W.T. McDermitt (1884-1961)at the Businessman’s Art Institute near downtown Los Angeles, before he headed home to South Pasadena in the evenings. Matson studied privately with Trude Hascomb and Jack Wilkenson Smith. He learned printmaking from Franz Geritz (1895-1945), who taught at the University of Califrnia Extension in Los Angeles. It was Jack Wilkinson Smith, however, who had the greatest influence on Matson’s developing plein-air work. Matson accompanied Smith and his fellow painters on many sketching trips to the San Gabriel Mountains and the Mojave Desert, north of Palm Springs , a favorite location for the Alhambra painters. Sam Hyde Harris was also a major influence on Matson and a life-long friend.
Matson became part of the declining Arroyo Seco Arts and Crafts culture based in Pasadena and Highland Park. He exhibited frequently with all of the major southern California arts organizations from the 1930’s through the 1960s. Matson won dozens of awards in local and regional exhibitions, including the Purchase Prize at the California Statewide Exhibit in both 1943 and 1946. He had solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles Arts Center, the Alhambra City Hall, the Glendale Art Association and the Beverly Hills Women’s Club. In 1965, a special exhibition was held for Matson at the Los Angeles City Hall. As the first generation of the California plein-air painters died and the art world changed, the museums no longer welcomed exhibitions of plein-air impressionism, which they viewed as retrograde and conservative. Thus, the painters had to rely on smaller, less prestigious venues in order to exhibit their work and attract collectors. Matson participated in many group exhibitions at the Greek Theatre, the Duncan Veil Galleries, the Friday Morning Club, Bullocks Department Store, the Pasadena City Library, the Eden Club, the Hollywood Women’s Club, the Selan Gallery, as well as local banks.
Matson and his wife, Virginia, were incredibly active in organizing exhibitions and running the various arts organizations that he belonged to. He served on the advisory Board for the California State Fair and was President of the California Art Club, the San Gabriel Art Association and the Valley Artists’ Guild. Matson was actively painting and exhibiting until shortly before his death in 1972.
Victor Matson worked primarily out-of-doors. He began all of his work on location, even quite large paintings. Because he worked out-of-doors, he limited his largest works to about 26×32 inches. He didn’t like to paint small canvases, so works are rarely smaller than 18×24 inches. After beginning a painting on location, he would often complete the work in his upstairs studio. He augmented his location work in oil with pencil sketches and reference photographs.
Matson painted more scenes of the Mojave than any other subject, working around Palm Springs and Indio and in the Coachella Valley. He painted marines infrequently on trips to the Southern California Coast or when he traveled north to Monterey . On vacations to the eastern United States, Matson painted scenes of the fall colors and snow scenes. His palette was conservative and subdued in color and his best works exhibit the airy, atmospheric quality that is the hallmark of the plein-air style. Matson’s style of painting was honest and straightforward, never particularly mannered or stylized, characteristics which reveal the strong influence of Jack Wilkenson Smith.
Matson’s photographs have an altogether different quality, for they are primarily dreamy, diffused works that reflect the influence of the tonalist movement on the early fine arts photographers. His books of pencil sketches show Matson’s great facility for drawing and his accurate draughtsmanship. Matson’s engineering training seems to have kindled a great affection for architectural detail, as the many of his plein-air pencil sketches depict buildings, often nestled in mountain settings.
Victor Matson played an important role in the preservation and the continuation of the plein-air tradition. His works were painterly but accurate transcriptions of what he saw on location, whether it was a house in the San Gabriel foothills, a stand of Monterey Pines on the Carmel coast or a portrait of a single smoke tree in the arid California desert. Copyright 1992-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without express written permission of the author.
2011/05/27 § 1 Comment
Charles Bradford Hudson
The Quiet Impressionist
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Charles Bradford Hudson (1865-1939) was a quiet painter. While a number of his artistic comrades on the Monterey Peninsula were gregarious bohemians, he was content to let his art speak for itself. Although Hudson was one of the first residents to adopt the broad palette of Impressionism for his landscapes, his approach reflected his precise, careful, scholarly nature. His paintings often focused on what may be best described as the quiet side of nature, the native flowers and grasses that grew in the sandy soil along the coast. His solidly structured compositions, elegant draftsmanship and exquisitely applied brushwork stand in stark contrast to the dramatic views of the windswept cliffs that many of his contemporaries painted.
Hudson was born in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada, where his parents lived temporarily, and he grew up in Washington D.C.. His father was John Jay Hudson and his mother was Emma Little Hudson. Hudson’s family had deep roots in America, descending from William Bradford, the Colonial Governor of Massachusetts. Because his father was academically inclined, Hudson was a scholarly boy, fascinated by history, science and art.
Because education was important to his family, he took a degree at Washington’s Columbian University before moving to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League under George DeForest Brush (1855-1941), famed for his Indian subjects and with Munich-trained William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). In 1893, Hudson embarked for Paris, where he enrolled at the Academie Julian. He studied at the private school under William Adophe Bouguereau (1825-1905), one of the great academic masters of the era. Because Hudson was a talented and observant writer, he was able to pay for his art education by serving as a correspondent for the Atlantic, one of America’s premier intellectual publications. By the time he left Europe, Hudson’s work had developed to the point where it would later be included in the International Exposition in Bergen, Norway in 1898 and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, with his work earning a silver medal in each fair.
When Hudson returned from Europe he began a career in illustration, providing pictures for national magazines and books. Two of the books that he illustrated were “The Forging of the Sword” and other poems by Juan Lewis in 1892 and “A Ranch on the Oxhide.” He also continued writing articles for periodicals like Cosmopolitan and the Atlantic.. Hudson married Christine Schmidt (1869-1972) in 1893 and the following year they had a son, Lester J. Hudson (1894-1974), but the relationship didn’t last.
Hudson had always been interested in the natural world, and he found a second calling by painting illustrations of fish and animals for scientific publications. He illustrated a scholarly work on the preparation of specimens for display in 1891. Because of the quality of his work and his dedication, Hudson was hired to go on expeditions funded by the Bureau of Fisheries. On trips to the Caribbean, the Great Lakes, the rivers of California and the Pacific Coast, he would paint examples of fish as they were caught and identified.
Hudson worked closely with the naturalist David Starr Jordon, first president of Stanford University, who wrote a number of scholarly works on fish with Dr. Barton W. Everman of the Bureau of Fisheries. On a trip to Hawaii with Jordon the artist met a young San Jose schoolteacher named Claire Grace Barnhisel, who was on her way to the islands to teach, and a romantic relationship blossomed between artist and teacher. After working with Hudson on a number of scientific expeditions, Jordon described him as the world’s finest illustrator of marine life – someone who could combine accuracy and beauty – and some of the scholarly volumes they collaborated on are highly sought- after collector’s items today.
In 1898 Hudson put his illustrations, easel paintings and scientific collaboration on hold to join the ranks of volunteers for the Spanish-American War. Commissioned as a lieutenant, he was sent to Cuba, participated in the victorious Siege of Santiago, and then served on the staff of Col. George H. Harries, who led the 1st District of Columbia Infantry. Because the war was so short, the unit saw little action, but Hudson distinguished himself enough to be promoted to Captain, and many people referred to him as “Captain Hudson” for the rest of his life.
Hudson was introduced to the Monterey Peninsula through his scientific work, for even then the region was famous for the incredible variety of marine and mammalian species that populated its shores and sea. The artist was drawn to the area purchasing a home in Pacific Grove, where he brought his new wife Claire after their marriage in December of 1903. Once settled in the coastal hamlet, Hudson began to paint scenes of the sand dunes and flora of the peninsula as well as the ocean, often with the subtle effects of the setting sun. He exhibited at the Del Monte Art Gallery in Monterey, with the local art organizations and sent paintings north to exhibitions at the Bohemian Club and at Gump’s, the antique dealer in San Francisco.
After moving to the Peninsula, Hudson came to love and romanticize the days of the “Californios,” as the residents of Alta California called themselves before the Americans gained control of the state in 1848. In 1915 he did an article for Sunset Magazine titled “California on the Etching Plate” where he wrote wistfully about the days of the Carmel Mission and the Monterey Presidio. Hudson illustrated the article with etchings of some of the historic adobes of the peninsula. Because of his historical interest in early days of Monterey, he became an early preservationist list and an advocate for the timeless Spanish methods of building.
Fortunately, Hudson’s interest in historic preservation was passed onto his children. His oldest son, Lester, lived in Washington D.C., but spent summers with his father in California. While on vacation at one point he met a local girl, Margret MacMillian Allen, who became his wife. The Allens were enlightened ranchers who owned a large parcel of land south of Carmel, which included the dramatic cliffs and bays of Point Lobos. During and after his long and distinguished naval career, Admiral Hudson and his wife were active in preservation efforts and instrumental in the Allen family’s deeding Point Lobos to the state of California.
Settled in his cozy home and studio near the Asilomar resort, Hudson wrote two books, “The Crimson Conquest” (1906) which was a romanticized telling of Pizzaro’s conquest of Peru and “The Royal Outlaw” (1917) a novel for young adults on the biblical story of King David. He continued to write magazine articles and during World War I he wrote a analysis on German militarism for the New York Times Magazine.
After the San Francisco Earthquake the entire city had to be rebuilt, and one of the last major structures to be completed was the San Francisco Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Hudson painted some of the large murals that served as the backdrops for the dioramas featuring mounted specimens of the animals of the coast and islands of California. When the academy finally opened in 1916, Hudson’s work was highly praised and remains on display today.
When the Carmel Art Association was formed in 1927, Hudson became a member, and he continued painting into his 60s, even as the artistic elite turned their back on the traditionalist painters. In 1939, the year of the artist’s death, San Francisco hosted the Golden Gate International Exposition. Held twenty-four years after the Panama-Pacific Exposition, this was the San Francisco’s second World’s Fair, and Charles Bradford Hudson’s works were included.
Hudson’s works are rarely on the market, as many remain in the collections of his distinguised family. His artistic oeuvre includes scenes of Monterey, Carmel, Asilomar, the southern California coast an the Mojave Desert, all beautifully painted and subtly colored. An in-depth biography of Charles Bradford Hudson is being perpared by scientist Victor G. Springer of the Smithsonian Institution and author Kristin Murphy. This book will cover his life, artistic and literary accomlishments and numerous contributions to science.
2011/05/18 § Leave a comment
Edgar Alwyn Payne
From the High Sierras to Laguna Beach
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Edgar Payne (1882-1947) was a California Plein-air Painter who worked in a highly masculine, two-fisted style that is instantly recognizable. He was a prolific artist who is best known for “signature works” of the high mountain lakes of California’s Sierra Nevada, with their cool, sparkling pools kept in shadow by the glaciered peaks. He was almost as well known for his scenes of the California Southland, European fishing boats and paintings of the Navajos in the red-rocked canons of Arizona and New Mexico which are all highly prized by collectors.
Edgar Alwyn Payne was born in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and he struck out on his own at the age of fourteen. He was always artistically talented and he worked as an itinerant house painter, sign painter and set painter for traveling theatrical productions. While Payne is generally regarded as self-taught, he actually had some formal education during his travels at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Dallas, Texas. He made his first trip to California in 1909, painting in Laguna Beach and visiting in San Francisco where he met Elsie Palmer, an artist who became his wife in Chicago in 1912. In 1917 the Paynes left the Midwest for good, traveling west to Glendale, California where Edgar worked on a vast mural for the Congressional Hotel. In 1918 the Paynes settled in Laguna where they established a studio and Edgar Payne became the founder and first President of the Laguna Art Association, which is now the Laguna Museum of Art. Payne began painting extensively in the Sierras and within a short time he was indelibly associated with this chain of dramatic peaks, the backbone of California. While Payne became a pillar of Laguna’s artistic community, he never stopped traveling, spending some winters in and around New York City and then traveling in Europe for two years. The Great Depression were hard years for artists and even in the twilight of his career, Payne was forced to teach to pay the bills. In an attempt to pass his hard-won knowledge on to younger generations of painters, the aging wrote The Composition of Outdoor Painting, which was published in 1941. Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.
2011/05/18 § Leave a comment
Walter Ignatius Cox
San Francisco Portrait Painter
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Walter Ignatius Cox (1867-1930) was an English-born California painter who seems to have thus far escaped scholarly notice. While he painted the garden scenes and domesticated landscapes that are more frequently seen today, during his lifetime he was primarily known for his formal portraits. His tranquil landscapes show an awareness of Impressionism and a brighter palette, but maintain a solid sense of construction that is academic in origin. His landscapes, usually of gardens, front porches, parks and scenes of al fresco dining, have an innocent, almost naïve quality.
Cox was born in Broxwood Court, Hertsfordshire in England, on May 4, 1867 to Richard Snead Cox (1820-1899) and Maria Teresa Weld Cox (1828-1886). He came from an old English family who were descendants of the Plantagenet Kings. The Cox family was part of the Catholic minority and young Walter was educated at St. Gregory’s College, a Catholic boarding school in Somerset, in Southwest England. Because of his artistic talent, after completing his secondary education he moved to Paris. In the French capital he studied at the private Academie Julian under the grand history painters Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911), as well as the titan of the French Academy, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).
After the completion of his studies, Cox established himself as portrait painter in London, opening a studio in fashionable Chelsea. A number of prominent British subjects sat for him, including Cardinal Herbert Alfred Vaughn of London (1832-1903), who may have preferred a painter with a Catholic background. For the remainder of his career Cox would maintain good relations with the Catholic hierarchy, and he painted the official portraits of a number of Archbishops and Cardinals.
Cox married Lavina Carton Millet (1869-1933) of Hampshire in 1897. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1904, settling in San Francisco, where Cox opened a portrait studio on Van Ness Avenue. He and his wife resided on Jackson Street. In San Francisco he became part of the downtown milieu of bohemian artists and writers. He also established a relationship with the Catholic Church, and painted Archbishop Patrick William Riordan (1841-1914) and Archbishop George Montgomery (1847-1907), who came to the aid of the city and rebuilt the local parishes after the San Francisco Earthquake.
Cox traveled to Victoria, British Columbia in 1905, where he painted Archbishop Bertram Orth (in office 1903-1908) and a number of judges and other public officials. His San Francisco studio was frequently in the papers and he was well known for painting fashionable women. He completed society portraits of Mrs. Maria Inez Shorb White (1868-1933) of San Gabriel, Miss Sarah Bell Collier and Miss Betsy Angus (later Mrs. St. George Holden) of San Francisco and other members of California’s elite who were well known in those days.
Because of his French academic training, Cox had the ambitions to be a “history painter” like his instructors at the Academie Julian. In Paris and London he had also come under the spell of the Orientalist movement, and he painted compositions drawn from biblical history. According to contemporary accounts, soon after his arrival he began working on an ambitious painting of the notables of San Francisco that was nine feet high by twelve feet wide, with hundreds of figures. Another work in progress was a scene of the Crucifixion of Christ, a grand history painting in the French manner, with the dramatic event depicted at the moment when darkness enveloped Jerusalem. Cox also painted a large composition of Gregory the Great in the Roman slave market.
Unfortunately, just as Cox was establishing himself in the Bay Area, the 1906 earthquake struck, followed by the conflagration, and like most of the other residents he lost almost everything, including the major works described above. His small cottage, located on Sacramento, street, near the intersection of Franklin and Van Ness, was one of the last to be consumed by the out-of-control fire. The loss of an artist’s production meant that not only was his inventory gone, but also his creative history, his sketches, studies, and sample portraits. The Oakland Tribune dramatized the situation of the artists and sculptors for its readers, who had watched the catastrophe from across the bay with horror:
A palace razed to the ground may be reconstructed within a few months. An immense emporium with its contents may be utterly effaced, but a thousand hands and machines without number, within a comparatively short time can rebuild the one more beautifully and restock the other as it never had been stocked before.
Such however is not a possibility in the world of art. The studios of San Francisco which were destroyed – and they were all laid in common ruin – represented the work of years not only of the owners, but also of the kindred souls possessed of genius and the restoration of them and their contents can be accomplished only by hand.
After the disaster, some painters fled south to Carmel, while others, like Cox, crossed the water and set up new studios in the East Bay. The portrait painter leased a new studio in the El Granada, at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph in Berkeley, and his wife set up their new living quarters in an adjacent apartment. In Berkeley, the artist began painting portraits to replace those lost in the great earthquake and also opened art classes for local residents, but Cox and his wife soon returned to San Francisco, establishing another studio on Van Ness Avenue.
Walter and Lavina Cox were frequently in the society pages of the San Francisco and East Bay newspapers. The papers noted that the couple was dressed smartly at the opera or was seen at the Tea Room of the St. Francis Hotel, which was frequented by the “smart set.” The painter was successful enough to have a summer studio in the Easton neighborhood of Burlingame, where he painted landscapes and attempted to take a break from his portrait commissions. Cox concentrated on portraits during the fall and winter months so that he could make sketching trips during the spring and summer months. He took trips to his native England and Scotland, bringing back watercolors and landscape studies which he sold to collectors in the Bay Area. Cox also made trips to Mexico, stopping in Los Angeles along the way, where he had portrait clients.
In 1912 Cox painted the famous novelist Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948), which resulted in a bounty of publicity for the artist. The large portrait was reproduced in the San Francisco papers, exhibited in his studio and hung in the Tea Room of the St. Francis Hotel for a high society reception. He completed a life-size portrait of the socialite Miss Hazel King and portraits of Miss Julia Langhorne, Mrs. Tom Williams and her daughters and William Ronaldson, all well-known social figures of the era. Cox sold most of his work from his own well-appointed studio, but he also exhibited at Kilbey’s in San Francisco and had an exhibition at the Palace Hotel in 1914.
There is no record that Cox exhibited at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the San Francisco World’s Fair. This may be because Cox was still considered a British painter and thus not eligible for inclusion, but it is probable that by the time of the exposition he and his wife had already left San Francisco for New York, where they lived for a number of years. In the east, he continued painting portraits for the Catholic Church as well as of political figures. His last studio was in the Washington D.C. suburb of Alexandria, where he did portraits of important Washingtonians. Lavina Cox, the painter’s wife, returned to England to care for an aunt in the 1920s and never returned to her husband in America, remaining there until she passed away in 1933.
Like many society painters, he was described as “genial and gentlemanly” and having the “faculty for making friends by his personality as well as creating admirers by his brush.” Cox was known for achieving a good likeness and many of his commissions were for full-length portraits in the grand manner. His upbringing and education gave him a scholarly air which gave his sitter’s confidence in his taste as well as his artistic ability. Those who sat for portraits by Cox included President Warren J. Harding (1865-1923) and former President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Taft (1857-1930). Copyright 2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.
2011/05/18 § Leave a comment
Sam Hyde Harris
The Atmosphere of the Southland
California Art Club
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Sam Hyde Harris (1889-1978) was one of the best-known artists of the San Gabriel Valley – the painters who lived beneath Mt. Wilson and the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles. He is best known for his works of the 1920s and 1930s – paintings that are alive with the unique atmosphere of Los Angeles. Harris had the ability to capture the morning overcast that enveloped the local foothills, the layer of smoke and dust that the Santa Ana winds bring to the arid valleys of the Southland. However, he was equally adept at capturing the rustic beauty of the Carmel Peninsula or the Laguna Coast, where the sun plays “hide and seek” with the mist and clouds. Harris was known for works that were memorably composed and that had a clear, crisp, but limited palette that honestly portrayed the conditions he found out-of-doors. He believed in verisimilitude, in recording the truth of what he saw in the desert, mountains and coasts of his beloved California.
Sam Hyde Harris was born in Middlesex, England in 1889, but immigrated to the United States with his family in 1904. His speech bore traces of his British origins the rest of his life. Harris was so artistically gifted that he began working as a commercial artist as a teenager, and he carried a letter of recommendation from his British employer when he settled in Los Angeles at the age of fifteen. He was an industrious young man and he worked as a sign painter, designer and commercial artist for different firms before opening his own studio in 1914.
Although the young immigrant was already a successful commercial artist, he wanted to be a fine artist and master the depiction of the rugged land that was new to him, so he enrolled in classes at the Los Angeles Art Students League and the Canon Art School, where he studied with the Impressionist painters Frank Tolles Chamberlin (1873-1961) and Hanson Duvall Puthuff (1875-1972), and the early modernist Stanton McDonald-Wright (1890-1973). Harris began working with Puthuff in 1906 and the two became life-long friends and comrades, traveling all over California in pursuit of the highly atmospheric moods that they loved the challenge of capturing.
While Harris was designing the orange crate labels that became a symbol of the good life in California to beleaguered citrus lovers in colder climes and his beautifully composed promotional posters for the Union Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads, he gained confidence in his easel paintings and began exhibiting his plein-air works. His first recorded exhibition was in 1920 with the California Art Club and for the rest of his life, he exhibited with great regularity.
In addition to painting with Hanson Puthuff, Harris also traveled and painted with Jean Mannheim (1862-1945) and Edgar Payne (1883-1947). In contrast to many of his fellow artists, Harris also liked to paint urban landscapes and he did many paintings of the old farms of the San Gabriel Valley as well as the east side of Los Angeles. He did some wonderfully atmospheric paintings of the old barrios of Chavez Ravine, where Dodger Stadium was eventually built, and the finest of these works is in the collection of the O’Malley family, who owned the Dodgers and brought them to Los Angeles.
In the 1930s Harris began painting the waterfronts of Newport Beach, San Pedro, Sunset Beach and even San Diego. Most of these works depicted anchored boats and the lazy waterfront in the morning overcast. As the years progressed he fell in love with the desert, traveling east to the low desert around Indio and Palm Springs in the company of other painters like Jimmy Swinnerton (1875-1974), Jack Wilkinson Smith, and Victor Matson (1895-1972). In his later years, Harris altered his technique and his work became harder edged and more economical, but he maintained the same emphasis on capturing the unique light and atmosphere of the area he was painting.
Harris was part of the small Alhambra art colony that had developed around Champion Place, at the east end of San Gabriel Valley community of Alhambra, hard against the old wash that carried water from the mountains during the rainy season. The group of Alhambra artists included the painter and cartoonist Clyde Forsyth (1885-1962), the western painter Frank Tenney Johnson (1888-1939), Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), and the sculptor Eli Harvey (1860-1957). Famed illustrator Norman Rockwell was a summer resident. Harris lived near Champion Place on Hidalgo Street, but took over Jack Smith’s old “Artist’s Alley” studio in 1949.
Harris was one of the few major California plein-air painters who lived into the 1970s, and only a few years after his passing his work began to be rediscovered along with that of his friends and comrades in the California Impressionist movement. In 1980 Harris was the subject of one of the first retrospective exhibitions devoted to a California Plein-Air painter, when the much-missed Peterson Galleries in Beverly Hills mounted an exhibition curated by the art historian Jean Stern.
Sam Hyde Harris was a member of the seminal California Art Club, the Painters and Sculptors Club and the Laguna Beach Art Association. During his long career he won many awards at major exhibitions. His work is in the collections of virtually every major institution that collects California Impressionism, including the Irvine Museum and Fleisher Collection as well as major private collections across the United States. He was the subject of a major retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of History in 2007 and 2008 and a large book was produced to accompany the exhibition. Copyright, 2010-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s express written permission.
2011/05/18 § 1 Comment
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.
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.
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.