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.
2011/05/27 § 3 Comments
From the Heroic Landscape to Tonalism
By Jeffrey Morseburg
William Keith (1838-1911) is the seminal figure in the history of early California painting. For contemporary viewers, attuned to the colorful palette of California Impressionism, the appeal that Keith has to art historians and collectors may be difficult to understand at first glance. After all, his Barbizon-inspired works were often painted in a narrow tonal range and many of the late works are dark, even murky. However, as viewers become more familiar with his career and the breadth of his artistic output, they should come to understand why Keith was the dominant figure in California painting for several decades and why his best works can be ranked among the great masterpieces of 19th-Century American landscape painting.
William Keith was born in Aberden, Scotland in 1838. He was raised in a strict Presbyterian environment first by his maternal grandparents and then by his mother. In 1852, while he was a teenager, Keith emigrated to America with his mother and sisters. They made their way to New York, where his maternal uncle, William Bruce, had settled. Like many other artistically talented boys of his era, he quit school at an early age and was apprenticed to a wood engraver before joining the Harper Brothers publishing firm.
During Keith’s formative years, New York was the thriving artistic capital of America. The Hudson River School of Romantic landscape painters dominated the artistic scene and the National Academy of Design, which was the main American exhibition venue. The young Scottish emigrant’s artist apprenticeship and early professional career coincided with the triumphs of Frederick Church (1826-1900) and his great rival Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Church ventured to Central and South America and his romantic pictures of the Andes became a sensation while Bierstadt’s enormous canvasses of the Rocky Mountains brought him fame if not always critical success. Keith ventured west to California in 1859, settling in San Francisco, where he began to scratch out a living as an engraver. It was there that he took his first formal painting lessons, from the noted portrait painter Samuel Mardsen Brooks (1816-1892).
Keith’s growing success in the engraving business enabled him to marry fellow artist, Elizabeth Emerson, in 1864. Two years later he began to exhibit his watercolors professionally. Keith’s chosen medium and the naturalistic handling of his subjects reflect his familiarity with the works and ideals of the British author and painter John Ruskin (1819-1900) and the English movements he influenced. His early works were of Marin County, the domesticated countryside just north of San Francisco, but by 1867 he was painting in the Sierra Nevada, which would become the subject of his greatest works. Soon, the young artist began working in oils, but his early efforts in this medium were somewhat crude and labored. On his sketching trips, he usually worked in oil on paper, waiting until he returned to his San Francisco studio to work the sketches up on canvas. Keith became an experienced outdoorsman, and in early 1869, a commission took him on an extended sketching trip throughout the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
Realizing that he needed further formal training, Keith held a successful auction of his works, and in the fall of 1869 left for Europe. In that era, many American painters who aspired to landscape painting chose to study in Dusseldorf, rather than Paris, so it was there that Keith went to study with Albert Flamm (1823-1906). Although Keith’s stay in Europe was brief, lasting less than a year, his formal work with Flamm and his exposure to European exhibitions introduced him to a wide range of artistic styles and helped him to reach artistic maturity.
Keith returned to the United States in 1871. He first painted in rugged Maine, where dozens of the successful New York painters summered. Then opened a studio in Boston. Keith’s large paintings of California began to win him some good notices and a following of patrons. He exhibited major paintings of Mount Tamalpais and Mount Shasta at the National Academy of Design, which were then sold to prominent California collectors. In 1872 Keith returned to San Francisco, a mature and experienced painter. He found that his competitor Thomas Hill (1829-1908) had also returned from a period of study and that in addition the Eastern painter Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) had opened a studio for an extended stay in the west. Together, these three painters built a wide following for their monumental scenes of the Sierra Nevada and other California subjects. Their major works were artistic expressions of the philosophy of American expansionism. As cities were transformed by the forces of the industrial age, the works of Keith and other landscape painters began to reflect an appreciation for the grandeur of the western landscape. Keith’s artistic philosophy was also shaped by his friendship with the naturalist John Muir, whom he accompanied on extended treks through the wilderness.
Elizabeth Keith, the artist’s wife, died in 1882. After marrying the amateur artist Mary McHenry, a restless Keith returned to Europe in 1883, now with the intention of mastering portraiture. Always attracted to a broad technique and darker tonalities, Keith ventured to Munich, where these characteristics were still favored. He opened his own studio in the Bavarian capital and had his work critiqued by some of the leaders of the Munich school. The expatriate American painter J. Frank Currier (1843-1909), for example, encouraged Keith to try a more experimental approach to painting the landscape. This second European sojurn’s exposure to new ideas had a lasting effect on the California atist, and he began to adopt a much more evocative style.
The William Keith that returned to San Francisco was a changed artist. In his later work, influenced by the stay in Munich and the works of the Barbizon painters that he had seen in Paris, Keith placed more emphasis on the mood of his chosen subject and paid less attention to the topography of the landscape. He began to paint simple scenes of sheep grazing on the hills of Marin County or cattle lying in the shady glen. He no longer sought to find the “truth” of nature, but to paint its moods. Unfortunately, these more interpretive paintings did not please the public as much as the more heroic depictions of nature that he had done in earlier years, and Keith went through a period of depression.
In 1891 George Inness (1823-1894), the American Tonalist painter, came west to San Francisco and changed the course of Keith’s career. Keith had been influenced by the writings of Inness, and the two artists shared not only a similar artistic outlook, but even the same Swedenborgian religious philosophy. Inness’s visit lifted the California artist’s spirits and the two men traveled together, shared Keith’s studio, and held a joint exhibition in San Francisco. Keith learned a great deal from Inness, whose stature in American art helped justify the change in style that western audiences had found inscrutable.
As the 1890s progressed, Keith’s popularity grew, and he became one of the most prosperous and respected members of San Francisco’s artistic community. In 1893 his works were exhibited in the Chicago World’s Fair, and he made another extended trip to Europe. Keith’s poetic, pastoral pieces were sold to California’s elite. While Keith painted some masterful paintings in his later years, his artistic oeuvre is littered with poorly composed and overly gloomy landscapes, many of which have turned even darker with the passing of time. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed Keith’s studio and, tragically, two thousand of his paintings. Unfortunately, many of Keith’s important early works were lost in the conflagration, which also destroyed the homes of most of the important San Francisco collectors. Keith managed to recover from the loss, however, and continued painting until a short time before his death in 1911.
William Keith’s artistic philosophy changed dramatically in the course of his long life. moving from the grandiose to the intimate. He began his career as a painter of the heroic landscape, celebrating California’s beauty and grandeur. As the frontier period of American history closed, and the west was domesticated, Keith turned from a romantic approach to a more subjective and poetic view of nature and he seems to have been the only notable California painter who made this type of transformation. Copyright, 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without the specific written permission of the author. This entry adapted from my brief essay in the California Art Club’s Gold Medal Exhibition Catalog from 2001.
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.
2011/05/18 § Leave a comment
Granville Richard Seymour Redmond
From Silence and Solitude to Sunlit Poppies
by Jeffrey Morseburg
Rendered deaf and speechless by scarlet fever at age three, Granville Redmond (1871-1935) communicated with the world through the visual language of his art. Although he was personally drawn to ‘pictures of silence and solitude,’ his Barbizon inspired landscapes did not reach the same heights of popularity that his colorful paintings of California poppy fields achieved.
Redmond’s early works were moody depictions of the southern California landscape. Gradually his palette brightened and his work became more painterly as he came under the spell of Impressionism. Many of Redmond’s mid-life works were painterly, with brighter colors, but they remained part of the tonalist aesthetic. In the final stages of his career, the artist’s palette became intensely colorful, and he relied on a surface that was thick with impasto, giving his paintings a decidedly post-Impressionistic quality.
Granville Redmond was born in Philadelphia in 1871. The Redmond family moved to San Jose, California, and shortly thereafter, they enrolled Granville in the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. His teacher, a naturalist named Theophilus Hope d’Estrella, recognized Granville’s artistic talent and saw to it that the boy received the encouragement he deserved.
After his graduation from the school for the Deaf in 1890, he was awarded funds to attend California School of Design, where he studied under Arthur Matthews, a leader in the Northern California Arts and Crafts movement. In 1893 another scholarship allowed him to venture to Paris, where he attended the Academie Julian, rooming with the deaf sculptor, Douglas Tilden.
In 1895, Redmond had the distinction of having his huge painting, Matin d’Hiver, accepted to the Paris Salon, an impressive feat for a young American painter. In 1898, he returned to California, settling in Los Angeles, where he met and married a deaf woman, Carrie Ann Jean.
In Los Angeles, Redmond lived in the Highland Park area and painted with Elmer Wachtel and Norman St. Clair. Established in southern California, he began to forge a career as a painter and gained a reputation for his landscapes. In 1908, Redmond moved bacck north where he often painted with Xavier Martinez (1816 – 1943) and his old friend from the School of Design, Gottardo Piazzoni (1872 – 1945).
Because of his deafness, Redmond was gifted in the art of pantomime and he utilized his skill to garner work in the silent film industry. Redmond developed a friendship with the famous actor, Charlie Chaplin, who learned pantomime routines from the deaf painter, and used Redmond in some of his films. In addition, Chaplin gave Redmond a studio in which to paint that was located on the movie studio lot. He painted throughout southern California, from the Laguna surf to the poppy fields in the high desert. Redmond’s usual sensitivity to nature is evident in every work, whether it is a luminous painting of the surf lit by the moon, a quiet pol in the late afternoon, or the hills of poppies and lupine for which collectors still clamor. Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, 2001-2011, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.
2011/05/16 § Leave a comment
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.
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.