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.


Ellen Burpee Farr: Pasadena’s Entrepenurial Artist

2011/05/18 § 2 Comments

"The Pepper Tree" by Ellen Burpee Farr

Ellen Burpee Farr

Early Pasadena Still Life Painter

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Ellen Burpee Farr (1840-1907) was an Early California painter who is known for her still lifes of California poppies, Indian baskets and California citrus and pepper trees, which was her favorite subject.  Farr, like a number of other talented women painters, had to delay her artistic career because of the demands of marriage and child rearing, in her case for twenty years.  However, after she moved west to Pasadena, she forged a successful career as a fine artist and became a vital member of its cultural community.

Ellen Frances Burpee Farr came from an old New England family, members of which had fought in the American Revolution.  She was born on November 14, 1840 and raised in New Hampton, New Hampshire, where her father, Augustus Burpee, was a prominent citizen. She was an artistically talented and independent young woman who went on to graduate from the New Hampshire Institute and the Thetford Academy, near Thetford, Vermont.

The Thetford academy was founded in 1819, and from the beginning it accepted both young men and women.  While the purpose of the academy was to prepare boys for college and girls for domestic life and social responsibility, the curriculum was very intense for both sexes, with classical instruction in Latin, Greek and French, English courses and higher mathematics.   Because Ellen Burpee was culturally inclined and artistically talented, Thetford’s courses in drawing, painting and music would have appealed to her and enhanced her artistic abilities.

While Burpee excelled in her art classes and clearly had the drive and talent to succeed as a painter, an artistic career wasn’t then considered an option for girls from good families, especially when even the best male painters still struggled financially. She probably graduated with her class in July of 1859, becoming engaged to her future husband, Evarts Worcester Farr (1840-1880), whom she had met at the Academy, the next year.

Evarts Farr was a brilliant young man who enrolled in Dartmouth College after he graduated from Thetford, joining the college’s class of 1864.  Unfortunately, the Civil War interrupted his education and the idealistic young Evarts Farr became the first volunteer for the Union Army from his hometown of Littleton, New Hampshire.  Evarts Farr and Ellen Burpee were hurriedly married on May 19, 1861, just weeks before the young solider and the 2nd New Hampshire departed from Portsmouth for Washington, on June 20th.  In December he was promoted to Captain and placed in command of a Regiment. Some months later, while fighting under General “Fighting Joe” Hooker at Williamsburg, on May 15 of 1862, a musket ball shattered his arm, and battlefield surgeons amputated it above his elbow.

Evarts Farr returned home to his young wife, but after a short recuperation, he could not be dissuaded from returning to the war and took the train south.  He served with the second New Hampshire at Harrison’s landing and then returned home to recruit more volunteers. He was soon promoted to Major and returned to the war with the 11th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. He served at the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg, where he was responsible for having Colonel and future Governor Walter Harriman charged with desertion of his post, prompting his resignation.

While Evarts Farr was engaged in the battle to save the Union, his wife kept the home fires burning.  Ellen Burpee Farr had her first child, a daughter named Ida, in 1863, about the time her husband was fighting at the Siege of Vicksburg.  Because of his amputation, the Major was transferred to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, where he completed his military service.  Ellen Farr’s second child, Herbert, was born in 1865, while her husband completed his martial commitment.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, Evarts Farr returned home to his wife and family.  He completed his education while Ellen kept their home and raised their children.  Major Farr was admitted to the bar in 1867 and joined his father’s law practice.  He became a prominent attorney and in 1872, he and his wife had their third and final child, a girl named Edith.  As the wife of a prominent man, Ellen Farr became active in a number of charities and social organizations, primarily the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Order of the Eastern Star, a women’s organization that was affiliated with the Masons.  Major Farr became an assessor, a solicitor and then was elected to the United States House of Representatives on the Republican ticket in 1877 and again in 187

Unfortunately, Major Farr fell ill in November of 1880. The illness worsened, and he died of pneumonia.  Suddenly, Ellen Burpee Far was without a husband and had three children to raise and support.  However, as the widow of a Congressman and a Civil War hero, she had a reservoir of good will and a social prominence that would have helped open some doors for her, and she was a resourceful woman.  In the wake of her father’s death, Farr’s seventeen-year-old daughter Ida helped take care of her younger brother Herbert, who was fourteen, and her sister Edith, who was seven.

In 1883, a few years after her husband’s death, Farr moved her family to Boston where she began to apply herself to the study of art, hoping to be able to help support her family through her artistic talents. Farr is credited with studying with the academically trained French painter Louis-Mathieu Didier Guillaume (1816-1892), who lived in Richmond during the Civil War and then moved to Washington D.C. in 1871, and then, presumably, on to Boston for a time.   A look at Guillaume’s work is enlightening because he specialized in portraits and still lifes and one can assume that Farr’s studies with the French painter were a great influence on the course of her career and her choice of subjects.

Farr began to forge a career as a still life painter in Boston, apparently selling works to friends and acquaintances back in New Hampshire.  She may have concentrated on the genre because she was more drawn to these domestic subjects, or perhaps because the demands of landscape painting was too difficult for a woman who still had children at home. Farr’s early still lifes were more formal than her later works, some of them more European in conception and others, game still life’s for example, clearly influenced by the works of William Michael Harnett (1848-1892) and the American Trompe l’oeil movement. By the time Farr began to apply herself to art, her artistically talented daughter Ida was also studying, attending the Museum School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and attending Wellesley College.

Farr moved west to Pasadena, California in 1887.  At the encouragement C.H. Merrill, the manager of South Pasadena’s new Raymond Hotel, whom she may have known when he managed resorts in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, she opened a studio and gallery in the hotel, which was popular with the Eastern carriage trade.  Farr was a perceptive businesswoman and she realized that the eastern visitors who wintered in Pasadena wanted reminders of their visit to the Southland, so she filled her still lifes with iconic California mementos.  Her paintings featured California oranges on the vine, woven Indian baskets, Mexican tamales and chilis, and the pepper trees that lined the grounds of the missions and some of the other Spanish Colonial buildings.  Farr also painted some landscapes, usually of the local missions, which were also popular subjects with Eastern tourists.

Farr threw herself into the civic and cultural life of her adopted home, founding the Young Women’s Business League of Pasadena. She was also active with the Shakespeare Club of Pasadena and is credited with designing its distinctive clubhouse.  In 1894, she camped and painted on Santa Catalina Island, a playground of the wealthy, setting up an exotic tented studio.  The huge Raymond Hotel was consumed by fire in 1895 and Farr purchased an abandoned vineyard in Pasadena with an old adobe home that same year.  She restored the house and built a beautiful atelier, filled with fascinating objects for her still lifes, and planted gardens with the pepper trees that were her favorite subject.

In 1906 Farr left Pasadena for Europe, intending to take a two-year Grand Tour of the continent, to visit the great art museums and see the classical ruins of France and Italy.  Unfortunately, she died suddenly while she was visiting Naples, on January 5, 1907.  Copyright, 2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.  

The Decorative Impressionism of Richard E. Miller

2011/05/18 § Leave a comment

"The Pool" by Richard E. Miller

Richard E. Miller

The Decorative Impressionism of the Giverny School

National Academy of Design

California Art Club

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Although Richard Edward Miller (1875-1943) only spent a short time in California, his distinctive painting style and teaching appointment at Pasadena’s Stickney’s School influenced younger southland painters.  Miller’s works are characterized by a strong decorative element. Although he was a member of the art colony that sprang up around Claude Monet in Giverny, Miller never fully rejected the academic principles he learned in Paris and dissolved form into color and light. He never abandoned formal pictorial elements, favored compositions centered on beautiful women who are lost in thought and are dramatically back-lit by intense sunlight streaming through French doors.

Strongly influenced by James Whistler and the Aesthetic Movement, Miller rejected the Victorian-age emphasis on narrative content and worked instead at conveying what he described as a ‘pleasant optical sensation.’ Miller’s were never haphazard arrangements of elements that he painted alla-prima- they were carefully composed. Miller once said, “Atmosphere and color are never permanent. Paint won’t remain the same color forever. But the design will stay. And that is the creative part of it.” As artistic styles changed, Miller never strayed from his conviction that art was about ‘the creation of beauty.’

The artist Richard E. Miller

Richard Miller was born in the waterfront city of St. Louis in 1875. He grew up in a culturally rich environment  and bean painting seriously at an early age. Initially, Miller worked as a helper for the portrait painter, George  Eichbaum and received encouragement from his neighbor, ,Oscar Berninghaus (1874 – 1952).

Despite his father’s reluctance, Miller enrolled at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University. He studied at the St. Louis School with Edmund H. Wuerpel (1866 – 1958), a tonalist painter who had recently returned from France. To support himself during his studies, Miller worked as as commercial artist. Concluding his St. Louis studies in 1897, he saved money and sailed for Paris in 1899 with a scholarship in hand.

Like many other American artists, Miller went to the Parisian art capital to build on the knowledge he had obtained in the United States. First, he enrolled at the private Academie Julian, where he studied under Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 – 1921) and Benjamin Constant (1845 – 1902). After a year of study ‘working from the nude,’ Miller had a painting accepted at the Salon and won a third place medal.

"Sunlight" by Richard E. Miller

Miller struggled financially in Paris and even returned to St. Louis to teach for a year between 1901 and 1902. Back in Paris, Miller came under the spell of Whistler, whom he admired for his emphasis on design, his tonal and color harmonies and the eccentric painter’s ‘art for art’s sake’ ideal. Like Whistler, the young St. Louis painter was influenced by the simple sophistication of Japanese prints. Miller’s early French works exhibit these influences with their beautiful quality of line and quiet tonalities.

As me matured, Miller began to explore more dynamic color relationships. His works became bolder, though still harmonious, with a bravura brushwork that may show the influence of the Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla (1863 – 1923). By 1907, Miller had become a member of the Giverny colony of American Impressionists, where his friends and fellow artists, Guy Rose and Lawton Parker (1860 – 1954), had settled. Miller reached his mature style in Giverny, adopting a flatter, even more decorative approach to the figure.

Miller and his Giverny friend, Frederick Frieseke (1874 – 1939) , had a triumphant exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1909. Miller’s rich, colorful paintings, with their exotic fabrics, found a steady market in America. He taught at the Academie Colarossi in Paris and sent paintings back to New York galleries. Like many other painters, Miller was driven home by the outbreak of World War I, when his career was at his peak.

"Cafe de Nuit" by Richard E. Miller

Back in America and at loose ends, Miller painted portraits and served on an Advisory Committee for the Panama-Pacific Exposition and was elected to the National Academy. He joined his friend, Guy Rose, in Pasadena, where they taught at the Stickney School. Miller had great difficulty in finding a studio to paint in, so he borrowed that of Eva Scott Fenyes (1846 – 1930), the present site of the Pasadena Historical Society and Museum. At the Fenyes mansion, Miller painted several characteristic works, some featuring the estate’s lush gardens and fountain.

Miller put down roots in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a picturesque fishing village on Cape Cod, where many other painters had already settled. He became a leader of the more traditionally minded art community in Provincetown, as well as one of its most sought after teachers Miller returned to France briefly, but remained in Provincetown for the rest of his career, returning to the nude and a series of naturalistic portraits late in his career. He died in Cape Cod in 1943.  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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