In the early 1800s, when the industrial revolution was dramatically recasting America and remaking large stretches of it, a group of landscape painters, who became known as the Hudson River School, left their studios and went out in the fields to capture the virgin countryside on canvas. These plein air painters not only preserved for all time the natural paradise that America was before the bulldozers and factories got here, but founded a painterly tradition that has been in and out of favor but still thrives.
Toward the end of the 19th century, an increasing number of aspiring young artists studied in France where they were introduced to French Impressionism.
With the advent of the trans-continental railroad, many of these talented young artists made their way to California and were drawn to its coast – the broad beaches of the south and the rocky coves and bays in the north. They painted in a more spontaneous manner in an effort to catch the ever-changing light and surf.
This influential period in California painting changed the ways artists used color and their loose brushwork.
At the end of the 1920s, California art underwent a series of dramatic transformations. The work of the newest generation of artists was characterized by a move away from the perceptual and toward the conceptual.
When the Depression struck and much of America’s disposable income vanished, the artist-dealer-patron relationship came to a halt and ‘plein air’ and modernist painters alike joined Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs in order to continue working.
As the national economy improved in the late 1930s, a new kind of California regional painting, one that portrayed everyday life, caught on. Subject matter focused less on landscape and more on the genre scene of Californians and their particular affection for and enjoyment of the California coast.
“Behold, the Pacific! California Coastal Views,” which opens on Saturday, September 24, at the California Heritage Museum, chronicles these American and California painterly traditions.
Artists in the show include Franz Bischoff, Louis Betts, William Coulter, Frank Cuprien, Ernest Narjot, Edgar Payne, William Ritschel, Granville Redmond, Arthur Rozaire, Donna Schuster, George Gardner Symons, Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel, William Wendt, Thomas Hunt, August Gay, Seldon Gile, Emil Kosa Jr., Rex Brandt, Phil Dike and Roger Kuntz.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Jean Stern, Executive Director of the Irvine Museum, will present a slide lecture “California Impressionist Style.” Please call the museum at (310)-392-8537 for information on date, time and to make a reservation.The California Heritage Museum is located in an 1894 Historic Landmark house, at 2612 Main Street, in Santa Monica.