Gilcrease Presents Works of California Impressionism

SCENIC LANDSCAPES: Gilcrease Museum’s “California Impressionism: Selections from The Irvine Museum” exhibition runsMay 3-Sept. 6. Works include Arcadian Hills by William Wendt, Laguna Eucalyptus by Guy Rose and Southern California Coast by George Gardner Symons.

Running May 3-Sept. 6 is Gilcrease Museum’s exhibition “California Impressionism: Selections from The Irvine Museum.”

Some of the most popular works of art in The Irvine Museum’s collection will be displayed in this exhibition. Arcadian Hills by William Wendt (1865-1946) gets its title from the ancient Greek district of Arcadia, the idyllic paradise of legend and epic poetry. Titles echoing poetry and biblical passages are frequently seen on Wendt’s paintings as a way of praising the beauty and nobility of the California landscape, which he characterized as “Nature’s Temple.”

Generally taken to be the most important of California’s Impressionist painters, Guy Rose (1867-1925) is represented by Laguna Eucalyptus, painted in Laguna Beach about 1916. One of the very few artists of this period to have been born and raised in California, Rose studied art in San Francisco and Paris and adopted a French Impressionist approach to painting. For eight years, between 1904 and 1912, Rose and his wife, Ethel, lived in the small village of Giverny and were friends and neighbors of Claude Monet.

Southern California Coast by George Gardner Symons (1861-1930) shows the coast at Laguna Beach near today’s community of Rockledge.

One of the most popular paintings in the exhibition is La Jolla Shores, painted in the early 1920s by Alfred R. Mitchell (1888-1972). The scene shows the community of La Jolla, just north of San Diego, as it looked long before the rampant development that characterize the area today. Mitchell was one of San Diego’s most important painters and most popular art teachers.

In addition to numerous examples of California Impressionism, the exhibition also displays more progressive works, paintings that go somewhat beyond Impressionism and venture into Modernism.

California Impressionism began in the early part of the 20th century. The style combines several distinctive aspects of American and European art and concerns itself with light and color. As a variant of the American Impressionist style, it is focused directly on the abundant California light.

In California, landscape painting was by far the most popular subject among its myriad painters. Where the French Impressionists yearned to capture the immediate moment, or the temporal fragment of societal activity, California’s Impressionists sought to catch the fleeting moment of specific natural light as it bathed the landscape. The clear and intense light of California, which appears so often in these paintings, defined the landscape.

Landscape painting is a time-honored tradition that is inseparable from the spirit of American art. Indeed, from colonial times, American art has been governed by special circumstances unique to our country. Unlike Europe, American art was nurtured in the absence of empowered patronage, such as the monarchy or the church, both of which were powerful determinants in the progress of European art. Likewise, American artists retained a penchant for portraying genre, that is to say, the everyday character of American life. These “democratic” tendencies encouraged the espousal of landscape painting as the ideal vehicle for expressing the American spirit, as it created a metaphor of the American landscape as the fountainhead from which sprang the bounty and opportunity of rustic American life. Moreover, landscape painting afforded an avenue to express God and nature as one, an understanding of spirituality that disavowed official religious patronage. When America emerged in the 19th century, it was with an art tradition that reflected what was paramount to American society – its people and its land.

Updated 05-26-2015

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