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The terms California Impressionism and California Plein-Air Painting describe the large movement of 20th century California artists who worked out of doors (en plein air), directly from nature in California, United States. Their work became popular in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California in the first three decades after the turn of the 20th century. Considered to be a regional variation on American Impressionism, the painters of the California Plein-Air School are also described as California Impressionists; the terms are used interchangeably.


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History

The California Impressionist artists depicted the California landscape -- the foothills, mountains, seashores, and deserts of the interior and coastal regions. California Impressionism reached its peak of popularity in the years before the Great Depression. The California Plein-Air painters generally painted in a bright, chromatic palette with "loose" painterly brush work that showed some influence from French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. These artists gathered in art colonies in places like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Laguna Beach as well as in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Organizations like the California Art Club, the Painters and Sculptors Club, San Francisco's Sketch Club, The Carmel Art Association, The Laguna Beach Art Association and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Art and Science played a key role in popularizing the work of the Plein-Air Painters of California. While Impressionist-influenced painting remained popular in California well after it did in Europe or the Eastern United States, as the Depression worsened and newer, more modern styles became accepted, the movement fell into decline.

Artists

Most of the Plein Air painters came from the East, the Midwest and Europe, and only a few of the early artists such as Guy Rose (1867-1925) were actually born and raised in California. Some of the most prominent names associated with the Plein-Air school are the aforementioned Rose, William Wendt (1865-1946), Granville Redmond (1871-1935), Arthur Cane (1865-1949), Edgar Payne, Armin Hansen (1886-1957), Jean Mannheim (1861-1945), John Marshall Gamble (1863-1957), Franz Bischoff (1864-1929), William Ritschel (1864-1949), Alson S. Clark (1876-1949), Hanson Puthuff (1875-1972), Marion Wachtel (1875-1954), and Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949). Most of these artists were already trained in art when they moved to California, arriving between 1900 and the early 1920s.


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Northern California Tonalism and Impressionism

In the 1890s, painting in Northern California began to progress from the grand vistas of specific locations that had been popular in the 1870s and 1880s, to more intimate views. This second generation of Northern California landscape artists were less concerned about the details of specific locations than they were about recording the color, atmosphere, and feelings they experienced when they sketched. William Keith, known as "the dean of Northern California painters," completed this transition in his own work. He began his career as a painter of picturesque landscapes, many of them of massive size. Then, after traveling abroad, he began to concentrate on "mood," eliminating what he saw as unnecessary detail from his landscapes. In the cool, misty climes of the north, this aesthetic view that is described as California Tonalism took hold.

Many of the Northern California painters were influenced by the works of the French painters of the Barbizon School, who worked in the forest south of Paris in the mid-19th century, as well as the American landscape master George Inness (1825-1894) and the American expatriate James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Northern California Tonalist landscapes can be recognized by their simplified compositions and a limited palette that gave the paintings close color harmonies. Some of the other major Northern California Tonalists were Arthur and Lucia Mathews, who led the Bay Area Arts and Crafts Movement, the moonlight painter Charles Rollo Peters (1862-1928), the flamboyant Xavier Martinez (1869-1943), and the painter and muralist Giuseppe Cadenasso (1858-1918). While many of the Northern California painters did paint extensively out of doors, most of the works were done in their studio, stylized and poetic visions, a step away from the type of plein air "visual snapshot" or "impression" favored by the French school.

After 1915 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which brought many French and American Impressionist masterworks to San Francisco, more Northern California painters adopted a more chromatic palette and dappled brushwork that was closer to French Impressionism and they adopted high-key midday subjects. Some of the best known Northern California painters who worked in a more impressionistic manner were the marine painter Armin Hansen, the coastal landscape painter Bruce Nelson and E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969), a talented Monterey woman who gave up easel painting for ecclesiastical decoration. Joseph Raphael, a student of Arthur Mathews who lived for many years in Europe while maintaining ties to San Francisco, assayed methods of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and may have been "the finest and most original of the state's Impressionists."

E. Charlton Fortune helped to develop the Carmel area art colony, bringing William Merritt Chase there to teach. Two of the most prominent California Impressionists who lived in Carmel were William Ritschel and Paul Dougherty. Both were known for their marine subjects, and had developed national reputations long before they moved west.


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Southern California Impressionism

Los Angeles developed more slowly than San Francisco, where the California Gold Rush caused the rapid expansion of its wealth and art scene, so there were few artists and even fewer collectors in the years before the turn of the 20th century. As first the Painters Club (1906) and then the California Art Club (1909) were founded and the first commercial galleries opened, Southern California began to draw artists and patrons and a bright, airy Impressionist aesthetic became dominant. This coincided with a tremendous population boom in Southern California. From early in the 20th century, Southern California painters generally worked in a much higher key then their Northern California contemporaries. This seems almost natural, for the Southland was a land of almost perpetual sunshine. The painters didn't need the earth tones that were favored by the Northern California painters and instead adopted a broad, chromatic palette that helped them to capture the brilliant light that bathed the hills and valleys of Southern California. William Wendt was a bold stylist known for his paintings of California in the springtime. The Austrian Franz Bischoff and the Alsatian-born Jean Mannheim were both converts to California Impressionism. Guy Rose, whose father was a leading rancher was a Los Angeles native who was trained in San Francisco and Paris and while in France he became an enthusiastic proponent of Impressionism. He only came home in 1914, after years of living in the Giverny art colony. Also Paris-trained, Benjamin Brown, whose work suggested an Impressionism reminiscent of Childe Hassam, settled in California in the 1890s.

Mid-Western born and educated Fernand Lungren (1859-1932), after stays in Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati and Europe, moved West to Santa Fe, New Mexico, finally settling in Santa Barbara, California, in 1906. He is especially famous for his impressionist paintings of the California desert in various seasons and time of the day; he also played a leading role in founding the Santa Barbara School of the Arts in 1920.

Perhaps the most well-known Impressionist painter to settle in Southern California was Richard E. Miller. Miller came to Pasadena to teach alongside Rose, with whom he had worked in Giverny. His color and draftsmanship had a profound influence on other California artists.

After studying with Chase in New York and then going to Europe, Maurice Braun moved to San Diego in 1909. His patterned landscapes are notable for their sparkling sunlight and subtle mysticism. For William H. Gerdts, Braun was "not only the finest Impressionist of the San Diego area, but arguably the most brilliant landscape artist of his generation working in California."


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Decline of California Impressionism

The decline of the California Plein-Air Movement was gradual. While art historians have described California Impressionism's long popularity as "the Indian Summer of American Impressionism," the movement eventually began to give way to more modern movements, both in the press and among collectors. The Great Depression hurt the art market. The economy hastened the decline of plein-air painting, and modernism began to supplant the artists of the Southland art organizations.


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Revival of interest in early California Impressionism

Historically, from the time that interest in the first generation of Plein-Air Painters like Edgar Payne, William Wendt and Marion Wachtel began to wane in the 1930s, there was little interest in Early California paintings for more than thirty years. When the Southland painters of the 1920s were discussed, they were often derisively called The Eucalyptus School. Led by a number of pioneering art historians like Nancy Moure, then with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Southern California and Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of California in Northern California, writers began to recognize that a major movement of Impressionist-influenced painters had been active in California between 1910 and 1940. Interest in California's Plein-Air painters was aided by the historic preservation movement and interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement in California.

As interest in the American Arts and Crafts Movement increased and historic preservation became popular, young curators, art historians and art dealers began to mount exhibits and write books and articles on California Plein-Air Painting. By the 1980s, there was a broad interest in California Impressionism. The Peterson Gallery in Beverly Hills hosted retrospective exhibitions for Franz Bischoff and other artists of the Plein-Air school with small color catalogs, signaling that the early painters of Los Angeles were worthy of both scholarly and commercial attention. In 1977 the Laguna Art Museum hosted a retrospective for William Wendt, the most important figure in early Los Angeles painting,which was curated by Nancy Moure. The following year Moure released her Dictionary of Art and Artists in Southern California Before 1930. Moure also curated a retrospective exhibition for the Laguna Beach Museum with illustrations of works by dozens of painters who had been active there.

In 1981 in conjunction with the Los Angeles Bicentennial, an exhibition of early California painting was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1982 Plein-Air Painters of California: The Southland was published by Ruth Lilly Westphal. Westphal followed the first book with Plein-Air Painters of California: The North, in 1986.


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California en plein air revival

In the late 1970s Peter Seitz Adams (b. 1950), Arny Karl (1940-2000) and Tim Solliday (b. 1952) became art students of Theodore Lukits (1897-1992). Adams, Karl and Solliday began taking sketching trips together and eventually helped reinvigorate the contemporary plein air painting movement. Moreover, in 1993 Adams was instrumental in reviving the California Art Club, which quickly grew to include hundreds of practicing plein air artists. Contemporaneous to Lukits was the Russian Impressionist Sergei Bongart (1918-1985), who taught many students from his studios in Santa Monica and Idaho. In Santa Barbara, a group of burgeoning plein air painters sought inspiration from the regionalist artist Ray Strong (1905-2006).

The California Plein-Air Revival is an art movement that began in the 1980s. Artists were inspired by the renewed interest in the works of the California Plein-Air School of 1900-1940. The revival included young artists who either studied with or were influenced by Theodore N. Lukits (1897-1992), Ray Stanford Strong (1905-2006) and Sergei Bongart (1918-1985). All three teachers emphasized working out of doors, directly from nature. Group exhibitions by several commercial galleries, the formation of a number of different artists organizations and the revival of the California Art Club all played a role in spreading the artistic philosophy and stylistic influences of the Early California painters and creating a commercial marketplace for artists who became part of the same tradition.

Original California Plein-Air School

There were a number of influences that gradually led to a revival of interest in artists working directly from nature rather than from photographs or other reference. A major influence in what has been described as the Neo-Plein-Air Movement or the Plein-Air Revival was the rehabilitation of the artistic reputations of original painters of the California Plein-Air School. These were artists, also known as California Impressionists, who were active painting in California in the years after the turn of the 20th century. Few of these artists were natives; most had migrated from the East, the Midwest or Europe. From their training in the United States or in some cases Europe, they brought the tradition of working directly from nature or "en plein-air" as the French referred to it. Some of the original California Plein-Air Painters were inspired by the en plein air work of the Barbizon School, but most of them worked within the broad movement now known as American Impressionism. For stylistic comparisons to the contemporary adherents to this style, a few of these painters were: California-born Guy Rose, William Wendt, who came to Southern California from Chicago and Missouri-born Edgar Payne. These artists were all part of the California Art Club, which was formed to disseminate the Impressionist style in Southern California. The California Plein-Air Painters had annual exhibitions at the California Museum of History, Science and Art and sold their work through a growing number of commercial galleries and they remained popular in the 1920s. The decline of the California Plein-Air Movement was gradual and as a more traditional, representational form of art, it eventually began to give way to more modern movements, both in the press and among collectors. The Great Depression was severe blow to the art market. The economy made life difficult for the artists and the lack of sales hastened the decline of the Plein-Air school. Then, modernism began to supplant the artists of the Southland art organizations in the museums and the larger exhibition venues. By the late 1940s, most of the artists who had exhibited extensively in the 1910-1930 had died and the remaining painters were often reduced to showing in lesser venues alongside amateur artists. By the 1960s, the California Plein-Air movement was mostly forgotten.

Rehabilitation of the early California Impressionists

From the time that interest in the first generation of Plein-Air Painters began to wane, there was little interest in Early California paintings for many years. When the Southland painters of the 1920s were discussed, they were often derisively referred to as The Eucalyptus School because of the popularity of that tree in many of their works. With art historians like Nancy Moure, leading the way in Southern California and Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of California in Northern California, dealers, collectors art writers began to recognize that a major movement of Impressionist-influenced painters had been active in California between 1910 and 1940. Interest in California Plein-Air Painters was aided by the historic preservation movement and interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement in California, led by authorities like Robert Winters.

As interest in the American Arts and Crafts Movement increased and historic preservation became popular, a number of young curators, researchers, art historians and art dealers began to mount exhibits and write books and articles on California Plein-Air Painting. By the 1980s, there was a broad interest in California Impressionism. Now, there are dozens of commercial galleries specializing in this group of artists, a broad base of collectors, a number of museums with extensive collections and hundreds of scholarly and "coffee table" books on the movement. By the late 1970s, galleries and antique "pickers" were beginning to recognize that the Plein-Air School was good business as there were thousands of paintings coming out of the homes of aging residents and becoming available at auction, in flea markets and second-hand stores. The second generation dealer Jean Stern, who was then at the helm of the Peterson Gallery in Beverly Hills hosted retrospective exhibitions for Franz Bischoff and other artists of the Plein-Air School with small color catalogs, signaling that the early painters of Los Angeles were worthy of both scholarly and commercial attention. Jean Stern's younger brother George Stern, an attorney, opened the George Stern Gallery in Encino and Ray Redfern, another second generation dealer, took over the family firm from his mother and began to specialize in the works of the Laguna Beach painters. Marian Bowater opened the Bowater Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard's "Gallery Row"and began to specialize in Plein-Air Painters. The restorer Dee McCall also began to not only restore works by the California painters but sell them, eventually opening a retail gallery. There was also a great deal of interest in California paintings from the auction houses. The San Francisco firm Butterfield & Butterfield began to hold popular California auctions and the Pasadena firm John Moran Fine Art & Antique Auctioneers began to hold popular California Auctions at the California Center in Pasadena. In 1977 the Laguna Art Museum hosted a retrospective for William Wendt, the most important figure in early Los Angeles painting,which was curated by Nancy Moure. The following year Moure released her landmark Dictionary of Art and Artists in Southern California Before 1930, which, for the first time allowed collectors to know whose work it was they were looking at. Moure also curated a retrospective exhibition for the Laguna Beach Museum with illustrations of works by dozens of painters who had been active there.

In 1981 in conjunction with the Los Angeles Bicentennial, an exhibition of early California painting was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and commercial venues like Peterson Galleries and Morseburg Galleries also hosted exhibitions that were part of the city's official activities. In 1982 Plein-Air Painters of California: The Southland was published by Ruth Lilly Westphal. With introductory essays by Terry DeLapp, Thomas Kenneth Enman, Nancy Moure, Martin Peterson and Jean Stern, the book, which had short essays on dozens of painters, had the effect of separating the values of the painters whose works were included in book from those who were not, perhaps a mixed blessing, but it also gave new collectors a group of names to shoot for. Westphal followed the first book with Plein-Air Painters of California: The North, in 1986. Magazines like the California history magazine the Californians, Antiques and Fine Art, Art and Antiques and Tom Kellaway's reorganized American Art Review also played an important role in publishing articles on the California Plein-Air Painters and carrying advertisements from the galleries that spread awareness of the movement. The museum exhibitions, new books and gallery scene exerted a strong influence on a number of painters who found themselves inspired by the painterly landscapes of the Early California painters.

Teachers form a bridge between the Plein-Air School and the Plein-Air Revival

Several older artists served as the bridge between historic en plein air painting traditions in the United States and Europe and younger generations of artists. Sergei Bongart was a painter from the Ukraine. He was thoroughly schooled in Russia in the years before World War II and then in Europe in the years after the war. He came to the United States, first settling in Memphis, Tennessee and then in Los Angeles, California. Bongart was a well-rounded painter and an influential teacher who taught hundreds of students. He emphasized working out of doors and during workshops and one-on-one instruction, he took students out in the field, demonstrating his broadly brushed technique and critiqued their works. Students of Sergei Bongart included his wife, Patricia LeGrande Bongart, the Thai-born painter Sunny Apinchapong Yang, Dan Pinkham, Dan McCaw, Joseph Mendez and Del Gish Theodore Lukits was born in Transylvania, grew up in St. Louis and was trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied with a number of American Impressionist painters and advocates of Decorative Impressionism. He moved to California in 1921 and opened the Lukits Academy in 1924. Lukits did more than a thousand en plein air pastels on location and also took his students out on location, with an emphasis on capturing the more fleeting effects of nature. He taught until 1990 and some of his prominent students included Peter Seitz Adams, Arny Karl, Tim Solliday. Another artist who played a key role was the Central California Coast painter Ray Strong (1905-2006) who helped to found the Oak Group in the 1980s and inspired many of the painters from the Santa Barbara area.

Origins of the California Plein-Air Revival

In the 1970s, there was a small movement of painters in California and the west working in the en plein air tradition, some of them aging artists who were active in the latter days of the original movement and a few young painters in their twenties and thirties. Some of these artists were active with the California Art Club and its membership of aging painters. However, there was little forward momentum or interest from art galleries or collectors. In 1985, a painter named Denise Burns formed the Plein-Air Painters of America (PAPA) and in 1986, she and a group of painters began holding an annual exhibition on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. By the late 1980s, because of the tremendous interest in the early California Plein-Air Painters and steadily increasing prices, collectors gradually became interested in younger painters who were working in the same tradition. In the case of Peter Seitz Adams (b. 1950), Arny Karl (1940-2000) and Tim Solliday (b. 1952) the artists were students of one of the original Plein-Air Painters, the portrait artist and en plein air pastelist Theodore Lukits as referenced above and these three artists had been sketching together since the 1970s. In the case of Dan Pinkham, Joseph Mendez and Sunny Apinchapong-Yang, they had studied under the Russian Impressionist Sergei Bongart (1918-1985) while the Ojai painter Richard Rackus (b. 1922) had studied in the late 1930s and early 1940s when many of the original California Impressionists were still teaching. Al Londerville, who had studied with both Theodore Lukits and Nicolai Fechin was also still active painting works in pastel. This loose group of en plein air painters were exhibiting their work at a number of commercial galleries including Poulsen Galleries in Pasadena and Morseburg Galleries in Los Angeles. At the same time, a number of other out-door painters formed a new organization, the Plein-Air of America ("PAPA"). Meanwhile, the Annual Plein-Air Painters Festival in Catalina, organized by Denise Burns, with the assistance of Roy Rose was becoming more and more successful. In Santa Barbara, a group of younger painters was also coming together, grouped around the elderly regionalist Ray Strong (1905-2006). This group of artists was formalized as the Oak Group in 1985 and it spread interest in en plein air painting promoted environmental awareness on the Central California Coast.

Re-organization of the California Art Club

By the early 1990s, Peter Seitz Adams and a number of other Contemporary Traditional Artists saw the need for an organization that could help to bring order to what they saw as the reemerging traditional art movement in California. Adams, his wife Elaine and Jeffrey Morseburg had been discussing the need for an organization that could mount exhibitions and promote the artists who were reviving California Plein-Air Painting. In 1993, when Verna Guenther, who was a member of the historic California Art Club, came to Morseburg to see if he knew anyone younger who would be capable of taking over the venerable organization that then consisted of an aging cohort of painters, Morseburg suggested Peter and Elaine Adams. The Adams saw the value in taking over an existing organization to promote traditional fine arts rather than forming a new one. Peter Adams soon accepted the Presidency of the California Art Club and has served in that capacity since that time. In order to reorganize the California Art Club, Adams recruited most of the active professional landscape and figurative painters that he knew. The core group of artists who became members of the reorganized California Art Club primarily consisted of students of Theodore Lukits or Sergei Bongart. Among the first group of painters to join the CAC included Tim Solliday, Bill Stout, Stephen Mirich, Steve Houston, Dan Goozee, Daniel W. Pinkham, Sunny Apinchapong, Richard Rackus (b. 1922) and the Russian painters, Alexander Orlov and Alexey Steele. Because of the tremendous influx of academically trained Chinese painters in California, Adams and the CAC added painters like Mian Situ, Michael Situ, and Jove Wang to its roster. Some of the artists who had been vital members of the California Art Club prior to the Adams administration, such as Don and Wanda Durborow and Rolf and Evelyn Zilmner, who was Chairman of the Gold Medal Exhibition, played important roles in the revitalization. The re-organized California Art Club soon began organizing museum shows devoted to both its historic and contemporary members and soon the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, the Frederick R. Weissman Museum at Pepperdine and other institutions were hosting exhibitions. A newsletter with articles by recognized scholars and exhibition catalogs contributed to making the works of the CAC's Plein-Air Painters and other artists more widely known. The organization also held frequent "paint outs" where artists met and worked on location as a group. As the reorganized California Art Club matured, the emphasis on en plein air painting, the focus of many of the artists began to shift somewhat as more experienced figurative artists joined the organization. By 2000, the cut-off date for the artists on the list below, the California Art Club was an incredibly diverse organization, reflecting the tremendous strength of the Pacific Rim. There were young artists in their twenties and older painters in their eighties, men and women, artists from Europe, Russia, all over Asia and throughout the United States.

Plein-Air shows

A key component of the California Plein-Air Revival are the frequent en plein air exhibitions held in or around picturesque areas of the state. In most of these exhibitions, the painters bring their materials and blank canvasses or panels on which to paint. Then, they have a specified number of hours or days to complete their works before an exhibition is held. This type of exhibition is largely credited to Denise Burns and the Plein-Air Painters of America and the early exhibitions that it promoted on Catalina Island. The concept was conceived of as a way to emphasize the spontaneous nature of en plein air painting, the way that paintings are executed in a number of hours, while conditions stay consistent. In addition to the popular shows on Catalina Island, the philanthropist and art collector Joan Irvine Smith sponsored en plein air shows that were organized by the California Art Club at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Capistrano had been a popular location for the California Impressionists of the 1920s and these exhibitions were very successful for both the artists and collectors. Other en plein air festivals were held in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Ana, California.

Source of the article : Wikipedia