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Granville Redmond (1871–1935), Flowers Under the Oaks. Oil on canvas, 20 x 25 inches. Courtesy of Irvine Museum; Joan Irvine Smith Collection.
After the shock of its introduction at the Paris Salons in the 1870s, French Impressionism found its foothold in 1886 when Claude Monet (1840–1926) established his home, studio, and garden in the rural French hamlet of Giverny. By the 1890s Giverny had attracted an international art scene, with a significant number of Americans taking part; nearly three generations, or successive groups, of impressionist painters colonized the tranquil spot under Monet’s spell.

Several second- and third-generation American Impressionists in Giverny, such as Richard E. Miller (1875–1943), Colin Campbell Cooper (1856–1937), and Guy Rose (1867–1925), went on to play significant roles in the development of the movement in California. Their brand of impressionism emphasized the decorative quality of the subject, with a nod to Japanese aesthetics. For some of these artists, such as Miller, the figure remained a constant focus. But for many others, the pleasant scenery and climate of the Land of Sunshine transfixed them. In Giverny, their subject matter was most often ladies at leisure; in California, the landscape became their muse.

William Wendt (1865–1946), Rolling Hills California, 1910. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Irvine Museum.
When Guy Rose returned to the Los Angeles area in late 1915, he entered a small but active community of artists, including William Wendt (1865–1946) and Hanson Puthuff (1875–1972). The region was on the verge of a flourishing impressionist scene, almost twenty years after the East Coast embraced the movement, which was further catalyzed by Rose and other artists emerging from Giverny at the outset of World War I. The region’s artists would then continue in a particularly Southern Californian Impressionist style that was far removed from the concurrent early-twentieth-century “modernist” movements, such as cubism and fauvism, then sweeping Paris and New York. Unlike the evolvement of French Impressionism, California Impressionism did not take on a style of dissolving forms and portrayals of city life and people; it instead held on to realistic representations and focused on the resplendent light and beauty of the land, loosely painted en plein air.

Edgar Payne (1883–1947). Sycamore in Autumn, Orange County Park. Oil on board, 32 x 42 inches. Courtesy of Irvine Museum.
Granville Redmond (1871–1935), William Wendt (1865–1946), and Edgar Payne (1883–1947) are a few of the best-known historic Southern California landscape painters. Each name conjures up a vivid aspect of California’s landscape: Redmond is known for majestic oak trees at sunset and fields of flowers; Wendt was inclined to paint green meadows and valleys, ringed by oaks and sycamores; Payne’s work encompasses the snowcapped peaks and icy-cold lakes of the Sierra Nevada.

None of these artists was born in California, but all lived and died there. Redmond arrived as a toddler, in 1874, when his family moved from Philadelphia after a bout with scarlet fever left him deaf and mute. Wendt, born in Germany, emigrated to Chicago, where he studied briefly at the Art Institute before settling permanently in Los Angeles in 1906. Payne also came via the Midwest, arriving in Laguna Beach in 1918.

Hanson Puthuff (1875–1972), Evening Purple Dusk. Circa 1928. Oil on canvas, 26 x 34 inches. Courtesy of De Ru’s Fine Arts.
Hanson Puthuff (1875–1972), Lone Pine near Mt. Whitney. Circa 1928. Oil on canvasboard, 12 x 16 inches. Courtesy of De Ru’s Fine Arts.
Redmond, Wendt, and Payne each contributed to the distinct Southern Californian Impressionist style. Redmond popularized the state flower—poppies—in sweeping vistas executed in the pointillist manner of Camille Pissarro (1830–1903). Wendt painted on a grand scale—large canvases with broadly rendered depictions of majestic scenery. Payne’s more rugged and highly colored scenes took Wendt’s monumental landscapes to the next level.

Masters of Landscape: Paintings by Edgar Payne, Granville Redmond, and William Wendt, on view through September 15 at the Irvine Museum, presents the iconic California scenes of these three plein air painters. For more information, visit www.irvinemuseum.org or call the Irvine Museum, Irvine, CA, at 949.476.2565.

Hanson Puthuff (1875–1972), like Edgar Payne and many other California Impressionists, was a transplanted Midwesterner who became enamored with the West Coast landscape, making it his signature subject. Puthuff arrived in Los Angeles in 1903. For twenty-three years he was an art teacher and commercial and billboard artist, and in his leisure time he painted landscapes akin to Wendt’s work. In 1926, Puthuff finally achieved the critical and popular recognition that allowed him to pursue landscape painting full-time.

Puthuff was a close friend and colleague of Wendt, Payne, and Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873–1949), with whom he often painted. As a cofounder of the California Art Club and the Laguna Beach Art Association, Puthuff was a leading force in the California art scene until his death in Corona del Mar in 1972.

Colin Campbell Cooper (1856–1937), Garden Scene (possibly Santa Barbara). Circa 1924. Signed lower right. Gouache on paper, 7 x 5 inches. Courtesy of Brock & Co. Colin Campbell Cooper (1856–1937), Broadway and St. Paul’s, New York City. Circa 1920. Signed lower right. Inscribed with location on verso. Gouache on paper, 7 x 5 inches. Courtesy of Brock & Co.

Provenance: Gift of the artist to John Agar, president of the National Arts Club, February 1924; by descent to his grandson; Brock & Co., Carlisle, MA.

Trained at the French academies and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), Colin Campbell Cooper (1856–1937) galvanized the small arts community of Santa Barbara when he settled there in 1921. He became dean of the important but short-lived Santa Barbara School of the Arts, where he taught outdoor painting. Critically acclaimed for his New York cityscapes, Cooper was a staunch proponent of plein air painting over studio work, whether he was in the city or in a garden. He wrote:

There is something in the sparkle of the thing, not only in the big masses of light and shade, but in the details—which are like grace notes of a music bar—that must be noted in an instant. There are infinite and subtle varieties of color in the windows of buildings where, at different angles, they take sky and cloud reflections….1

In Santa Barbara, the landscape transformed the artist. Cooper’s palette took on more vivid colors in response to the sunshine, flowers, mountains, and sea. Buildings still appeared in his paintings; the façade of a Spanish mission and his own bungalow and garden were frequent subjects.

  1. Letter cited in James M. Hansen, Colin Campbell Cooper, exhibition catalogue (Santa Barbara: James M. Hansen, May 1981), p. 3.

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