In recent years,
artists from around the world have flocked in droves to America’s West Coast.
Reasons for migration abound, including better light, bigger
studios, and a certain proximity to all things oceanfront. A new exhibition, “Masters of California Impressionism
,” at Heather
James Fine Art
reminds us that this westward drift is
no new phenomenon.
In the first
years of the 20th century, Impressionism
had taken hold as the dominant approach to painting. Championed
by French masters Claude Monet
, the movement’s enchanting manner of
capturing the vagaries of light and color spread throughout Europe, influencing
art created in other parts of the world. Artists traveled to Giverny with the
dream of studying with Monet and rendering their own interpretation of his
famed lilies. Then, as the Great War loomed, many painters—like Guy Rose
, William Wendt
, and E.
Charlton Fortune—made their way back to the States and to California, in
lustrous Sunshine and Firelight (1909) was
painted soon after the artist left a long stint in Giverny (and the close
mentorship of Monet) for his native Los Angeles. It stands as one of the
earliest and strongest examples of figuration in California Impressionism and
depicts a soft nude, dually lit by a glowing fire and sunlight from an unseen
window that cast diamond-patterned shadows across the subject’s ivory body.
Rose was a
member of the California Art Club, a group of Los Angeles- and Laguna
Beach-based artists founded by William Wendt, known as “the dean of California
painters.” Wendt’s richly toned landscapes, painted en plein air,
capture the sublime, salubrious effects of the coast. In Houses
at Arch Beach (1930), Wendt reveals a slice of bright blue
water against a bucolic grouping of trees and little houses that slope toward
the sea. It is an escapist, optimistic scene from an era marked by the Great
One of the
lone female painters of the group, Euphemia Charlton Fortune created work that
offers a glimpse into Northern California Impressionism from the same era.
Produced from hilltop perches in San Francisco and Monterey, Fortune’s scenes
of the bay are rendered with lively, loose brushwork and rich tonality that
feel almost Dickinsonian in their birds-eye approach to natural splendor.