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 Arthur Frank Mathews  (1860 - 1945)

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Lived/Active: California/Wisconsin      Known for: handcrafted items, decorative, muralist, educator

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Ad Code: 3
Arthur Frank Mathews
from Auction House Records.
Woman & Children Picking Poppies In Coastal Landscape
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A central figure with his wife Lucia in turn-of-the-century, post earthquake San Francisco, Arthur Mathews devoted himself to reconstruction of the fine arts in the Bay Area.  He had diverse talents that embraced architecture, mural painting, furniture making, printing, and urban design, and his style became known as California Decorative.  His murals and paintings came to exemplify the Art Nouveau style.  He was also a proponent of the American Renaissance style, based on classical disciplines and subject matter of the Italian Renaissance.

In his allegorical paintings, Mathews often included female figures in classical dress and used a Tonalist approach with flat patterns and intense color.  Described as "fairy tales for grownups," (Boas), these paintings answered society's need for a sense of refinement and elegance.

He was credited with bringing Californians into their first contact with the design and colors of Paul Gaughin and with the Tonalist aesthetic of James Whistler, which he admired in France where he studied from 1885 to 1889.  He later was accused of shutting out the influences of Impressionism.

His forceful, dominant personality aroused resentment, and progressive artists rebelled against him because he eschewed the encroaching modernist styles.  However, he remained the leading force in the rebuilding of San Francisco.  His idea that art should inspire higher meaning and a sense of order in society reached its height in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Arthur Mathews was born in Markesan, Wisconsin, and moved to Oakland, California at age six.  During his teen-age years, he attended Oakland High School, and worked in his father's architectural office.  He later enrolled at the San Francisco School of Design where he studied with Virgil Williams.  He also worked as a design-illustrator for lithographers, Britton & Rey.

He studied four years in Paris at the Academie Julian and then became Director of the School of Design in San Francisco, a position he held until the 1906 earthquake and fire. He and his wife Lucia then opened a furniture shop on California Street where they hand-crafted items and rekindled the artistic spirit in San Francisco following the earthquake.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel:
Arthur Mathews moved to the San Francisco Bay area at the age of 6. Having chosen art over his father’s architecture career, Mathews studied at the San Francisco School of Design, at which he would later serve as Director from 1889-1906.

Mathews continued his formal education at the Academie Julian in Paris. Following the 1906 earthquake, Mathews resigned his post at the School of Design and, with his wife, opened the Mathews Furniture Shop.

Mathews eschewed Impressionism, and his decorative works were an amalgam of Arts and Crafts and classical Tonalist styles.

Regarded as a major influence in the art community of San Francisco, Mathews died in that city in 1945.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Arthur Mathews is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Art Nouveau
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
California Painters

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