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California Painters


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"...the most powerful political force in the annals of California Impressionism" *

The California Art Club is today one of the United States' largest and most active professional art organizations, with over 2,500 members. The CAC's history began in 19061 when a group of ten painters met at the studio of William Swift Daniell (1865-1933) and formed a social association, the Painters Club of Los Angeles. Their goal was "to meet in the spirit of comradeship and good temper for mutual criticism and suggestion on one another's recent work." Antony Anderson, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, was also invited to be a founding member. All ten artists were men, no women were allowed.



After a few years, the Painters Club went out of existence, its members feeling it had outgrown its usefulness. In 1909, a small group of respected California artists, the early California Impressionists or plein-air painters, many of who had belonged to the former association, gathered at the South Pasadena studio of Franz Bischoff (1864-1929). Among the group were Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), William Wendt (1865-1946), and Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949). Discussing the need to establish a fellowship for artists living in the Southern California area to share thoughts and to exhibit together, they decided to form the California Art Club, and chose Frank R. Liddell, a businessman and part time painter, as their first president. No longer limited to male painters, the Club threw open its doors to women and sculptors.

Most of the founding members of the California Art Club were originally from the East Coast or Mid-Western states, and many had emigrated from Europe. The lure of California's magnificent landscapes and year-round sunshine drew them all together. Although most of these artists were trained in the art academies of Europe or the prestigious Chicago Art Institute, they together developed a style of painting that is today considered unique to California.

Under the leadership of William Wendt, who was elected president in 1911 and served for six years, the California Art Club quickly became a powerful and prestigious institution that was recognized as a cultural authority on the West Coast. By 1911, the California Art Club had acquired a gallery in the Hotel Ivins on Tenth and Figueroa Streets, where it hosted its first annual exhibition. Under Wendt's leadership, the club sponsored two exhibitions each year.

Starting in 1913, and continuing for many years, the Club held annual exhibitions in the 'Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art' in Exposition Park. The History and Science portion evolved into the 'Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County'. The 'Art' collection of the museum was separated in 1965, moved to Wilshire Boulevard and re-named the 'Los Angeles County Museum of Art'.

About 1914, Southern California Impressionists received an infusion of energy from American expatriates returning at the onset of World War I. The most important arrival was California-born Guy Rose (1867-1925), who had been in residence with Monet at Giverny, France, and who continued in the Impressionist style when he returned to California. His roots were deep in the region, as his father had led a wagon train to California in 1861 and then established a successful ranch in the San Gabriel valley, where Guy Rose was born.

The final impetus for Southern California artists adopting Impressionism came from the paintings shown at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The large display had the same artistic shock value to California artists as the 1913 Armory Show of modern art had to East Coast and Midwest artists. The Exposition also brought in East Coast Impressionist painters. In fact, West Coast landscape painters were being bombarded by Impressionist influences, including a 1913 exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art of contemporary American Impressionists.

The Club's early membership included such luminaries as Edgar Payne (1883-1947), Granville Redmond (1871-1935), the above-mentioned Guy Rose, and Marion Wachtel (1876-1954). Hanson Duvall Puthuff (1875-1972), an activist in the art community, was also involved in the formation of the Club, as he had been with the organization of the Art Students League of Los Angeles. Of the spring 1917 exhibition of the California Art Club, critic Antony Anderson wrote in the Los Angeles Times "...there was a time when artists thought they could paint without light and when air was hardly considered. That time seems prehistoric to us now, but it was really only a few years ago. Today the search for light and air is pursued with enthusiasm and we refuse to consider seriously the picture that is without them." During the 1920s the California Art Club thrived and was a key part of the flourishing of landscape painting in Southern California. Factors contributing to this flourishing were the relatively easy and cheap living, an environment that gave free rein to creativity, and Antony Anderson's supportive reviews in the L.A. Times.

The early 1920s marked the high point of the California Art Club. With the success of the CAC's quality group exhibitions, the supporting 'Patron' membership grew to include many of southern California's leading citizens. Among the Patron members was Aline Barnsdall, heir to an oil fortune, who in 1926 gave her magnificent home, Hollyhock House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, to the California Art Club as their headquarters for a fifteen-year term. Situated on eight acres of land, the property included several galleries, a concert hall, and an outdoor theater. Beginning in 1927, exhibitions, lectures and gala social functions were held at Hollyhock House for many years. Sadly though, after the 1929 stock market crash, World War II, and the onset of international modernism, the Club's status and membership declined. Almost overnight, the dynamic artist-dealer-patron relationship ground to a halt as much of America's disposable income vanished. Traditional art was considered conservative and passe, no longer in vogue, and the CAC's membership dwindled to a small group that consisted largely of Sunday painters. The time of the Impressionist-inspired plein air painters who had defined the first decades of the twentieth century in California, such as Granville Redmond (1871-1935), a master of serene and panoramic scenes, had passed. Others, such as Guy Rose and Franz Bischoff, had died.

In 1942, the Club's tenure on Hollyhock House ran out, and it was turned over to the city of Los Angeles to become the Municipal Art Gallery. The California Art Club, however, did not completely perish, but for fifty years was nearly inactive and continued only as a small group of professional artists and amateur painters.

In 1993 artist Peter Adams (1950- ) was asked by Patron member Verna Gunther to help revive the California Art Club. Together with his wife, Elaine Adams, their vision to restore “traditional” art to a high standard became realized as they implemented their revival plan. With the help of fellow artists Dan Goozeé (1943- ), Steve Huston (1959- ), Stephen Mirich (1954- ), Daniel W. Pinkham (1952- ), Tim Solliday (1952- ) and William Stout (1949-), they recruited top artists from Northern to Southern California. Selected artists residing outside California were also invited to join as 'out-of-state artist' members. Adams also encouraged art historians, collectors, dealers, and art conservators to join as patron members.

Club President Peter Adams today states, "A major tenet of the California Art Club is to look to our heritage for inspiration and guidance brought through the knowledge of artistic techniques nearly forgotten. The intention of the California Art Club is to encourage the education and continuation of fine traditional art by inviting the public to witness the evolution of our artists' new timeless creations." Adams continues, "Traditional art is now the new avant garde."

The California Art Club represents painters and sculptors working in a variety of traditional styles. The philosophy of traditional aesthetics encompasses academic draughtsmanship, knowledge of proportions, perspective, composition, harmony and design as defined by the classic Greeks and Romans. Many of the early classical techniques were forgotten until they were realized again by the masters of the Italian Renaissance, and further developed by the European Academies of the 19th century. The California Art Club champions these artistic ideals and embraces a variety of artistic expressions from classical drawing to impressionistic techniques. Artist members are juried into the organization, and must be California residents. Out-of-state artist members are included by invitation only.

In his book California Impressionism, co-authored with William Gerdts, art scholar Will South defines the early California Art Club as "the single most powerful political force in the annals of California Impressionism," and the list of members reads like a Who's Who of California art. In addition to those already mentioned, other early members included Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985), Maurice Braun (1877-1941), Benjamin Chambers Brown (1865-1942), Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1975), Frank Cuprien (1871-1948), Samuel Hyde Harris (1889-1977), Anna Althea Hills (1882-1930), Paul Lauritz (1889-1975), Jean Mannheim (1863-1945), William Ritschel (1864-1949), Donna Norine Schuster (1883-1953), Dana Bartlett (1882-1957), Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966), who was awarded the CAC's Ackerman Prize in 1918, and George Gardner Symons (1861-1930). Publications on the California Art Club include Susan Landauer's eight-page article in the February-March 1996 issue of American Art Review, and Nancy Moure's essay in Impressions of California: Early Currents in Art, 1850-1930, published in 1996 by the Irvine Museum.

Since its founding in 1909, the California Art Club has been based in the Los Angeles area, and it was not until 1998 that the organization formed its first chapter. Under the leadership of artist-member Aaron St. John, the San Diego chapter was developed. Despite being centered in Los Angeles, the California Art Club had exerted a strong influence on the early foundations of San Diego's fine art community. Major exhibitions were held in San Diego and active and influential local CAC members were dedicated to bringing cultural life to San Diego while painting the San Diego scene. When plans were made for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, it was the California Art Club that was asked to mount the juried Fine Art Exhibition. Seminal San Diego painters and California Art Club members Maurice Braun (1877-1941) and Charles A. Fries (1854-1940) won Gold and Silver medals, respectively, in the exhibition. Alfred Richard Mitchell (1888-1972), a student of Braun's and later a Club member, also won a Silver Medal. CAC member Joseph Sharp (1859-1953) was also represented in the sister art exhibition featuring Robert Henri and some of his followers.

Since the creation of the San Diego chapter, two additional new chapters have been formed to serve the communities of Santa Barbara and San Francisco, with another planned for the Palm Springs area.

In the fall of 1999, the Club opened the California Art Club Gallery in the Old Mill building in San Marino, California. The Old Mill was built in 1816 as a gristmill to Mission San Gabriel and is believed to be the oldest commercial building in Southern California. The Mill's diverse history includes its grain production for the Spanish Franciscan Padres, a private residence for several owners including descendants of Henry Huntington, and even a golf clubhouse.

In 2003 the Club looks to establish a new permanent headquarters to house its recently founded California Art Club Academy and Museum, which it voted in 1997 to create. The Academy will offer classical training in painting, drawing, and sculpture. Plans include a museum, a research and archival art library that will focus on traditional fine art, and a student gallery.

With professional artist members from Northern to Southern California, the contemporary heirs of the original California Art Club have expanded upon a tradition of art that is wholly Californian. The founding members would no doubt be proud of the part their Club has played in the revival of traditional fine art.

1 Eric Merrell, archivist of the California Art Club, wrote in the CAC Newsletter, Spring 2009: “The Painters' Club of Los Angeles also has predecessors - there is a common thread back to the Richmond Art Association, and even further back to the Rambler's Sketch Club, both in Richmond, Indiana. Albert Clinton Conner (1848-1929) is this connection. He and his brother Charles Conner (1857-1905), along with Frank Joseph Girardin (1856-1945) and Micajah Thomas Nordyke (1847 -?), founded the Rambler's Sketch Club c.1881, and soon added John Elwood Bundy (1853 - 1933) to their group. The Rambler's Sketch Club later metamorphosed into the Richmond Art Association (founded 1898, but had exhibited art in schools as early as 1896), which subsequently became the Richmond Art Museum of today. After Albert Clinton Conner moved to California, he helped to found the Painters' Club, and used the models of the two previous art clubs.”   Sources: Antony Anderson, "The Painter From Indiana," Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1911; pg. III22; Email to author from Shaun Dingwerth, Executive Director of the Richmond Art Museum, September 11, 2008

* Quote from art scholar Will South, from 'California Impressionism', co-authored with William Gerdts.

Compiled by Teta Collins. Credit for much of the above information is given to the California Art Club's website; to Resource Library Magazine; to Aaron F. St. John, Chairman, San Diego Regional Chapter, California Art Club; to Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, author of California Art, 450 Years of Painting and Other Media (1998); to Vicki Stavid, editor of Art of the West magazine (May/June 2002); to William Gerdts, author of Art Across America; and to Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum.





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