California Impressionism  
by Jean Stern

The following essay was written in 1982 by Jean Stern, then Director of the Petersen Galleries in Beverly Hills, CA. It is an essay written for, and included in, the book titled Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland, by Ruth Lilly Westphal and published by Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California, ISBN 0-9610520-0-7

Book available from the publisher, Westphal Publishing, by calling 949-660-0727

With the advantage of retrospect of over eighty years, the Southern California Impressionist style, or plein air style, can be traced as a concurrent phase of the American Impressionist movement and, thus, as a direct offshoot of the French Impressionist style, although decidedly tempered and qualified. The style was established in California at a time when Impressionism was just becoming acceptable in general throughout the United States. The practitioners were a closely knit group of professional artists who painted together and were active in numerous artistic societies, on the East Coast as well as in California. They exchanged ideas and were open to outside influences.

The diverse group of artists who came to Southern California did so for a variety of reasons: a bright sunny climate that is ideal for out-of-doors painting, an opportunity to settle in a fresh environment, a need to escape tight restrictions of the Eastern art milieu. It was a reasoned decision calculated to improve their art. A few artists came later in their careers, some because of failing health; others stayed after brief visits. In any event, once in California, most artists recognized the potential benefit to their art and either settled permanently or established part-time studios. After coming to Southern California, these artists did not sever commercial relations with the East but continued to participate in Eastern art exhibits and competitions. They were products of the American art scene and remained a part of it in spite of the vast geographical separation.

The Advent of Impressionism

Impressionism made its debut in France in 1874, amidst loud and virulent criticism. From its nascency, Impressionism was at best an inexact technical innovation. The original group, made up of Claude Monet (1840-1926), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Camille Pissaro (1830-1903), Paul Cezanne (1893-1906), Edgar Degas (1832-1917), Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), and Frederic Bazille (1841-1870), had no theoretician and, almost from the first, strong divisions in philosophy tended to fragment the group. In its original form, Impressionism developed from the Romantic-Realism of the Barbizon painters, whose art was devoid of any social or religious content and who, like the American Hudson River painters, chose to paint the beauty and grandeur of nature. Theirs was thus primarily a landscape school. By contrast, the Impressionists rejected the essentially academic techniques of the Barbizon artists and infused a new, anti-academic painting style with a scientific method of color application.

Guided by scientific investigations in optics and several new color theories of their time, the Impressionists carefully controlled color to create the effect of intense sunlight and vibrant shade. Reasoning that the whole of pictorial representation is light, which in turn creates color and thus the visual image, the Impressionists were determined to capture, as accurately as possible, the true effects of light. To do so, it was necessary to paint the entire painting outdoors and to paint it quickly enough to catch the fleeting light effect. In this aim, the artists omitted the traditional underpainting, which was an integral aspect of academic painting, and painted directly on primed canvas with a quick brushstroke, rarely working for more than two hours at a time. The quick painting method not only accelerated the basic task of painting, but it also compelled the artist to paint only the visual scene, the "impression" without attention to fine detail. According to Impressionist thought, the human eye sees only what it is directly looking at, while the rest of the vision field is a blur of unfocused color and form. So it is that in an Impressionist painting, one sees the central image in clear detail while the rest is applied in quick and colorful strokes.

As for color application, the "true" Impressionist painter reduced all colors to the three primaries, red, yellow and blue, and to their corresponding complementaries, green, purple and orange, to be mixed if necessary only with white. All other colors could be created through optical mixing as opposed to palette mixing. To achieve optical mixing, small patches of color are carefully painted next to each other. From a small distance, the patches are seen as a mixed color. The traditional method of painting with colors mixed on the palette does not create the visual contrast which gives the Impressionist painting its vibrant appearance.

Color placement was influenced by a series of scientific color theories that were formulated in the early part of the nineteenth century. The most important theories were published by Eugene Chevreul in 1839, with an English translation appearing in 1872.[52] Chevreul was a chemist in a tapestry factory and experimented with ways to produce more vivid colors. He deduced that the role of the chemist was not as important as the role of the artist, and while more potent dyes did not improve the results, proper color placement did. In his Laws of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors he states, "...the apparent intensity of color does not depend as much on the inherent it does on the hue of the neighboring color."[53] In addition, Chevreul noted that, "The greater the difference between the colors, the more they mutually beautify each other; and inversely, the less the difference there is, the more they will tend to injure one another."[54] Therefore, the strongest contrast between two colors, and hence the analogy between light and dark or sun and shade, is when a primary color is next to its complementary. For example, an object in strong yellow light would cast a shadow in purple, the opposite color of yellow. Even though the natural color of that shadow is not purple, the contrast of yellow and purple is the strongest contrast and the effect would be true. Chevreul advised the artist that "...there are colors inherent to the model [the subject of the painting] which the painter cannot change without being unfaithful to nature, [and] there are others at his disposal which must be chosen so as to harmonize with the first."[55]

Chevreul's theories were effective and quickly gained a wide acceptance, Winslow Homer (1836-1910), the archetype American painter, was well versed in these ideas and he made good use of them in his art. Homer owned a copy of Chevreul's book and referred to it as "my bible."[56] Indirectly, Chevreul's ideas were to be the most influential aspect of Impressionism in American art.

Overall, the Impressionist painting was not intended to accurately capture the color and brightness of nature as much as it was designed to imitate the effect of light by creating movement on the optical plane through the juxtaposition of selected color patches. This movement on the retinal field closely approximated the natural fluidity of light.[57]

Neo Impressionism and Post Impressionism

Although the original Impressionist painters were all friends and shared a common unity in their desire to change the established order of painting, they were nonetheless individual artists. Within a few years of the first exhibition, the group was split along philosophical lines.

The first splinter occurred in the early 1880's and was led by George Seurat (1859-1891) and his disciple Paul Signac (1863-1935). The movement was called Neo Impressionism, but Seurat preferred the more esoteric and descriptive term "chromoluminarism." The aim of the Neo Impressionists was to put more science into Impressionism, to codify the technique and to eliminate the subjectivity of the artist. Seurat's technique was "divisionism," the breaking of color into its very basic elements and applying them as very small and regular dots next to each other for a completely optical mixture of color. In addition, Seurat investigated compositional theories that likewise structured and objectively presented forms under "scientific" principles. Seurat's theories came to fruition in 1886, at the last Impressionist Exhibition, where he showed his monumental painting Sunday Afternoon on Grande Jatte Island, a work which took more than two years to paint, dot by dot. Another variety of Neo Impressionism is "pointillism," a term meaning to paint in dots though not necessarily with the aim of breaking color.

Neo Impressionism had very few adherents, although every major Impressionist tried it briefly. The main objection was that the style left nothing to chance and it did not allow any creative freedom. Also, to properly paint within the tenets took too long a time.

The second and more important offshoot of Impressionism was Post Impressionism, a movement which began in the early 1880's and was concerned with the basis of Impressionism: form and color. One group of artists believed that form was the most important aspect of a painting and aimed to develop greater pictorial harmony. Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) were the leading figures in this branch of Post Impressionism. Eventually, the exploration of form led to the development of Analytical Cubism and other modern art styles.

The other group, led by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), explored the emotional power of color and its placement. They perceived the role of color as more important than the task of capturing a visual image and often sacrificed form for color. The development of these ideas led to Fauvism, and eventually to the modern color field artists. Several of the Southern California artists were much influenced by this movement. Bischoff produced numerous copies of paintings by van Gogh and, on one or two occasions, used sealing wax with oil paint (see Fishing Boats) in an attempt to achieve the rich surface texture.

By the early twentieth century, Post Impressionism had evolved into Expressionism, a style that completely disassociated itself from the aim of Impressionism: to capture the effects of visual imagery.

By the time that Impressionism and all its offshoots came to be accepted in America, the style had been combined into one vaguely defined whole. American artists were influenced by the overall Impressionist style with little regard or few adherents to Neo Impressionism or Post Impressionism as separate entities. American Impressionist paintings often show aspects of Neo Impressionism and Post Impressionism right along with basic Impressionism.

Impressionism in America

Impressionism made its first appearance in the United Stated in 1883, at the "Foreign Exhibition" in the Mechanics Building in Boston. Paul Durand-Ruel, the famous French art dealer and friend of the Impressionists, arranged the show which included works by Monet, Pissaro, Sisley and Manet. In 1886, Durand-Ruel opened an art gallery in New York that showed French Impressionism and also organized a major Impressionist show at the American Art Association in New York. By the late 1880's, Americans were familiar with works by the major figures in French Impressionism.[58]

Although Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), an American, had been accepted as a member of the original Impressionists, her influence among American artists was slight. The most important American artist to be associated with Impressionism at an early date was Theodore Robinson (1852-1896). Robinson met Monet in 1887 and lived in Giverny for five years, becoming a close friend and admirer of Monet. In 1889, Robinson exhibited an Impressionist painting at the Society of American Artists exhibition, one of the first Impressionist works by an American to be shown in this country.[59] By 1890, Monet's home in Giverny had become a meeting place for several young American painters: Louis Ritter (1854-1892), Willard L. Metcalf (1858-1925), Theodore Butler (1860-1936), John Breck (1860-1899), Theodore Wendel (1859-1932), Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937), Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939), Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933), Richard Miller (1875-1943), Lawton Parker (1868-1954), Guy Rose and Theodore Robinson. All these artists were young art students in France and enthralled by the "new" style of painting.

In 1893, Impressionism had its national debut in American art at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The style was easily accepted by the American art public and by 1898 the first major American Impressionist group, "The Ten," was formed. The Ten were a group of prominent American artists who, after dissatisfaction with the exhibition policies of the National Academy of Design and the Society of American Artists, decided to organize and exhibit their paintings by themselves.

The Ten were: Frank W. Benson (1862-1951), Joseph DeCamp (1858-1923), Thomas Dewing (1851-1938), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid (1863-1929), Edward E. Simmons (1852-1931), Edmund Tarbell (1862-1938), John Twachtman (1853-1902), J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) and, after Twachtman's death in 1902, William Merritt Chase (1848-1916).

By 1900, Impressionism had become the most popular art style among American artists and "everyone" was an Impressionist in one way or another. Yet, as in France, Impressionism was a catch-all term for a large variety of painting styles, each incorporating one or more of the basic principles that originally marked the movement. The most common aspects of Impressionism that appear in American painting are the quick, short brushstroke and the bold approach to color harmonies. The plein air tradition was already present in America, as was the preference for landscapes and genre as subject matter. A purely scientific approach to color placement was never widely practiced in America and it rarely appears in French painting -- only in the very early stages of Impressionism and then only by a few dedicated adherents. The method was simply too complicated and too restrictive. Likewise, the brief infatuation with altered perspective, an influence from Japanese woodblock prints, was rarely seen in American painting. In general, Impressionism in America radically changed the painter's use of color and considerably loosened the brushstroke and technique of paint application. Otherwise, the American painter continued in the traditional directions of American art.

Impressionism in California

In the 1870's and 1880's, at the time that Impressionism began in France and was slowly coming to America, California was a distant, isolated region, both hazardous and time-consuming to reach. The initial transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Prior to that the only ways to reach California were overland through hostile territory or by ship around South America, an equally long and risky method.

In 1876, a railroad route was opened between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1885, a railway route was completed from Los Angeles, through the Southwest, to Chicago.[60] This became the first commercially viable link from the large agricultural area of California to markets in the East. Within a few years, the population of Southern California increased tremendously with the arrival of large-scale agricultural and industrial activity.

As a result of the real estate boom of the early 1880's, Los Angeles began to attract professional artists. By the late 1880's, several artists were permanent residents: among the most prominent were Elmer Wachtel and Elizabeth Borglum (1848-1922).[61] Wachtel was at first very much a Tonalist, showing moody and poetic landscapes in dark tones. As he progressed, he lightened his colors and adopted a more decorative and lyrical style, very reminiscent of Arthur Mathews, although Wachtel did not include figures in his compositions. Elizabeth Borglum also painted in the dark tonalities that were popular in American painting in the late 1880's. She had been a student of William Keith (1839-1911) in 1885, and of J. Foxcroft Cole (1837-1892) in 1887, both of whom were well entrenched in the Tonalist-Barbizon style.

At the turn of the century, when Impressionism had only recently become an accepted American style, Southern California experienced an influx of young artists, most of whom had been trained in that style. The period from 1900 to 1915 marks the flowering of California Impressionism. Among the important artists who came in the first ten years of the twentieth century, one can count the cream of the California style: Granville Redmond, Hanson Puthuff, Marion K. Wachtel, William Wendt, Franz A. Bischoff, Jack Wilkinson Smith, George Gardner Symons and Maurice Braun. In addition, Edgar Payne was making frequent visits to Los Angeles and Laguna Beach and, by 1914, with the return of Guy Rose and the arrival of Donna Schuster, the stage was set for one of the most remarkable and distinctive schools of regional American art.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, in San Francisco, marks both the last great Impressionist show in America and the first major Impressionist exhibition in California. The exposition brought to California most of the major figures of American Impressionism. William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Edmund Tarbell and Edward Redfield (1869-1965), among others, were given individual galleries to hang their works.[63] The Grand Prize of the exposition went to Frederick Frieseke and the Medal of Honor to Willard Metcalf. The impact of the exposition on the California painters was tremendous and immediate.

Nineteen-fifteen also marks the beginning of San Diego's professional artist community. In competition with San Francisco, San Diego likewise marked the opening of the Panama Canal with an exposition, the Panama-California Exposition, held in the newly constructed Balboa Park.

The Southern California Artists

The leading artists of Southern California were all professionals who, like their contemporaries in the East, had been through the same training and instruction required of artists of the time. Although they came from various parts of the country, a large number were from Chicago, either trained there or working professionally prior to coming West. The Art Institute of Chicago was the most prominent art school in Chicago. Those artists trained at the Art Institute included William Wendt (briefly in the early 1880's), Alson S. Clark (1895-98), Marion K. Wachtel (late 1890's), Jack Wilkinson Smith (late 1890's), Edgar Payne (briefly c. 1900), Donna Schuster (c. 1900), Christian von Schneidau (early 1900's) and Anna Hills (early 1900's). In addition, Hanson Puthuff, who came to Los Angeles as an established pictorial artist, studied at the Chicago Art Academy in the late 1890's.

The Art Students' League of New York was another popular art school where many Southern California artists had studied. Having been established as an alternative to the conservative National Academy of Design School of Art, the Art Students' League produced artists who were more inclined to use the bold tenets of Impressionism. Alson S. Clark, Clarence Hinkle and Frank Cuprien were, to some extent, products of the Art Students' League of New York.

After initial art studies in American art schools, most American artists of this period spent several years studying in Europe, principally in Paris. The attraction of Europe for American artists was the universally recognized teaching methods of the art academies. The preferred French art school was the École des Beaux Arts, but entrance examinations were rigorous and few Americans managed to win admission. Thus, the young Americans invariably studied at the Academie Julian or the Academie Colarossi. The most popular and influential teachers at these academies were Jean-Leon Gérôme (1824-1904), Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), Leon Bonnat (1833-1922), Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), Carolus-Duran (1838-1917), G.A. Bouguereau (1825-1905), Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888), and Jules Lefebvre (1834-1912). They had been the most successful participants at the annual Salon de Paris exhibitions, the established arbiter of taste in France.

The American art students joined their European counterparts in spending endless hours drawing from casts and constructing stable compositions for their paintings. They were taught the complex traditional method of painting, from preparing numerous studies and details of their subject to preparation and underpainting and, finally, to painting the finished work using the traditional techniques of paint and color application. This method put great emphasis on copying works in museums or galleries. The prevailing pictorial models which students were obliged to copy were the Salon paintings which were, by the late nineteenth century, usually devoid of originality and often comprised of classical and mythological subject matter. Their appearances were sentimental and contrived. Yet these classes and their instructors were immensely popular, in spite of the trivial subjective approach, because the techniques and draftsmanship were sound and this was the best way to prepare for any artistic career. In addition, the Salon style was widely fashionable with the art-buying public and the paintings commonly sold for large sums.

In addition to the traditional art methods, the art student in Paris was also exposed to various non-traditional styles. These would be encountered during visits to art galleries and other artists' studios, The most radical and contagious "modern" art style in the late 1870's was Impressionism.

Several Southern California artists pursued studies in France. These included William Griffith (late 1880's), Guy Rose (1888-91), Granville Redmond (C. 1896), George Gardner Symons and Jean Mannheim. In 1899, Alson S. Clark studied under the American expatriate James M. Whistler (1834-1903) and the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1934).

The closest equivalent to the Parisian art academies in California was the San Francisco Art Association (known after 1907 as the San Francisco Institute of Art). Formed in 1871, it was operated on the European model and soon became the most influential art school in the West. Under the directorship of Arthur Mathews (1860-1945), from 1890 to 1906, it earned a national reputation. In addition to influencing a large group of San Francisco artists, the Art Association counted several southerners in its roll, notably Granville Redmond (1890) and Clarence Hinkle (c. 1903).

Many other nationally known art schools are represented in the training of artists who came to live in Southern California. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a school steeped in the tradition of Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and Thomas P. Anshutz (1851-1912), produced Alfred Mitchell, whose paintings of the period (1918-1921) are solidly in the tradition of the Bucks County Impressionist Edward Redfield (1849-1965). The Cincinnati Art Academy, long associated with progressive teaching methods, trained Jack Wilkinson Smith.

Besides the regular art academies, many prominent artists had individual pupils or followers and some had their private schools in which they taught large classes for both amateur and professional students. The most important teacher of American Impressionism was William Merritt Chase. Himself an early convert to the style, Chase began teaching at his home in Shinnecock, Long Island, in 1890, several years before the style became fully acceptable in American circles. His school was the first organized art instruction held strictly in plein air. [63] In 1902, Chase was invited to join The Ten after the death of member John H. Twachtman. His fame as an Impressionist was worldwide and he attracted a large following. He taught each summer at Shinnecock and, in 1914, held a summer class in Carmel, California.

Among the Southern California artists who studied with Chase were Alson S. Clark (1898-1899), Marion Kavanagh Wachtel (late 1890's), Maurice Braun (1901) and Donna Schustcr (1912, and in Carmel, 1914). Chase's students absorbed much from the master, particularly his devotion to plein air painting and the insistence on speed in painting. Chase would admonish his student to "...take as much time as you need. . .take two hours if necessary. . ." to paint a scene. Edmund Tarbell, the noted Boston artist and member of The Ten, had a large following that included Donna Schuster. In Schuster's early paintings, one sees a remarkable fidelity to Tarbell's style. Her later work with William Merritt Chase had a similar effect on her style, leading to her mature style which drew heavily from Tarbell, Chase and Monet.


Thus, the Southern California school meets all the prerequisites for a legitimate and active regional school of American painting. The artists who made up the school were professionally trained artists who relied on their artistic output for a living. Although they came from various parts of the United States, they all came to Southern California to continue their artistic development and, indeed, their mature work was formed in California in an artistic milieu that allowed them to broaden their individuality and constantly improve their art. The majority came here with preconceived art styles rooted in their schools and teachers, and in time, the better artists were able to develop personal styles which would not have been possible outside the Southern California environment. The Southern California artists were able to produce a unique and unified style, which in itself was constantly growing and changing in response to continuous outside stimuli. The style was not suffocated by gross commercialization -- this did not happen until the late 1930's when the Southern California region became the victim of mass tourism. Indeed, the few artists who settled here in the early part of the century wanted to escape the restrictions of commercialization and stylistic regimentation that pervaded the New York art establishment.

Many artists, such as William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Maurice Braun and George Gardner Symons, continued to keep studios East and West, and arranged to ship their California work for sale to Chicago and New York. Marion Wachtel was a regular contributor to the New York Watercolor Society annual shows and had dealers selling her work in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The attraction of Southern California was felt throughout the United States and the resultant influx of artists led to the creation of a style that cannot be found anywhere else. Although most of the artists came here from different parts of the country, they remained here for the rest of their lives and died in Southern California having fulfilled their lifelong pursuit of art.

by Nancy Dustin Wall Moure

The following essay was written in 1982 by Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, then Assistant Curator of American Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is an essay written for, and included in, the book titled Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland, by Ruth Lilly Westphal and published by Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California, ISBN 0-9610520-0-7


Can the terms "impressionism" and "post-impressionism:' labels originally applied to certain French art movements of the nineteenth century, be appropriately applied to any Southern California landscape movement of the early twentieth?

The term impressionism first applied by the hostile critic Louis Leroy to a canvas by Claude Monet in 1874, has come to be used very loosely. In simplest terms, French Impressionism was a very small, avant-garde movement whose members experimented for a brief number of years (c. 1870-c. 1880) with painterly ways to capture light on canvas. Since Southern California's first professional artists didn't arrive until the 1890's, no Southern California artist can qualify as an Impressionist on the basis of time alone. The French Impressionists' innovations in color and brushwork advanced art over that of their immediate predecessors. No Southern California Impressionist can make that claim. Lastly, Impressionism implies a certain aesthetic -- primarily the capture of light on canvas through the use of pure, unmuted, bright colors -- and such stylistic and compositional elements as a shallow, two-dimensional space, occupied by flattened forms, an uptilted picture plane resulting in a high horizon, off-center focal points, preference for dynamic diagonals rather than static verticals and horizontals, and the juxtaposition of decorative patterns and textures. The Impressionists favored landscape, some of which included architecture followed by figure studies and still lifes. Human figures, when treated, most often came from the upper classes and were primarily portrayed in leisure, urban activities.

Only by way of style can any Southern California artist qualify as an Impressionist. This should not be considered a failure. The only American artist who can claim to be part of the original French movement is Mary Cassatt (1845-1926). Every other European or American artist who practiced the style was only a follower in greater or lesser degree, depending on adherence to aesthetic principles and time period in which he worked. Even the earliest East Coast American artists who claim to be Impressionists didn't begin working in the style until about 1880, by which time French Impressionism had evolved into Post-Impressionism.

In the 1890's, however, almost immediately upon the distillation and organization of an artist community in Los Angeles, certain aspects of Impressionism's stylistic traits were noticeable in locally produced paintings. Many of the newly arriving artists had become acquainted with the style in European or Eastern American art schools, and we know that in 1895 Louise MacLeod (1857-1944), head of the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, lectured on "Impressionists Old and New." On that occasion, Theodore Strong Van Dyke (1842-1923) described a Monet canvas which he had seen in Chicago -- "close up a mere daub, but at thirty feet a masterpiece.''[1]

It is difficult to pinpoint at exactly what date the first impressionist work was painted in Los Angeles. In San Francisco, where art traditions extended back to the mid-1840's and which was artistically years ahead of the Southland, Impressionism was retarded by the popularity of the decorative style headed by Arthur Mathews (1860-1945). But in Los Angeles the small number of romantically inclined artists probably did not exert a similar dominance. Guy Rose, one of Los Angeles' major Impressionists, was born in Southern California, but did not paint impressionist-style landscapes in the area until after his return from abroad in 1914. Although Elmer Wachtel arrived in the early 1880's, he may have been too occupied with his pen and ink illustrations and his watercolors to have painted an oil landscape until at least 1896.[2] Arthur Millier nevertheless claims Wachtel founded the local landscape school.[3] George Gardner Symons is reported to have visited and painted in Montecito as early as 1884, but the influence of his impressionist style on the local community is not known. William Wendt reportedly sketched in California in both 1894 and 1896-7, but as with Symons, he may have passed through without contacting or affecting the local art community.

Benjamin Chambers Brown, who settled in Pasadena in 1896 fresh from refresher study at the Julian Academy in Paris, may hold claim as first resident Impressionist.[4] He turned to landscape painting upon his arrival, and though his nineteenth century works have not yet surfaced, his training at the Julian Academy, a school known to teach Impressionism's looser stroke, suggests he might have been working in a loosened style that early, He may have influenced local emerging painters such as Elmer Wachtel.

Granville Redmond arrived about 1898, fresh from study under Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens at the Julian Academy. As his earliest known works show an Impressionist's love of high horizon, light colors and dashed brushstrokes (although mixed with a Barbizon taste for small glades, pastoral fields, lone trees, and cloudy skies) he may hold claim as the area's first important resident Impressionist.

It can definitely be said that by the turn of the century a few local artists were producing landscapes which reveal their knowledge of Impressionism, whether or not they identified themselves as Impressionists. None of these works would probably look "impressionist" to us today. Examination of the earliest-known pieces by Redmond, Wachtel and Brown (which come from the early twentieth century) shows that these artists commonly used high horizons,, although their compositions are attacked in a simple, straightforward manner with no exploration into Oriental balance or perspective. Brush strokes are dashed in the impressionist manner, but are tight, uniform, conservative and academic. Colors, however, are not at all impressionistic and tend to be subdued and low-key, of the kind associated with the Barbizon School. Craftsmanship dominates. A significant number of pre-1900 canvases will have to surface and be studied before anything definitive can be said about Impressionism in late nineteenth century Southern California.

The first one and one-half decades of the twentieth century saw an increasing influx of painters into the Southland. Many of these were landscapists or turned to landscape upon arrival.[5] It would be ideal to be able to go back to the years 1906 through 1909 to view exhibitions of the Painters Club and to assess the styles seen there in contemporary terms. Were any of these artists Impressionists as we now interpret the term? Many certainly would have had the opportunity to come into contact with French Impressionism. A number, including Benjamin Brown, Granville Redmond, Guy Rose and Alson Clark, studied at the Julian Academy in Paris. An evaluation of this academy's influence would be enlightening. Viewing works at the annual Salons of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Société des Artistes Francais, Paris, exhibitions which contained some landscapes and figure studies painted with the new loosened brushwork and bright palettes, also must have had an influence on our European trained artists.[6] Also, local artists couldn't help being inspired or influenced by reproductions of paintings by European and Eastern American Impressionists which appeared in locally received art magazines such as International Studio. Indeed, Antony Anderson's column in the Los Angeles Times regularly contained the table of contents of the current issue with added brief commentary, We also know that William Wendt, the area's major impressionist landscapist, set about to help educate local artists upon his arrival in 1906. Of the influence of early art schools not enough is yet known to make any definitive statements.

Were any of these artists Impressionists in either their own or our eyes? Anderson does not generally use the term Impressionism when critiquing local landscapes prior to about 1914. Instead, he sees landscapes as poetic, vigorous, well composed or solidly constructed, but he does not deal with "isms." In post-1915 reviews he alludes to Los Angeles' pre-1914 landscape period as one of struggle, one in which canvases were painted in low-key colors and a period in which there was no particular interest in light.[7] We can also conclude by the sensation created by the "snowstorm of colored confetti" exhibited by Jack Gage Stark (1882-1950) at the Blanchard Gallery in 1909 [8] that such a style, at least in the extreme in which he painted it, was noticeably rare in Los Angeles.

Yet enough is known of the early works of such artists as William Wendt and Franz Bischoff to know

that some local artists were indeed painting what we would today call impressionist landscapes. And, by 1912 when Anderson reviews a California Art Club exhibition, we know that Impressionism, as he knew it then, had arrived in Los Angeles.

"...The complaint cannot be raised any more that our artists 'all paint alike.' There is plenty of individuality in this exhibition. What is more the modern impressionism of Helena Dunlap and lack Gage Stark is not looked at askance. Dunlap's 'La Senorita' is quite unnecessarily plain of feature, and the spots of sunlight on the white tablecloth in front of her look suspiciously like pools of spilt milk, but how full of light and air the picture is...Miss Dunlap's 'Vanity' too, a partially nude girl at her toilet, is very much alive, [the] drawing being vigorous and supple. Stark's still-life 'The Green Bottle' also falls down around the table cloth, which reminds you of a corrugated glacier, but the big red apples are superbly real and juicy..."[9]

Which of these artists can we describe as Impressionists and why? The premier Impressionist, not just prior to 1914 but through 1930, is William Wendt. Of the few pre-1914 landscapes known by his hand, Hillside (Private Collection) is a prime example to demonstrate how he was working with small brushstrokes and was aware of the diagonal perspectives and high horizon preferred by the French Impressionists. What makes Wendt special over the long run, however, is his locally self-developed style, Wendt is one of the few artists for whom the cliche "going directly to nature to absorb her vitality" is a truism. In addition, his ever-evolving style grew in power and monumentality in contradistinction to the ever-declining style, the lapse into facility and decorativeness, seen in so many lesser local painters. The kind of personal impressionism Wendt had developed by the early 1920's -- an intensely masculine, broad brushed, bold formed, earthy toned impressionism -- has much in common with the brand or variant produced by such rural Pennsylvania painters as Edward Redfield (1869-1965), although Wendt does nor seem to have had any particular contact with them.[10] His gradual evolution away from short, dashed strokes and softer, more feminine colors seems to indicate a natural outgrowth of his direct communion with the strength of California's landscape rather than assimilation of another's style.

Gardner Symons, the Eastern Impressionist who maintained a studio at Arch Beach (now part of Laguna Beach) and visited California at intervals, equals Wendt in strength of conception. Many of his eastern scenes are extant and show his excellent composition, brushwork and color. His California works are fewer in number, but the most outstanding western view to yet surface is Seascape (Private Collection), as it comes closest to a complete work in its virility of stroke and its well-filled composition. Jack Wilkinson Smith, who settled in Los Angeles the same year as Wendt (1906), comes close to the first ranks of local early Impressionists. His background as an illustrator and scene painter left him with a facile, confident, loose technique. Although some of his works have a "commercial" look and none yet seem to approach the substance or sincerity of a Wendt, many of his landscapes are quite excellent. Jack Gage Stark and Helena Dunlap (1876-1955) hold claim to being the first acknowledged Impressionists of Los Angeles. Between 1913 and 1917 Impressionism effected a revolution in Los Angeles painting. Anderson notes this change in his review of the spring 1917 exhibition of the California Art Club:

"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. It is a dead thing."[11]

It is difficult to attribute this change to any specific impressionist influence, for after 1913 Impressionism entered the consciousness of local artists in numerous ways, Added to the means listed earlier must be mentioned the return to Los Angeles before World War I of many European trained Impressionists, such as Guy Rose and Helena Dunlap, whose locally exhibited landscapes opened local artists' eyes to light and color. The hundreds of French and American Impressionist works on view at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 gave California artists who had not traveled widely their first major dose of the style.[12] After the exhibition's close, Everett C. Maxwell, art curator of the Museum of History, Science and Art, brought to Los Angeles for exhibit thirty-eight works, most of which were by contemporary American Impressionists.[13] He also brought selected pieces by Ash Can artists George Luks, John Sloan, Robert Henri and George Bellows, as well as Impressionists Maurice Prendergast, William Glackens, Childe Hassam and Ernest Lawson to Los Angeles from the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego.[14] The exhibitions in 1916 and 1918 of the Modern Art Society, which was made up of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, certainly had its effect. In the 1920's, William Preston Harrison gave the Museum many examples of Eastern American Impressionist paintings. Their permanent display enabled hometown artists to study American Impressionist techniques at leisure. Local commercial galleries occasionally exhibited the contemporary Eastern Impressionists.

The effect of this barrage of Impressionism in the teens was immediate as Anderson's 1917 comment reveals, but while Los Angeles artists adopted Impressionism's tenets en masse, it is interesting that the major Southern California Impressionists after 1914, those who demonstrated superior composition, brushwork, and who most closely followed the majority of French Impressionism's tenets, were artists who had received training in the East or Europe and who moved to California after careers elsewhere.

Certainly one of the major local Impressionists was Guy Rose. Glancing through the illustrations of Rose's paintings contained in the two exhibition catalogues of his work published by Stendahl Galleries, two facts become apparent. The works Rose painted in France are French in subject -- polled willows, peasant cottages nestled in the Seine Valley, ponds of water lilies -- and French in style -- muted, soft colors, and dainty, feminine, Monet-like strokes. The works painted after Rose's 1914 return to California are Californian in subject matter -- shoreline from Laguna to Carmel, cypress trees of Carmel, some open landscapes, figure studies -- and Californian in their brighter palette. To the chagrin of California collectors, the latter works tend to suffer from unsympathetic colors and erratic brushwork, and Rose's French works may prove to be the most artistically significant. Among his best works is Carmel Dunes (Collection Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Alson Clark, who arrived about 1920, brought with him a professional impressionist style he had developed in the competitive East and Midwest; he became one of the few local artists to regularly include architecture in his landscapes. Besides painting such fine easel works as After the Shower, Cuernavaca (Collection Gardena High School) and Locks, Panama Canal (Collection of The Southwest Museum) and scenes of Balboa Park, San Diego, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and La Jolla, he also rendered historical subjects, His ability to work in large format led to mural work.

Even as late as the 1920's Los Angeles can boast the "arrival" of some artists whose work contains more of the qualities identified with Impressionism than Post-Impressionism or the Eucalyptus School. I think what places Sam Hyde Harris with the Impressionists rather than the Eucalyptus School is that he demonstrates interesting, well-structured compositions which depend on such basic impressionist tenets as raised horizon and diagonal perspective. This is particularly true of his larger, more important work. His sense of structure is increased by his inclusion of architecture (which so few Southern California Impressionists could paint). Furthermore, his bland palette, which closely resembles that of Hanson Puthuff, is now and then nullified by dabs of a sharper color. Harris is exemplary of several other illustrators-turned-painters, such as Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939) and Joe Duncan Gleason (1881-1959), whose commercial experience gave them technical superiority over the average local painter of landscapes. Harris does not seem to have worn the same horse's blinders which kept the average local landscapists fixed on pure landscape. He found interest in painting the extremely difficult perspectives of boats moored in San Pedro Harbor, as well as industrial scenes, of which he was basically the lone practitioner.[15]

Other artists whose landscapes exhibit similar sophistication are Edward Burgess Butler (1853-1928), Joe Duncan Gleason and Bert Cressey (1883-1944). George Brandriff also shows sufficient sophistication to deserve inclusion in this elite group, although his late entry into Southern California's landscape movement almost disqualifies him.

While landscapes are the subject usually associated with American Impressionism, it is incumbent to point out that figure painting was of great interest to French Impressionists and that many figure studies were painted en plein air -- to study the effects of direct or dappled light on flesh. In a 1915 review of the California Art Club fall exhibition, Antony Anderson writes:

"Can this really be an exhibition of works by the California Art Club? So short a time ago as a year the preponderance of landscapes over figure pieces was so great that the latter were almost negligible -- except, indeed, in the matter of artistic quality where they held their own with a most positive decision. Now this unequal distribution is very near to a complete reversal. The figures and portraits are perhaps more in evidence than the landscapes."[16]

And, Anderson adds with special significance to California figure painting, "Often they seek and find a landscape setting, where a year ago, they were content with studio and drawing room interiors."[17] Anderson's suggestion that, "We are rapidly growing older, and as we grow older we accumulate wisdom -- in short we become more human more interested in souls than bodies; we incline to turn from outdoor nature to man himself,"[18] is typical of the kind of romantic hypotheses which critics and art historians alike still have a tendency to make. He comes closer to the truth when he says, "Perhaps the great war has accelerated this evolutionary tendency,"[19] but he attributes interest in the figure to the romantic, philosophical notion that war reminds people of the importance of humanity, rather than the practical fact that the war caused French-trained Southlanders to return home where their artwork, exhibited locally, influenced the local community.

Anderson prophesied that, "Many of these accepted [in the 1915 California Art Club exhibition] are not particularly good, but they are highly important in that they indicate the powerful stream of tendency, and because they are the precursors of great things to come. Nobody doubts that when we once seriously begin to paint figures we will do it very well."[20] But, in fact, the most outstanding local figure impressionists were those arriving about 1914, who had developed their styles during residence in France and Boston, where figural work enjoyed great vogue.

One of the major local figure painters was Guy Rose, whose interest may have developed from his friendship in Giverny with the American figure painting Impressionists Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) and Richard Miller (1875-1943). Rose, appealing to the more conservative American audience, primarily painted fully dressed, very feminine, young women, both indoors and out, and though he did paint some nudes, his nudes tend to be idealized and do not exhibit the eroticism or sensuousness projected by Frieseke's or Miller's.

William Vincent Cahill's (?-1924) interest in figure painting is not surprising in view of his background as an illustrator and his residence in Boston. That city housed a disproportionately large number of impressionist figure painters included Edmund Tarbell (1862-1938) and Frank Benson (1862-1951).[.21] But unlike the Boston artists' timid, feminine, and "pretty" brand of Impressionism, the three known works by Cahill show solidly modeled, monumental figures.[.22] He usually painted upper class women at leisure, acting within a shallow plane, usually against a rigidly geometrically divided backdrop. At various times Anderson called Cahill a tonalist and a pointillist, and more will have to be learned of his paintings before we can define his work in current terms.

Donna Schuster, a pupil of Edmund Tarbell and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), obviously received strong schooling in figure painting and, indeed, the figure paintings she produced while teaching locally at Otis Art Institute retain more of an East Coast, Boston flavor than anything identifiably Californian. She wields a loose brush and makes long, attenuated strokes which dissolve figure and foliage into shimmering light. Her work equals the quality of her Boston confreres, but, like many of theirs, falls just short of complete technical virtuosity and meaningfulness of subject.


What is Post-impressionism? In European art it denotes the style of a number of otherwise unrelated artists working between 1880 and 1906. They were concerned with Impressionism's dissolution of form and attempted, through further experiments, to reinvest substance and meaning into painting. The form of these experiments varied with the goals of the individual artists. Subjectivity and pictorial surface were emphasized at the expense of illusion, for Impressionism had demonstrated that realistic representation of nature was no longer a necessary or sufficient goal in a painting. Some artists attempted to reinvest meaning by using more intense, brighter or more contrasting colors, as well as outline. They also experimented with the psychological properties of impasto and brushwork. Subject matter changed from Impressionism's sunny, positive landscapes and its interest in portraying the upper classes at leisure to, if not social protest, at least the presentation of the common man. Sometimes esoteric, historical, mystical or religious imagery was incorporated.

Artists turned from plein air painting, made popular by the Impressionists, back to working in the studio, in which, Monet said, "The unity which the human spirit gives to vision can only be found...It is there that our impressions -- previously scattered -- are coordinated and give each other their reciprocal value, in order to create the true poem of the countryside."[23] Post-Impressionism was a vital, highly important experimental link in the chain of modern art leading from Impressionism to later styles such as Fauvism and Cubism.

In contrast to Southern California's respectable number of Impressionists, the area could boast of very few Post-Impressionists . (The same seems to be true of America in general, if one is to judge from the recent exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. See footnote 23.). As with Impressionists, these local artists deserve the appellation only because of their intent and style, not because they worked in the correct time frame. It is not difficult to understand why fewer local artists cared to work in this style. Unlike the equally revolutionary style of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism's negative, unattractive or esoteric subject matter did not elicit the patronage of Southern California's collectors, and its subjectivity and experimental nature seems to have been too challenging for local artists who had their hands full just trying to paint a realistic landscape.

The first local Post-lmpressionist was probably Jack Gage Stark. If his works were indeed like colorful confetti snowstorms, as one shocked viewer dreamed, he may even have been what we now call a pointillist. At least that description suggests his work was a step beyond simple Impressionism.

If Post-Impressionism means experiment beyond Impressionism, then we must look to Los Angeles' earliest experimenters to find its practitioners, These are found in the Art Students' League of Los Angeles. Early cityscapes by Stanton MacDonald Wright (1890-1973), painted in bright, bold colors, are known from Wright's 1906-10 period. It is possible that Val Costello's (1875-1937) landscapes and blurred figure studies, as well as Rex Slinkard's (1887-1918) softly-toned, broadly-handled figural subjects might be considered post-impressionistic.

Clarence Hinkle is quite decidedly a Post-Impressionist. His Untitled, (Private Collection) showing a seated young woman in profile, is worked with a basket-like pattern of brushstrokes in bright, contrasting, warm and cool shades. It reveals a painter experimenting with color, In Southern California after 1917, Hinkle took a further artistic step. He began to paint landscapes more often than figures, and these are slashed out with elongated strokes of raw energy. They depend on a uniquely individual color scheme -- a sun-drenched blinding white, highlighted with intense color accents, often black.

Other artists who qualify as Post-Impressionists formed the first group titled "modernists." Arriving in the mid-1920's, they had an interest in bright colors or treating solid forms on a two-dimensional surface. Among these artists are Henrietta Shore (d. 1963), Helena Dunlap, Meta Cressey (1882-1964) and Eduoard Vysekal (1890-1939). Cressey's Toys at Rest, (Private Collection), c. 1918, is a prime example of the return to substantive form and color. Vysekal's Mood (Private Collection), 1916, shows equal strength in substantive form and color. Lawrence Murphy (1872-1948) often painted studies of men and horses, executed with expressive, lively, confident strokes. This, with his identifiably personal color schemes, often consisting of maroon and deep blue accents on white fields, should certainly be considered post-impressionistic. The abstract shapes into which he distorts humans and animals are sophisticated and pleasing. Even the unpainted borders, which suggest the painting was left unfinished, complement the composition. Conrad Buff (1886-1975), who constructed massive three-dimensional geographic features with pin-like strokes, has much in common with French Post-Impressionists such as Seurat.

Eucalyptus School

In the September 1, 1928, issue of the West Coaster, Merle Armitage, art critic, wrote;

"Soon exhibitions will be hung in our various galleries for the fall season. Our artists have returned from desert and mountain, trail and canyon, and columns will be written about Susie Gumdrop's handling of tree forms, John Popcorn's rendering of California mountains, and Mr. Whosit's lovely handling of desert colors. What does it all mean? Most of it means that nine-tenths of the men and women painting here on the West Coast are grinding out the usual output of pleasant calendars. They all see a desert, a sunset, a mountain or the sea with exactly the same eyes and the same minds. They are simply unintentionally making illustrations rather than creature [sic--creative] art. The difficulty of this situation from the standpoint of the reviewer is that most of them are such excellent folk that one shrinks from naming specific instances of their harmless art. I call it the 'eucalyptus school' of painting."

This column gave birth to the title which has since been applied (and wrongly) to all landscapes created in Southern California before what some people consider the enlightened 1950's. What was the Eucalyptus School and how does it relate to the American Impressionist movement in general and to the Southern California Impressionist movement specifically?

The Eucalyptus School, taking its name from eucalyptus trees which have been a unique arboreal feature of California since their transplantation from Australia in the late nineteenth century, is a loose title to cover the large number of landscapists active in Southern California from about 1915 to about 1930. Eucalyptus School artists used local geography for subject matter. Their paintings were generally representational and they usually excluded humans, animals or architecture. Landscape was the most popular subject matter of Impressionists, and a natural for local artists. As early as the first regular art reviews we know that Anderson and his fellow artists revered and admired the local landscape.[25] We hear that its coloration was considered subtle and exquisite,[26] that its mountains were not as grand as the Swiss Alps, but were appreciated for their greater humanness,[27] that to paint the landscape made local artists unique [28] and that the local landscape was so outstanding it could attract Eastern artists.[29]

The Eucalyptus School artists painted with attractive, acceptable coloration and loose brushwork. This style was based on Impressionism's liberation of brushwork and color but it also borrowed elements from numerous other progressive art movements of the early twentieth century, such as the Ash Can School. (This absorption was probably not conscious but a natural reaction of sensitive individuals to outside stimuli.) Like many things American, the Eucalyptus style was a mongrel (or as art historians would say, eclectic) and, in fact, not too dissimilar from the style produced across America in mid-sized Americas cities and such artists' colonies as Gloucester, Cape Ann, Provincetown, Silvermine and Woodstock. That is not to say depiction of local geographic features and local coloration was not unique and, in fact, critics even noted the stylistic difference between Southern and Northern California.[30] But the style shared a generic similarity to all American painting contemporary to it.

The term Eucalyptus School, as originally applied, had a negative connotation which it has not yet outgrown. Even as late as 1981, critics, historians and collectors stand too historically and physically close to view it objectively, that is, to ignore the work of the large number of amateurs who participated in it. (Amateurs existed in equal proportions in other United States art colonies, but are obscured to us by distance.)

Eucalyptus School pictures have been condemned for numerous faults -- bland coloration, undeveloped or uninteresting compositions, weak construction, superficial, weightless, substanceless form, insignificant content, cotton-candy fluff brushwork, decorativeness, etc. Bland coloration suggests bland ideas and compromise to decorators and, indeed, pastel tones dominate Eucalyptus School landscapes. Yet the irony is that these are Southern California's true colors. No one can deny that after a rain or wind the air is so clear and crisp that colors and forms glow with unnatural brilliance and saturation. But most of the year Los Angeles' atmosphere is tinged with haze. This is not a recent phenomenon. In 1542, Cabrillo observed the effect of Southern California's inversion layer when he saw smoke rise from an Indian campfire at San Pedro Harbor and level out a few hundred feet in the air. Because of this he named the bay "La Bahia de los Fumos." In 1912 a traveler who ascended five thousand feet up Mt. Lowe observed that "the effect of Los Angeles smoke on the surrounding pellucid air is evident and apparent as a gray brown veil hanging over the city."[31] Today, we call this haze "smog. But under whatever name, the haze has the same effect. Landscape colors are paled to pastel, close to the tones we criticize in Eucalyptus School landscapes. And, while no one can deny that Southern California enjoys beautiful greens in the spring of the year, most of the time the desert climate leaves the hills scantily covered with dry-looking brush in shades of bland buffs and browns.

Eucalyptus School pictures have been called decorative. Merle Armitage called them harmless decoration. Antony Anderson admitted, "...where there is a surplus of scenery, there is also apt to be a large measure of the painting of mere externals."[32] In 1921, in a rare negative mood, he recorded an opinion that was to become more and more true of landscape in the 1920's:

"'Eucalyptus and Clouds' by Douglas Parshall, while original in its decorative scheme of gold and gray colors, remains only a decoration...Orrin White took a prize on his 'Eucalypti'...yet we note here, as in many other pictures by Mr. White, a sort of diffusion of many colors, not all of which are closely related...when he joins beauty and strength, he will be a very fine landscapist indeed."[33]

Is harmless decorativeness a fault? In serious painting it is. Anderson tells us, "Art is not a plaything for idle hands, but the expression of a strong soul's aspiration toward the ideal in life."[34] The French Impressionists' works had been decorative, yes, but they had also managed to invest them with strength and character which saved them from banality. But when Southern California Eucalyptus School artists reacted to Impressionism, instead of pressing forward toward the greatness prophesied for them, they diverted from the experimental path of true art, down a tangent stream of harmless decorativeness. Why did the local mainstream lapse into decorativeness? We know local artists were serious about improving their art. The numerous artists' clubs formed for self-improvement demonstrate this. [35] Yet they seem to have striven for professionalism, not for experiment. Certainly, the relative isolation of Los Angeles from the East Coast, the widely separated residences of the artists which discouraged intellectual or other competition, the frankly prosaic living conditions had their effect. Arthur Millier attributed local weakness to the lack of great models in museum collections from which our artists could learn.[36]

One of the strongest factors was probably lack of strong direction. Antony Anderson's art criticism might have helped, but anyone reading the Los Angeles Times art reviews between 1906 and 1924 cannot help noticing Anderson's overly-positive, encouraging attitude. Like an over-protective, over-anxious and overly-supportive mother, Anderson cajoled, congratulated and encouraged almost all the artists. In view of the generally unsophisticated nature of local art prior to 1914 and the fact that it was in a vulnerable, youthful state, he probably felt he was doing more good than if he had leveled scathing criticism,

Arthur Millier, the art critic who followed Anderson about 1924, was more critical but does not seem to have been able to effect much change. In his first years on the job he wrote some pretty substantive reviews, though they were not overly critical. By the 1930's, when he had begun to call paintings as he saw them, his reduced column and an overload of work which sapped his energies and resulted in brief, five-sentence reviews, left no room for extended appraisal.

Local artists were also hampered by their belief in the mystique that their place of residence and their potential for greatness were far superior to that of Eastern artists. The idea that Southern California was an artistic mecca, a Garden of Eden, a "Land of Heart's Desire"[37] probably originated with the real estate promoters who developed Los Angeles, but it came to be heartily believed by local artists. This became bound up with the ages-old philosophical notion that rural is more honest and natural than urban, and that the West (as identified with rural) was more healthy than the East (which was identified with urban).

"We have been told that conditions are right for a renaissance of art in California -- that we have the proper civilization, the correct climate for self-expression in the realms of thought and beauty. On the whole we are inclined to believe that these glowing prophecies will come to pass, are already beginning to come to pass -- and that the Great Far West will soon have an art epoch of strength and originality. Living in California our strength goes without saying, and living on this glorious side of the Great Divide, we'll have to have originality if we have anything at all. Even though our young painters go East to study in ever increasing numbers, the most of our landscape painters remain, and it is in landscape that we have freest expression."[38]

Even late into the 1920's, art lovers were confident Los Angeles' climate gave it the potential of becoming the Athens of the West.[39] Arthur Millier believed the sun was the lodestone of the Southland [40] and even as acerbic a critic as Merle Armitage said, "I will not maintain that Los Angeles, the home of the mediocre, is the Athens of the West, but I will point out that the curiosity and the vigor of this community is potentially important, that we are more likely to accept new modes and expressions in art than the inelastic Eastern mind suffering with arrested development."[41] This message was spread to the nation in a number of magazine articles extolling Southern California's qualities as an art paradise.[42]

Even after 1921, the year the optimistic Antony Anderson was driven to level accusations of decorativeness at local landscapes in the California Art Club exhibition and perceptive people realized the mainstream of Southern California art had taken the tangent toward decorativeness, the movement had its defenders. Millier railed against Merle Armitage's name-calling in the West Coaster.[43] He defended the school for its honesty when C.J. Rider complained the local artists were academic, imitative, and painted for the public, not in the true spirit of inventive creativity [44]

In spite of the many general arguments against the Eucalyptus School, a number of its landscapists rose to extremely high competence. Each had his or her own slightly different style. Benjamin Brown, mentioned earlier as Los Angeles' first resident "impressionist," used a greater impasto than most of his fellows and was known for his views of pine trees bowed by thick blankets of snow. Franz Bischoff, who entered the local landscape movement quite early, carried over his relatively dark palette from florals. He is well entrenched in the Eucalyptus School category primarily by intent. Some of Paul Lauritz's paintings, such as his Arroyo Seco (Private Collection), are crisp in brushwork and highly articulate, and are among the top of the line, but his later works are hardly worthy of mention. Edgar Payne, too, excelled among his brethren. Even though his three favorite subjects (boats in harbors, Indians riding through Southwestern landscape, and mountain scenes) were exceedingly repetitive, his construction, palette and application of paint remained even and highly professional. Hanson Puthuff spread pale greyed-greens over rolling hills and lavender over distant mountains. His career, like several other Eucalyptus School painters, included diorama and theater scene painting. These disciplines involve the literal translation of surface appearance and may have influenced him toward naturalism. Arthur Hill Gilbert (1894-1970) simplified landscape to the point of poeticism. Though lack Wilkinson Smith varied from super-slick calendar artist to sincere craftsman, he painted some technically well-developed marines and landscapes. Alfred Mitchell and Maurice Braun were the premier San Diego landscapists. Braun potboilered yards of softly-muted, cotton-candy hills and valleys, but occasionally extends himself to produce an outstanding work which reveals conscientious compositional construction and more developed coloration, See California Valley Farm (Private Collection). These are just a few of the many artists who sought to transcribe nature realistically onto canvas, but who achieved a certain distinction in their style. Others certainly exist who are not mentioned here.


Can the nineteenth century French terms Impressionism and Post-Impressionism be applied to any Southern California art movement of the early twentieth century? The answer is no, not to any movement,when the terms are used in their purist sense. But they can be, without hesitation, applied to the work of some individual local painters, most often to European or East Coast trained artists who moved to the Southland after careers elsewhere. The closest thing to a movement which involved either Impressionism or Post-Impressionism was the Modern Art Society, but that was basically a short-lived exhibiting group and not a movement. The Southland's one true art movement, the Eucalyptus School, was a definite offspring of Impressionism, but probably did not adhere to enough of French Impressionism's original tenets to deserve to be called Southern California Impressionism. The terms "impressionistic" or Impressionist style," meaning a colorful, light-filled rendering of landscape or a landscape approaching the French Impressionists' style, could probably be used with most Southern California landscapes painted in the period between 1915 and 1930.


1. Splitter, Henry Winifred, "Art in Los Angeles before 1900," Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, XLI, June, 1959, p.136.

2. First reproduced oil,"Mt. San Antonio," in Land of Sunshine, December, 1896, p. 34, is very amateurish and not impressionistic.

3. Millier, Arthur, "Growth of Art in California," in Frank J. Taylor, Land of Homes, Los Angeles: Powell, 1929, Chap. 13, p. 334. Millier traces the beginning of the California landscape movement to the artists Elmer Wachtel and Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel, Benjamin C. Brown, Hanson Puthuff, Jack Wilkinson Smith and William Wendt, and says, "Elmer Wachtel was one of the first to discover the beauties of characteristic dry arroyos where coloring is pale under the strong light with lavender shadows. He may be truly said to have founded a school."

4. Although his earliest reproductions and reviews suggest he preferred sunsets, moonlight scenes and nocturnes which were more common to Barbizon style, some works were said to have reached for intense and glowing sunlight.

5. Approximate order of arrival: Hanson Puthuff (1903), Sam Hyde Harris (1904), Ernest Browning Smith (1904-11), Jack Wilkinson Smith (1906), John Gamble to Santa Barbara (1906), Martin J. Jackson (1906), William Wendt (1906), Jean Mannheim (1908), Alfred T. Mitchell (1908), Maurice Braun to San Diego (1910).

6. Antony Anderson discusses the California colony of Paris' Latin Quarter and the inclusion in the prestigious Salons of work by Los Angeles artists Mrs. Aurella deWalt Payne (not related to Edgar Payne) and Maude Daggett, sculptress of Pasadena, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1910, 3-14-1,2; Los Angeles painters at the Salon, Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1911, 3-21-1.

7. Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1917, 3-4-4.

8. Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1908, 3-16-3.

9. Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1912, 3-18-2.

10. Gerdts, William, American Impression, exhibition organized and circulated by the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, 1980.

11. Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1917, 3-4-4.

12. Two articles in Western Art, June, July, August, 1914.

13. Museum of History, Science and Art, Exhibition of Selected Honor Paintings from the Palace of Fine Arts, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915, October 1, 1916-May 1, 1917.

14. Museum of History, Science and Art, Exhibition of Paintings Loaned from Gallery of Fine Arts, Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, January 18-February 1, 1916.

15. Petersen Galleries, The Paintings of Sam Hyde Harris (1889-1977), a Retrospective Exhibition, Beverly Hills, 1980.

16. Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1915, 3-20-2.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid, column 3.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid, column 5.

21. Pierce, Patricia Jobe, The Ten, North Abington, MA: Pierce Galleries, 1976.

22. Reproductions listed in Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall, Dictionary of Art and Artists in Southern California before 1930, Los Angeles: Privately printed, 1975.

23. National Gallery of Art, Post Impressionism Cross Currents in European and American Painting 1880-1906, Washington, DC: 1980, p. 14.

25. Los Angeles Times, 18,1908, 3-2-5.

26. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Painting and Sculpture in Los Angeles 1900-1945, September 25-November 23, 1980, pp. 8 and following.

27. Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1915, 3-20-4.

28. When A Sufferer ("A Chance for Real Art," Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1907, 6-2-1,2) attacked the landscape painters of Laguna and the Arroyo complaining that he had seen seventy-nine versions of the "Twin Sycamores in the Arroyo Seco," Anderson was quick to explain that, "Not cheap French restaurants but the lovely vistas of the Arroyo Seco distinguish Los Angeles from other cities; not five-cent theatres,but the marvelous scenic beauties of the Garvanza hills, not little Italian priests in queer little transplanted gardens, but big native California laymen in perennial rose bowers of a hundred acres."

29. Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1907, 6-2-4.

30. Oakland Museum, Impressionism, A California View, 1981, p. 20. Both Antony Anderson and Arthur Millier had noted this difference. Both writers admitted a definite rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles (not just in art but in other matters, primarily real estate). Anderson saw more vigor in San Francisco art, and believed the cooler, foggier weather discouraged landscape painting, while he felt there was more subtlety and refinement in Southern California art and that the Southland's favorite climate fostered landscape painting, Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1922, 3-20-4. Arthur Millier attributed San Francisco's aesthetic, intellectual ideas to its urban personality and its concentrated artists' quarter which fostered stimulating interchange of ideas. Southern California, on the other hand, tended to produce more representational art, due to its dispersed artists' residences and the agrarian background of most of its residents, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1927, 3-22-1, 2, 3 and 3-23-1,

31. "Los Angeles 1781-1981:' special issue of California History, LX, Spring, 1981, p. 54.

32. Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1915, 3-20-3.

33. Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1921, 3-2-4, 5.

34. Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1908, 3-2-4.

35, In the early years these were Art Association (1890), the Palette Club of Los Angeles (1905), the Painters Club (1906) which became the California Art Club (about 1909). See other clubs in Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall, Artists' Clubs and Exhibitions in Los Angeles before 1930, Los Angeles: Privately printed, 1974.

36. Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1927, 3-20.

37. Frederick R. Miner, "California the Landscapist Land of Heart's Desire," Western Art, June, July, August, 1914, pp. 31-34.

38. Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1912, 3-18-1.

39. Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1933, 2-3-1.

40. Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1927, 3-19-7, 8 and 3-22-1.

41. West Coaster, June 15, 1928, p. 24.

42. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, op. cit., p. 13, footnote 8.

43. Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1928, 3-17. "In The West Coaster, wisecracking Hollywood monthly, trying with more or less success to be the New Yorker of this region, Merle Armitage writes about art in the snappy manner demanded for this after-cocktail type of magazine, which insists that everything must have a 'kick' in it. He informs us that the galleries will soon be draped with exhibits of paintings by members of the 'Eucalyptus School of Painters,' who are, however such nice people that he just hasn't the heart to tell the dreadful truth about their 'harmless' art...This division of art into 'creative' and 'harmless,' with the inference that one is real and the other bogus, is a comparatively recent invention and one that won't bear water...The truth is that the 'harmless' art of the 'Eucalyptus' school is the most hopeful ground-work for a really genuine indigenous Southern California art. To over-praise its average production is obviously misleading, but to patronize it shows a complete lack of understanding of the processes whereby art comes into being.

44. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1928, 3-17-7, 8.