Editor's note: The following essay from the catalogue for the exhibition Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine, on view at the Laguna Art Museum June 29 through September 21, 2014, was reprinted in Resource Library on July 9, 2014 with permission of the Laguna Art Museum, which was granted to TFAO on June 26, 2014. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Laguna Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine

by Janet Blake



Everyone has hang-ups, I suppose. Mine is sunshine.

Not sunlight -- although I like to paint sunlight too.

Rex Brandt, 1991[1]


In February 1982, Rex Brandt gave a lecture and slide presentation at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, California, the city that had been his home for nearly forty years. He titled his lecture "Balboa Bay Byzantine," an acknowledgment to Los Angeles Times art critic Henry Seldis, who coined the phrase in defining the style of the group of artists who had been painting the Newport Harbor area for four decades.[2] Brandt's love for Newport Harbor is revealed in his description of the bay:

The narrows between Balboa and Balboa Island with the chariot-like ferries and that gracious duenna, the Pavilion, is no doubt both the physical and "spiritual" center of the happening which is Balboa Bay, but other sites represent its spirit as well. Certainly the most long-enduring is Rocky Point, the high bluff on the Corona del Mar side of the bay where Goldenrod Avenue meets ocean Boulevard at the meeting point of the rocky San Joaquin Hills, the flatlands of the delta of the Santa Ana river, and the deep blue where the Newport Bank drops into a canyon off the Harbor entrance. Palm trees frame views of post-card-like splendor; rocky coves, bathers, sails and surfers animate the picture. The iodine smell of kelp mixes with the smells of frying hot dogs and burning driftwood. The two arms of the jetty reach outward to clasp a westward orbiting sun, pulling the golden light across coruscating salt water into Pirate's cove, illuminating its deepest recesses, warming the skin and pinking the shoulders.[3]

Brandt quoted the definition of "Byzantine" in Webster's dictionary: "A blending of Oriental voluptuousness with the architectural spirit of the west -- characterized by a lack of perspective, opulent colors, especially gold, and the use of symbols." For him, the most important element was the westward "orbiting sun," which provided illumination and warmth. It was that element, that effect, that had been the focus of his nearly fifty-year career, and it must be kept in mind when viewing his body of work. He acknowledged that his undergraduate education at the University of California at Berkeley exposed him to the both modern French and Byzantine art.[4] This can be seen in a series of works that he did in Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar in 1936 in which he used stylized elements and calligraphic brushstrokes (cat. 4). Yet, he noted, "Berkeley had provided me with no way to convey the regenerative warmth of the sun. This problem became an obsession for the next 40 years."[5]

Born in San Diego in 1914, Rexford Elson Brandt was the son of Swedish immigrant Alfred O. Brandt, a house builder, and his wife, Ellen Dale Woodward. Within a few years, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Alfred Brandt worked as a builder for the Krotona Institute, the theosophical institute built in Hollywood in 1912. By 1930, when Brandt was sixteen, the family, which included his younger sister, Nora, was living in Riverside, where his father worked as a real estate broker.[6] Brandt's career as an artist began when he was in his early teens; he attended Saturday classes at Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles in 1928. He graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School in 1932 and enrolled in Riverside Junior College. There he studied art under Richard M. Allman, who inspired the young artist both to work from nature and to develop his powers of personal expression.[7] Allman also recommended that Brandt continue his art education at the University of California at Berkeley. Trusting Allman implicitly, Brandt decided to apply and was admitted.[8]

In September 1934, shortly after graduating with honors, Brandt submitted an entry in the watercolor category of the California State Fair art exhibition. Bay Breeze (fig. 1) was his earliest painting of the historic Pavilion on Balboa Peninsula, a subject he often returned to throughout his career. It garnered a first prize for the young artist, who was just turning twenty, and he used the prize money to pay admission fees to Berkeley.[9] The next two years at Berkeley were pivotal. The renowned German-American abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann had taught for two summers (1930 and 1931) in the Berkeley art department. He was now teaching in New York, but his progressive ideas dominated the department, then headed by Eugen Neuhaus, "a superb lecturer in art, especially modern art, with special regard for structure, line, and color."[10] Two of Brandt's teachers had studied with Hofmann -- Margaret Peterson and John Haley. Brandt recalled that the first thing he learned was that "pictures had an inner life quite independent of the subject."[11] Peterson used Hofmann's idea of "push and pull" in her design and painting classes, a phrase that he had coined in describing the "dynamic interrelationships between physical and spatial forces."[12] Brandt also studied early Chinese landscape painting, Byzantine art, and the work of Picasso and Matisse. While studying and exploring semiabstract design in his classwork, he earned some money painting historical illustrations for the National Park Service. Ironically, it was from the NPS's senior illustrator, Paul Rockwood, that he learned about Cézanne. [13]

While at Berkeley, Brandt painted a small watercolor at Kellers Beach Park, near Port Richmond, just north of San Francisco. Titled Afternoon at Kellers (cat. 1), the painting was later recalled by the artist as his "first successful sunshine study."[14] The spare composition is skillfully plotted utilizing a limited palette with zigzag lines and shapes that lead the eye through an arabesque of brilliant light on the bay. The sun is depicted as implied light. Submitted to the Third Annual Exhibition of Water Colors, Drawings, and Prints at the Oakland Art Gallery, the painting was awarded a bronze medal. Glenn Wessels, writing for the Argonaut, commented that Brandt was one of the lesser known artists exhibiting who should be better known.[15] His painting identified the young artist with what would soon become known as the Berkeley School -- as defined by Alfred Frankenstein in the San Francisco Chronicle: "a group that practices an art of colored drawing with water color and gouache . . . . an essentially graphic way of looking at things."[16] The calligraphic ink and watercolor drawing Building the Bridges further exemplifies the style (cat. 3). Brandt also exhibited at the opening show of the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1934. The director, Dr. Grace McCann Morley, liked his work and recommended to Dr. Robert B. Harshe at the Art Institute of Chicago that he should invite Brandt to exhibit at the watercolor annuals there. Brandt's first exhibition there was in 1936, at which he exhibited the award-winning Afternoon at Kellers. Yearning for that "regenerative warmth of the sun," after graduation in June 1936, he returned from Berkeley to Riverside. The following years would present a struggle for the young artist as he felt his own internal "push-pull" between pursuing a style influenced by Berkeley and adhering to the more conservative, straightforwardly representational style typically practiced in his hometown and its environs.

That first summer he was home, Brandt rented a cottage in Laguna Beach where he said he could "tackle the problem of painting the sea and sun without losing my Berkeley vocabulary."[17] The series of works from that sojourn indeed do show him employing stylization and calligraphy in his work, as in China Cove (cat. 4) and Victoria Beach and Goff Island (fig. 2). However, the dominant themes in Southern California were regionalism and the American Scene, especially among the group of artists affiliated with the California Water Color Society, among them Millard Sheets, Emil J. Kosa, Jr., Barse Miller, and Phil Dike. Realizing that he had to swim with the tide in order to make a living, he curbed his tendency toward semiabstraction and returned to a more descriptive approach. [18]

In his hometown of Riverside, Brandt was also being recognized for his accomplishments. He began teaching at his alma mater, Riverside Junior College. His friend Lawson P. Cooper, art teacher at Riverside High School, wrote: "I am willing to risk whatever reputation I have as a critic in backing Rex Brandt. I have had the pleasure of a close study of his work since I came to this city, and what might be called an intense series of conversations with him. He is one of those rare birds, an artist with an intellect." [19]

One of Brandt's most successful series of works from the decade of the 1930s documented the building of the Colorado River Aqueduct. He began visiting the construction site, not far from Riverside, in late 1936, spending days at a time camping in the desert. He was inspired by the dramatic scenes, sounds, and smells, and later remarked, "The tunnels were very dramatic -- the sounds, mysterious lights. There's nothing like the clatter of jackhammers to provoke a painter."[20] Without Brandt's knowledge, Lawson Cooper photographed several of the completed paintings and submitted them to Fortune magazine (figs. 3 and 4). In April 1937 the magazine published an article on the aqueduct illustrated with seven Brandt paintings: "In these paintings the artist not only has recorded construction detail but has conveyed with his peculiar gift the quality of the Southern California landscape, the rhythms of its bare sunburned hills, the rich color harmonies of a land where dusk is deep blue, summer grass is tawny, and winter is picked out in fresh green."[21] Fortune described the aspiring artist as not widely known, but one of the "leading young watercolorists of the West."[22] Brandt continued to paint scenes of the aqueduct construction the following year, among them Rain at Box Springs Camp (cat. 5). [23]

Cooper continued to promote Brandt and other artist members of the California Water Color Society. In the summer of 1937 the two men organized an exhibition of forty-five paintings by artists whom Cooper dubbed "The California Group." They showed the exhibition in Fillmore, Monterey, and San Francisco, at Mills College and Stanford University. Artists included from Southern California were Millard Sheets, Barse Miller, Phil Dike, Milford Zornes, Tom Craig, Lee Blair, Paul Sample, Paul Mays, Everett Gee Jackson, and, of course, Brandt. The northern part of the state was represented by George Post and Tom Lewis. Brandt recalled that it "presented a new view of western landscape -- bold watercolors in place of romantic oils, American scene in place of eucalyptus trees and rocky sea coasts."[24] Writing about Brandt's work, Glenn Wessels commented that the artist had "a flair for unusual and arresting arrangements." [25]

In March 1938 Brandt married Joan Malloch Irving, whom he had met at Riverside Junior College. That summer the couple lived in Palo Alto while Brandt took graduate classes at Stanford University, from which he received a teaching credential. After returning to Riverside, he took additional graduate classes at the University of Redlands. He worked as the director of the Riverside Junior College Art Center, a position he held until 1943. He was also appointed acting supervisor for the Federal Art Project in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, supervising printers, lithographers, and muralists. He painted several murals himself, including one at the San Bernardino High School (see Chronology).

Brandt's work was well received in the exhibitions of the California Water Color Society, and in fall 1938 he was awarded the purchase prize for South San Diego (cat. 7), a painting described by Arthur Millier as "a spirited, rhythmical description of an industrial plant, a slough, trees and hogs."[26] The following year, the society invited two artists to exhibit several works in the fall exhibition; one was Charles Burchfield and the other was Brandt. Arthur Millier wrote that the young artist -- he had just turned twenty-five in September -- felt "both humble and grateful to be placed beside Burchfield who carries [watercolor] as far as any oil painter to completeness." He further stated: "He is, and rightly, still gathering graphic material from American life wherever he can find it; catching quick impressions on the wing, such as the wonderfully vivid little 'Brakeman,' (cat. 10), the beautifully unified swirl of surf and gulls titled 'Point Half Moon,' or the dynamic pattern or rocks, people, and sand in 'Three Arches'(cat. 8)."[27] That same year, his quintessential regionalist painting On the Road to San Jacinto was included in the American Art Today exhibition at the New York World's Fair (cat. 5).

In March 1940, the Pacific Coast States Water Color Exhibition, organized by the California Water Color Society, opened at the Riverside Museum in New York; it was well received by New York art critics and resulted in the purchase of several paintings by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[28] More then two hundred watercolors by artists representing California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii were shown. The California group was further lauded nationally when Life magazine published an article entitled "California Painters: Their Land Lends Grandeur to Their Work." Brandt's painting Purse Seiners was reproduced. [29]

The reputation gained by the members of the society followed each of them as they furthered their careers with exhibitions and teaching. Brandt joined Barse Miller and Paul Sample for a summer teaching at the University of Vermont, and an exhibition of their work was shown at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum. One critic noted that Brandt and Miller were masters of the watercolor medium. "They understand, better than most American watercolorists whose work I have seen, when the moment is right for thin, sparse painting and when it is crying for rich, wet application."[30] Brandt's career as a teacher was rapidly growing. In a lecture at the University of Southern California, he offered a succinct description of the work of members of the California Water Color Society, noting that there was an "infusion of Oriental 'brush-writing' into the Occidental tradition from which our painting stems," which for many of the artists working in the motion picture industry resulted in a flair for dramatic effects. [31]

Inspired by his summer teaching in Vermont, Brandt prevailed upon Reginald Poland, director of the Fine Arts Gallery in San Diego to present a series of summer classes organized by Brandt with the able assistance of fellow artists, among them Tom Craig, Phil Dike, Phil Paradise, Millard Sheets, James Couper Wright, and Milford Zornes. The first session of seven weeks was in 1941, with a second session of six weeks the following summer. Brandt called the summer sessions "Chautauquas," an acknowledgment of the famous summer classes on Chautauqua Lake in New York.[32] He was praised both for his talent and his teaching skills: "This blond youth of six feet, four, in his organization of the course, showed an amazing combination of modesty and courage, of canny insight and prodigal self-giving, always delivering those essential goods toward student growth: sympathetic understanding, accurate knowledge, esthetic insight and unlimited good humor." [33]

In 1941, at the end of the year, the California Water Color Society opened their Twenty-first Annual Exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Brandt received the Duncan Vail merchandise award for Evening Calm, Balboa, and it was subsequently purchased by the museum.[34] At the conclusion of the 1942 summer session in San Diego, the Fine Arts Society of San Diego purchased his Desert Crossroads, Victorville, a work he had done on assignment from Fortune magazine. [35] The acquisition was announced in the local newspaper:

In the painting newly acquired, we have a late work, in which there is no direct reflection of Millard Sheets or any other teaching forebear. In fact, it is quite different from anything we have ever seen in the way of California water-color. Instead of a gaily-tinted paper of broad washes, or a furiously brushed in bit of sound and foam, Brandt presents a delicate, intricate study in grey tonalities -- a wide scene, in which a village nestling beside a culvert first becomes visible to us through the accent of the slender spire of a wee church. A freight train is passing through the culvert, in a veil of smoke and steam. In the foreground, vehicles are moving up the road -- a transport, Red Cross van, a tank, intent upon passing over the bridge to the hills beyond.
It is contemporary America, clear, sober, orderly, restrained, but idealistic. This paper is definitely 1942 genre, but it may also be called a timeless idyll.[36]

Brandt had been working with oils as well as watercolor. In March 1943, he was invited to participate in the Eighteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, showing Coast at Purisima (fig. 5). Watercolor, however, always would remain his preferred medium. Also in March, the American Water Color Society annual opened in New York, and Edwin Alden Jewell identified Brandt as one of several artists showing a "notable flair for the water-color medium."[37] In April he was given a one-man watercolor painting exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum. Alma May Cook remarked on how much at ease he seemed to be with the difficult watercolor medium.[38] Arthur Millier spoke highly of the exhibition: "In style he moves back and forth between crisp pattern and a broad, tonal use of the medium. In either case he is expert, his work has a high content of beauty and is readily comprehensible."[39] The exhibition traveled to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Alfred Frankenstein noted that it "conforms both skillfully and individually to the California style. That is to say, it is inspired by the California landscape and especially by its brilliant light. The vibration of the light comes over into Mr. Brandt's pictures as a swift flicker of movement, quickly, deftly and vigorously set down. You feel Brandt is the kind of artist who captures his impressions of hot roads, scooped-out hills and tidelands in one swift session . . ." [40]

In June Brandt took leave from his teaching responsibilities at Riverside Junior College. Although it was stated that he would return in September, by the fall of 1943 he and his family had moved to Corona del Mar, just south of Newport Beach. For Brandt, the Newport Harbor area held "untold wealth in painting subjects," more so than the inland area around Riverside. They had purchased a lot on Goldenrod Street in 1940, for the sum of $250, on which they built what Brandt described as the first flattop house in the area, a twenty by twenty-foot, tarpaper shack.[42] With a growing family -- daughters Joanie was born in 1940 and Shelley in 1944 -- and keenly aware of the challenges of making a living as an artist, Brandt expanded his sources of income beyond painting and teaching, adding commercial business activities. He worked as a designer for West Coast Ship Building and formed his own commercial and residential design firm, Rex Brandt Associates. He told Arthur Millier that there were excellent opportunities in Southern California for painters to work in related professions:

Tradition isn't so overpowering as it is back east. A painter is not just a painter and little else. He can use his designing ability in many fields and the people in related professions don't gang up to bar him from their sacrosanct fields.
I enjoy turning from painting to design projects. Laying out a residential tract or color scheduling a school teaches me things that are valuable when I come back to watercolor. I enjoy making illustrations and I return to painting after doing other things with added zest. I especially value teaching because it teaches the teacher. [43]

It was painting and teaching that would remain his passion, and the Brandts' new home in Corona del Mar -- dubbed "Blue Sky" -- would become the center of that passion.

Brandt had thoroughly enjoyed organizing and teaching summer classes in San Diego in 1941 and 1942. During the remaining years of World War II, no classes were scheduled, and it would not be until 1946 that Brandt and Phil Dike began to plan for summer classes to be held at "Blue Sky." Brandt and Dike would be the leading teachers, and they would invite other guest artists to assist. The first season of the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting opened on June 26, 1947, a session of six weeks with the stated objective "to know more of the artistic anatomy of nature and the craft of painting."[44] The first class was made up of thirty painters, both amateur and professional. Summer classes continued at Blue Sky for thirty-eight years (see "The Summer Painting Classes," p. xx). Brandt estimated that over the years some four thousand artists participated. "The unifying thread . . . " he said, "was involvement with Nature; the feelings for light and movement rather than the static appearance of things. This involvement invited direct, location painting. And such painting . . . invited the use of white paper and transparent watercolor. Little wonder that these hedonistic nature lovers favored the medium. Critic Ernest Watson went so far as to describe the school as 'Mecca for watercolorists'."[45] The next year -- in 1948 -- Brandt privately published his first instructional book for watercolor, Watercolor with Rex Brandt, a handbook for the students at the Brandt-Dike Summer School and at Chouinard Art Institute, where Brandt taught watercolor classes once or twice a week from 1947 to 1953 (fig.6). The first edition of only 500 copies was quickly purchased by students; the following year he expanded and enlarged the book, adding several color, tipped-in illustrations.[46] In the introduction, Brandt stated: "We in California live at an eclectic crossroads. The Orient and the Occident meet. The commercial demands of the moving picture, the beckoning sunlit landscape, each offers opportunities and makes demands on tradition. Out of this has sprung a full-bodied lusty watercolor concept. I draw my material from this background."[47] In the second edition, Brandt italicized the statement for emphasis.

Brandt gained prominence as a leader of the California Group through both his teaching and his painting. He had received a second purchase prize from the California Water Color Society in 1945 for Summer at 29th Street, a painting of Newport Beach with a view toward the ocean (cat. 11). In this work, he used the wet-into-wet technique that he favored at this time, which resulted in an overall soft-focus appearance. Because the painting had to be completed rapidly, the elements were simplified and much of the white paper was left exposed. Brandt lauded Cézanne's watercolor methods that also involved the white of the paper -- "the full beauty of the watercolor sheet."[48]

Brandt served as vice-president of the CWCS in 1947 and president in 1948. That year the Los Angeles County Museum declined to exhibit the California Water Color Society exhibition. Brandt, instead, opened the exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and added a drawing and print exhibition as a companion show. (This would become a biennial exhibition for the CWCS.) He exhibited Golden Gate (cat. 13), which was described in the press as innovative and fresh: "Rex Brandt's cool 'Golden Gate' employs a pictorial shorthand to give an angle on the ever-fabulous San Francisco harbor, over which the fog and cold sunshine pass intermittently." [49]

Brandt became a civic-minded community member in Corona del Mar, active on various city committees and always championing the place as a haven for artists. However, he freely admitted to not being a very political person and thus tried to stay away from controversy, including the schism in the art world between the "progressives" or "moderns" and what he called the "reactionaries," those artists belong to the Society for Sanity in Art.[50] The Cold War and the rise of intense anti-communist activity in the 1950s spilled over into the world of art, however, and he did indeed find himself in the middle of controversy.

In October 1951, Brandt participated in the Seventh Annual Exhibition of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The jury was described by Municipal Art Department Director Kenneth Ross as being "well-balanced in their composition of modern and conservative viewpoints" and "extremely conscientious in their effort to select the finer work from the 1,700 entries."[51] On the jury of awards were Jean Goodwin Ames, Loren Barton, Conrad Buff, Lorser Feitelson, and Rico Lebrun. Brandt's entry, an oil painting entitled The First Surge of the Sea won a bronze medal in its category (cat. 14). [52]

The controversy that quickly arose was primarily spurred on by those who decried "modern" art. Joe Duncan Gleason, a marine painter and member of the Society for Sanity in Art, wrote to Ross: "The entire show is a collection of meaningless lines and daubs . . . an affront to the sensibilities of normal people."[53] With implied disdain, critic Alma May Cook described the exhibition as "predominantly modern contemporary." [54] Arthur Millier, on the other hand, called it "modern in tone" but implied no derogatory intent.[55] Slightly more than a week after its opening, the Los Angeles City Council called for an investigation of the exhibition after its members were flooded with letters of protest from numerous outraged citizens offended by what one writer called "monstrosities" of contemporary art.[56] Citizens were especially outraged by the fact that taxpayer dollars were underwriting the exhibition. "Artists, art critics, would-be art critics and just plain citizens marched in and out of the City Hall, all with definite but conflicting opinions about what should, or should not, be done." [57]

Not surprisingly -- given the political climate of the early 1950s -- the suggestion of communist influence was also alleged. Council President Harold A. Henry stated: "This art . . . is a replica of what appears in communist papers. There's no doubt that this is another instance of Communist infiltration."[58] Henry and fellow councilman Don Allen singled out Brandt's second prize-winning painting as particularly egregious for the "hammer and sickle" insignia "boldly displayed" on the sail.[59] Meanwhile the citizens of Corona del Mar were outraged that one of their most outstanding citizens and resident-artist should have such charges leveled against him. [60]

Kenneth Ross pointed out that the offending insignia -- a "C" with an "I" through it -- in fact stood for "Island Clipper." Ross prevailed upon Brandt -- who initially thought the entire business merely amusing -- to come to Los Angeles for the hearing, telling him "It may be my job" and that Mayor Fletcher Bowron expressed concerns that Brandt had been libeled.[61] So Brandt attended the hearing, spoke for about a minute about his experience as a sailor and boat designer, and explained that he really didn't know what a hammer and sickle looked like. Council President Harold Henry formally apologized for the "slur."[62] That may have ended the controversy for Brandt, but other charges continued to be leveled against artists for supposed sacrilege and ugliness. The battle between "modernists" and "conservatives" continued, prompting Millard Sheets to suggest that perhaps there should be two shows, one for each side.[63] Indeed, on October 31, the Building and Safety Committee of the council voted that in the future funds allocated for a city annual art exhibition be allocated as divided equally between two exhibits, "one in the traditional field and one in the modern field."[64] Brandt noted that the use of multiple juries was not new, recalling that in 1942 his painting Morning in Julian (fig. 7) was accepted by all three juries -- conservative, intermediate, and radical -- at the Oakland Art Gallery's watercolor, print, and drawing annual exhibition.[65]

Brandt quickly put the controversy behind him. He earned a special citation from American Artist magazine for his painting The Brothers Light, exhibited at the 1952 annual exhibition of the American Water Color Society. The following year the magazine published a feature on the artist written by Arthur Millier (fig. 8). Millier noted that Brandt was a well-known exhibitor throughout the United States, winner of many honors and awards, and gave on average about fifty lectures on art each year.[66] His popularity on the local scene was also rising. After he was appointed to the board of directors of the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, one of his first actions was to make a "survey of American art academies as a preliminary to establishment of a proposed Laguna Beach Academy of Art."[67] He expanded his teaching methodology by making a film -- Watercolor Methods -- with which he supplemented his lecture on the California school of watercolorists at the Scripps College Art Foundation prior to the opening the CWCS Thirty-third Annual Exhibition.[68] In the ensuing years, he would make several more instructional films on both watercolor and oil painting.

In 1955, Brandt was elected an associate to the National Academy of Design. That summer, Phil Dike retired from his position with the Brandt-Dike Summer School; Brandt -- with the able assistance of his wife, artist Joan Irving, and many guest teachers -- continued the school as the Brandt Summer School of Painting. The following year, he was one of nineteen artists featured in the book Seascapes & Landscapes in Watercolor, edited by Norman Kent. Brandt discussed his painting methods and techniques, noting that he was a "persistent experimenter," refusing to be typecast, ideologically or technically: "I will paint with a sponge or a shaving brush or use any other device or method that I feel can be helpful to obtain a particular effect. But this fact remains: watercolor at its best is liquid, rich in gradation, strong in darks and lights, brave in line, and clear in texture."[69] The Brothers Light was reproduced in color along with three other paintings in black and white -- Drying Sails, Morning at Huntington, and Sunset Beach.[70] Sunset Beach, which had received the Phelan Prize at the San Francisco Art Association in 1953, is a semiabstract interpretation of the seaside community on which he based his 1954 abstract oil painting Summer Beach (cat. 15). [71]

On January 2, 1957, the Los Angeles Times published a special mid-winter edition, a 200-page color rotogravure supplement (fig. 10). The theme was Southern California Holiday, and Brandt not only designed the cover -- a painting of the beach at Balboa -- but also provided two panoramic wash drawings for an article on San Francisco and San Diego -- the "neighbors to the north and south." Arthur Millier noted that Brandt's "architectural feeling" inspired the drawings, which were rendered in a mode of geometric semiabstraction similar to that seen in San Francisco Pattern (cat. 18).[72] The cover was a more straight-forward, descriptive scene, a reflection of Brandt's ability to adapt his style to the occasion. Illustrations would be one of his mainstays throughout his career (figs. 10 and 11). In May 1960 Cowie Galleries in Los Angeles opened an exhibition of Brandt's recent works in both oil and watercolor. Henry Seldis in the Los Angeles Times remarked on the "freshness and freedom" seen in his watercolors, noting that the artist "has come a long way from the clichés that marked the California watercolor school of the 30s and 40s." [73]

During the decade of the 1960s Brandt remained busy teaching, lecturing, and serving as a juror for numerous exhibitions in both Los Angeles and Orange Counties. He continued to make several painting trips a year, during which he began looking for a good location for a second home and studio. He bought avocado property in Murietta and a couple of lots in Cambria, where Phil and Betty Dike had a second home. But he was never quite satisfied until 1966, when he and Joan built a second home far north of on Shaw Island, Washington, part of the state's San Juan Islands in Puget Sound (fig. 12). They would spend a few months a year (often both a spring and a fall trip) in their "High Tor" studio in that tranquil, majestic locale (fig. 13 and fig. 14). Nearly always they would head there by car, often visiting their daughters and their families along the way -- Shelley in Mammoth Lakes and Joanie in Everett, Washington (she and her husband had moved to Washington State in 1970).[74] Brandt called it their "annual hegira from frantic Newport Beach" where he could "sit down to write a paean to solitude, to nature and the virtues of a simpler life." When queried as to why they picked an island, he replied: "An island is like a painting. It encapsulates my world in a finite area. . . . When I am here, I look at things more carefully. I breathe more deeply. Talk less, listen more. Quiet awareness replaces sensation. An over-hyped world loses itself in the curling wake of a ferry boat."[75] Often while there, Brandt would work on his other favorite medium of expression, linoleum block printing (figs. 15 and 16).

Nevertheless, Brandt remained most active at home in Newport Beach, from serving on various city committees -- including the committee for the development of Big Corona beach, acting as a color and design consultant -- to designing street signs and the city seal, which was adopted in 1957 (fig. 17).[76] In December 1961, the Los Angeles Times announced the founding of the Fine Arts Patrons of Newport Harbor. Their stated goal was "to further public interest in fine art" and "to stimulate development of painting, sculpture, and their allied arts."[77] Future plans included the establishment of a cultural center and art museum. All the founding patrons were women, among them Joan Irving Brandt, no doubt with great encouragement and support from her husband. In 1962, the harbor area gained another promoter when Jim Killingsworth began publication of the magazine Orange County Illustrated. The cover on the first issue is a painting of Balboa by Brandt (fig. 18). Over the next seventeen years, from 1962 to 1979, the magazine would use paintings by local artists for its covers, several of which were contributed by Brandt (fig. 19 and fig. 20).

On June 17, 1962, the Fine Arts Patrons held a benefit art exhibition at the Brandts' Corona del Mar studio and gardens titled "Salute to Summer." The participating artists included Joan Irving, Rex Brandt, Jae Carmichael, Paul Darrow, Betty Dike, Phil Dike, Roger Kuntz, George Post, and Milford Zornes. On October 15, they opened their first exhibition at the Balboa Pavilion Gallery -- their exhibition space for the next ten years. Brandt lectured at the Newport Beach Junior Ebell Club in January 1963, showing architectural renderings of the proposed cultural center and museum that they hoped to build. (Five years later, in August 1968, the group changed the name of their gallery to Newport Harbor Art Museum and hired Thomas H. Garver as the first director. [78]) On June 29, 1963, the Laguna Beach Art Association opened a retrospective covering thirty years of Brandt's career, showing works in both oil and watercolor. Brandt titled his retrospective "A Search for the Sun," continuing to emphasize what he considered the most important aspect of his art.

Brandt continued to exhibit, most prestigiously with the California Watercolor Society, the American Watercolor Society, and the National Academy of Design. Early in 1968 his painting Morning: Rocky Point was awarded the Samuel F. B. Morse medal at the National Academy of Design and the Lily Saportas Award from the American Watercolor Society (cat. 26). Cowie Wilshire Galleries in Los Angeles continued to host annual sales exhibitions of his work. His October 1968 exhibition was described in the Los Angeles Times as having "vigorous oils dealing in a very fresh way with his perennial enthusiasm for sailing" and watercolors rendered with a perceptive eye.[79] Among the works shown were Pavilion'67 (fig. 21), which was reproduced, and Memory of Taxco (cat. 25).

Memory of Taxco had been painted during his first teaching assignment for the Hewitt Painting Workshops in August 1967.[80] It was also reproduced in Frederic Whitaker's signature article "Watercolor in California" -- published in American Artist in May 1968 -- which traced the history of the California School. Whitaker noted: "The contemporary stage of their style or method might be described as a combination of abstract pattern and realistic or at least easily recognizable subject matter," a description that aptly described Brandt's painting. [81]

It was, in fact, at a Hewitt workshop in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, in March 1969, that Brandt painted one of his most important watercolors, Sunlight-San Miguel Allende (cat. 31). The painting became a model for advocates of white paper painting. Brandt later described the painting as "like a haiku poem for it captures the essence of the subject."[82] He further elaborated:

In my search for luminosity and transparency, I began to comprehend what Turner and Cézanne had discovered: All objects can be absorbed and thus unified by the sensation of light emanating from the picture surface. . . . It was painted quickly, immediately after a morning-long struggle with a complicated first try. It depends more on untouched white paper than on paint. I had been looking too hard and feeling too little, and then I realized that all that mattered was the glorious feeling of sunlight.[83]

That same year, his book Rex Brandt's San Diego: Land of the Sundown Sea was published with paintings and black and white drawings made by the artist over several months of travel in and around San Diego (fig. 22). The book was a tribute to the city where he was born, celebrating what he described as "one of America's most versatile areas -- a place where sea, mountains and desert meet under a shining sun."[84] Some works, such as San Pasqual Battlefield (fig. 23) and After Class, Campo (fig. 24) were quickly rendered on location. Others such as Pier, Imperial Beach (cat. 30) were more developed studio works based on notes and sketches. When asked whether he considered the works "modern" or "academic," he replied: "If you are asking about that aspect of my work exhibited in this book, the answer is 'neither.' I think there is an esthetic timelessness to investigative and reportorial art as epitomized in the writings of Mark Twain, the drawings of Goya, and the prints of Hiroshige." [85]

On May 15, 1970, the Newport Harbor Art Museum celebrated its history with a fundraising event at the Balboa Fun Zone. Titled "Rendezvous in Balboa," a limited edition, signed, and dated poster featuring Brandt's painting Pavilion and Bay was specially designed for the event (fig. 25 and 26).[86] It was a special celebration for both Joan and Rex Brandt. They had made a conscious decision to make their life in Newport Harbor -- he had turned down opportunities to direct the Los Angeles County Art Institute and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The following spring, the Los Angeles Times published an article and interview with the artist under the title "Artist Happy Finding Own Way to Success."[87] Reflecting on his achievements over the past thirty years, Brandt stated: "If I have an ability, it's not as an artist, but it is to ignite -- to achieve a pitch that comes spontaneously." Watercolor, he said, "is the perfect medium for depicting air, water and space -- the sense of bloom, the spontaneity of life. . . . I decide I'm going to convey the scene in Newport Harbor with the sparkling light in a July 4th atmosphere that's going to be so tantalizing that any character would rejoice with me just looking at it."[88] In looking toward the future, he stated: "The happiest time of my life is invariably in the present. I'll just keep painting away . . . it's what I can do."[89] Two of Brandt's philosophical heroes were George Santayana and Wallace Stevens, both of whom championed the idea of finding happiness in each new day.[90]

Brandt's summer school continued to garner national attention, with students arriving every summer from around the United States. To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1971, Brandt engaged an especially prestigious guest artist-teacher, Mario Cooper, president of the American Watercolor Society. In 1973 Brandt entered a watercolor competition sponsored by the Franklin Mint Gallery of American Art. The competition was open only to prize winners of the annual exhibitions of the American Watercolor Society during the previous five years, and Brandt had received the AWS's Samuel F. B. Morse award twice -- in 1968 and again in 1970 for Coast of Oregon (fig. 27). Two hundred paintings were submitted to the Franklin Mint competition, with twelve receiving awards. For his entry, Harbor Sentinel (fig. 28), Brandt received a gold medal and a cash award of $5,000. [91] The following year he was elected a full academician of the National Academy of Design, one of only twenty-five painters in watercolor and the first from Orange County. [92]

Brandt had acquired a loyal group of followers -- students, artists, and collectors. Fellow artist (and twelve-year younger protégée) Robert E. Wood said of him: "Rex is the 'Maestro' of the watercolor medium. He translates his love of nature into artistic statements bold or delicate, colorful or somber, natural or personally abstracted . . . always with apparent ease and joie de vivre."[93] Collector E. Gene Crain began what would become the most significant collection of the California School by acquiring Brandt's painting Yacht Race in June 1964. The two men -- twenty years apart in age -- became fast friends, and Brandt served as a mentor for the young collector. In the ensuing years, the Crain collection was the source of multiple exhibitions of the artists whose roots lay with the California Water Color Society. When a joint exhibition for Brandt and his wife, Joan Irving, was held at the Edward-Dean Museum of Decorative Arts in Riverside in October 1974, all of the paintings -- twenty-four by Brandt and ten by Irving -- were loaned from the Crain collection.

Early in 1975, Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, assistant curator of American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, completed a major research project on the California Water Color Society with her publication on their exhibitions from 1921 to 1954.[94] This would mark the beginning of renewed interest in artists of the CWCS. In April 1976, California State University Fullerton opened the exhibition California White Paper Painters: 1930's-1970's. Curated by Dextra Frankel, associate professor of art and art gallery director, with the assistance of Jan Greenberg, graduate assistant, the exhibition chronicled the unique contributions of the California watercolor painters to the canon of American art, something Frankel stated had been overlooked in the mainstream art world. Frankel, who had attended Brandt's summer school, credited him with helping her to "more fully see and feel the warmth, beauty, and excitement of my own physical environment."[95] Artist George James credited Brandt with coining the term "White Paper Painters."[96] In a new book of his works on paper, Brandt stated:

I like white paper because it captures outdoor light so graciously. And, like a block of marble, it has unity. The marks I place on it with pen, pencil and brush relate its oneness to the scene around me, like arrows on a map. Each stroke is illuminated by the underlying whiteness and absorbed into it. [97]

He commented that he agreed with Willem de Kooning that oil painting was the perfect medium for flesh and added "watercolor is the perfect medium for light and air."[98] Brandt's five paintings in the White Paper Painters show included two early works -- his stellar regionalist composition from the 1930s, On the Road to San Jacinto; and the Los Angeles County Museum's 1945 Summer at 29th Street -- and three contemporary works -- the award-winning Morning: Rocky Point, 1967; View from the Terrace, a painting done from Blue Sky in 1968 (fig. 29); and Moonlight: Promontory Point, from 1974 (cat. 38). Henry Seldis, writing for the Los Angeles Times, remarked on the common ground of the oldest members of the group, "their easy virtuosity and their romanticizing of the scenic subjects." All, however, were "advanced practitioners of varied watercolor techniques . . . and all expanded their watercolor vocabularies starting with 1940." Seldis saw a constant in their work, the element of abstraction.[99]

Four years later, in November and December 1978, an exhibition of more than eighty paintings by multiple artists from the Crain collection was exhibited at the Fresno Arts Center. In his statement for the catalogue, Crain revealed the influence of Brandt on what he collected and in understanding the artists and their viewpoints, specifically a focus on the light and the land:

Conditions existing in several areas of the world produce a distinctive quality of sunlight. This quality is found . . . on the Mediterranean coast of Algeria . . . and, again, in Greece . . . . A unique kind of sunlight was found more than a generation ago by a group of artists in Southern California.[100]

Included were seventeen works by Brandt, dating from 1934 to 1976.

A seminal survey exhibition of California art, California: The State of the Landscape, 1872-1981, curated by Betty Turnbull, opened at the Newport Harbor Art Museum in March 1981, later traveling to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The American Scene era of the 1930s was represented by just two works -- Millard Sheets's Abandoned and Brandt's On the Road to San Jacinto. However, Turnbull also placed Brandt within the contemporary context, showing his ethereal Moonlight: Promontory Point, along with a work by Phil Dike, Big Sur Shapes, from 1976.[101] Two years later, in February 1983, Brandt was included as one of fourteen "celebrated American artists who have influenced generations of watercolorists" when American Artist magazine published "The Living Legends of American Watercolor."[102] In praising the medium that he loved best, Brandt said: "Transparent watercolor is the ultimate drawing medium. . . . Nothing -- but nothing -- can match it. Over the years, it has helped me to portray my interests, which have changed very little -- to make an expressionistic statement of relationships."[103]

On November 10, 1984, a joint retrospective exhibition for Brandt and Joan Irving titled Two from California opened at the Riverside Art Center and Museum. Brandt told Ray Miller, director of the center, that he looked upon the show "as emblematic of the way a comparatively small town can nurture art and artists and lead them to a pretty happy and rewarding life -- as has Redlands with Phil Dike and Pomona with Millard Sheets."[104] At the age of seventy, Brandt admitted that he and Joan were essentially retired -- by which he meant that instead of painting ten to twelve hours a day, he might go without painting for two months; then paint every day. Always the intellectual painter, he said that with watercolor you "do a great deal of thinking before you pick up your brush."[105] With just ten out of fifty-two works by Brandt in the exhibition dating prior to 1950, it was evident that he wanted to be defined not by his regionalist works of the 1930s and 40s, but by the paintings that revealed his interest in a more expressive interpretation. Even among the ten dating from before 1950, several reflected the progressive influence of his years at Berkeley. Again, the sun was a focal point: "You can't paint the sun, You can only symbolize it. It's the regenerative feeling of its presence that I seek to paint, not just the look of it." [106]

The publication of Jay T. Last's and Gordon McClelland's definitive book on the California school, The California Style: California Watercolor Artists 1925-1955, brought further attention to the contribution of the artists in the California Water Color Society and provided the impetus for the 1988 exhibition Regionalism: The California View, Watercolors, 1929­1945, curated by Susan Anderson for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Of course, the focus of the exhibition was the 1930s and 40s -- the latest work shown for Brandt was Storm on the Jetty, a loosely rendered watercolor seascape from 1944. The only work that reflected his Berkeley years was Afternoon at Kellers (cat. 1).

The fall 1991 publication of American Scene Painting: California, 1930s & 1940s expanded on Anderson's 1988 exhibition with more in-depth essays on the California group of artists and their contributions. Initially Brandt was not very enthusiastic about the book, in part because he was several years younger than most of the artists and also because he wished to be acknowledged for his more progressive works, especially those done from the late 1940s and beyond. However, he soon became vested in the project, more than willing to make contributions as needed, and pleased with the result.[107] He wrote an excellent introductory essay on the time period titled "The Metamorphosis of California Landscape Art." In recalling the change from the impressionism of the 1910s and 1920s to the regionalism of the 1930s, Brandt noted that the "day of alla prima (du premier coup) painting had arrived and with it, the emphasis on the spontaneous sketch." He saw the works of his contemporaries as having "a muscular, virile, and organic quality that transcends the often commonplace subject mater. At best, there is a presence celebrating the fact of being alive and vividly aware of the world."[108] "Californians," he said, "replaced the tradition of pre-planning with direct drawing and selective color. It became possible to paint rapidly with large, full-armed strokes. The result -- a kinetic expression. Textures, too, were more personalized. Like handwriting, the strokes revealed personality differences."[109] He was pleased when two works that reflected his Berkeley experience were reproduced -- Afternoon at Kellers and Afternoon at Three Arches (cat. 1 and cat. 8).

Two years later, in summer 1993, Susan Anderson, now curator of exhibitions at Laguna Art Museum, organized Modernism into Regionalism: Art in Laguna Beach, 1920-1950. In this exhibition she included Afternoon at Three Arches and Main Beach, Laguna, Summer 1936, No. 5, both of which are examples of the Berkeley influence. Two exhibitions that focused on the Berkeley School -- one in the fall of 1993 and one in the spring of 1994 -- were organized in northern California, and Brandt was pleased to be included in both.[110] In November the National Watercolor Society (the name officially changed from the California Water Color Society in 1975) honored Brandt with its first Lifetime Achievement Award.

After the death of his wife, Joan Irving, in November 1995, Brandt began to decline. Though initially willing to be interviewed by Paul Karlstrom for the Archives of American Art, he eventually cancelled the interviews, telling Gene Crain that the process would be too exhausting. He would make his last painting, Into the Outside, in 1996, signing it on his eighty-second birthday (cat. 52). In February 1999, he found out that his oil painting Surfriders was to be included in the expansive exhibition Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, which would open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in October 2000 (cat. 17). He was no doubt pleased to be included in the major exhibition with one of his best mature works, but perhaps disappointed that he would not be represented by a work in watercolor.

Rex Brandt died on March 21, 2000, at his home in Corona del Mar. On May 11, he was posthumously presented with The Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award (Artist Category) by Arts Orange County. Gene Crain accepted the award on behalf of his longtime friend and mentor. In November the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum opened Wind, Water, & Light: The Legacy of Rex Brandt, a retrospective exhibition of over fifty paintings of Newport Harbor in oil and watercolor.

I am an artist.
I sell shapes and colors.
I deliver most of my shapes and colors on paper -- floating pigments into place with water -- because transparent watercolor glows like stained glass and reproduces like a dream.
When the water evaporates and the gum binder takes old, each trailing wisp and nuance is bound to the white surface. This is watercolor -- on of the oldest mediums known to man. [111]

Brandt was a prolific writer about painting, both generally -- for purposes of teaching -- and specifically -- concerning his own work. His sketchbooks -- which are essentially journals of his career from the 1930s to the 1990s -- are filled with quotations about art history and philosophy, his own and others (fig. 30). He repeatedly mentions his admiration of Cézanne and the great Chinese landscape painters. He published many short monographs of his works, and the best personal retrospective of his experience as a painter is About Landscape Painting, published in 1988.

Brandt admitted that early in his career he had been torn between the conservatism that was prevalent at his hometown alma mater, Riverside Junior College, and the more forward thinking modernist approach that he learned at Berkeley. Berkeley was a whole new world to him, more cosmopolitan than Riverside, which Brandt said was the "most conservative town in Southern California."[112] Essentially, especially during the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, he would move back and forth between the two approaches -- one representational, more descriptive; the other, expressive, more stylized.

These differences in approach are also a result of his coming of age in the era of the 1930s, at which time representation rather than abstraction was the favored technique for most American artists, critics, and collectors. It was a period of isolation and a championing of American values free of foreign influence. A truly American art form, not rooted in modernism, was encouraged, giving rise to regionalism and the American scene. [113] That trend continued beyond World War II even as abstract art gained greater favor in more sophisticated circles. However, the apparent dichotomy in Brandt's work may also reflect the practicalities of his career as a teacher and author, especially in the technique of watercolor painting (fig. 31). One can see differences in approach between paintings that were likely done on location, quickly rendered -- perhaps among eager students -- and those done in his studio, which are more complex compositions (figs. 32 and 33). Many of the location works that were done during his workshops were purchased by students and, as a result, are likely found in private collections throughout the United States. For many years Brandt supplemented his income as an illustrator, and his work in this vein is necessarily representational, a more literal description of the subject matter (figs. 34 and 35).

The majority of Brandt's oeuvre consists of paintings of the Pacific coast, from San Diego to Puget Sound, although he did paint in other parts of the Southwest and elsewhere in the United States and Europe. He felt that it was important to have a narrow focus, and for him that was the West Coast, where he had "bicycled, boated, hiked, driven and flown -- and, above all, sketched . . . all my life."[114]

The focus of this study is on Brandt's mature, semiabstract style. He once said: "For me, the process of perceiving, de-materializing, then reconstituting the outdoor experience has grown to be a saving grace, a focus for the expression of the inner self."[115] The origins of this aesthetic philosophy lay with the Northern Song dynasty artist Guo Xi (Kuo Hsi), whom Brandt cited in a letter to Gene Crain as the creator of one of only two true masterpieces that he had seen in his eighty-four years.[116] Guo Xi followed Taoist principles of painting: Tzu-jan, that which is so of itself, and Wu-wei, without effort. Thus, for Brandt the act of painting is an effortless expression of the artist's experience of the scene, evolving from the inside out and from the outside in. He further noted that Guo Xi said that the "spectator has an obligation . . . to enter into the spirit of the scene, not just admire the work as a thing."[117] Brandt also quoted Kenneth Clark who said that landscape could be used "as a focus for our own emotions."[118] He saw this in the other masterpiece cited in his letter to Crain, El Greco's View of Toledo (fig. 36). Brandt cited Sunset Beach, which was the basis for the oil painting Summer Beach (cat. 15), as being an example of an emotionally expressive work, painted on location with "tense kinesthetic brush strokes" conveying what he deemed the "excitement of discovery." [119]

In 1968, when Gene Crain purchased Brandt's On the Road to San Jacinto, the artist expressed reluctance to sell the painting, telling Crain that the work did not represent who he was as a painter.[120] Likely, he was assuaged when Crain purchased four additional works at the same time, three of which dated from 1968, thus representing his more contemporary approach. They were Strong Light, Magic Night, and Memory of Taxco (cat. 28, 27, and 25). Strong Light and Magic Night are examples of the implementation of the philosophy of Guo Xi. They are companion works, depictions of Newport Harbor with Balboa Pavilion in the distance, one during the day, one at night. Both are complex compositions with an emphasis on semiabstracted forms. The artist has supplemented and enhanced the watercolor medium by distressing the paper -- folding and unfolding it -- creating creases where the fluid medium pools, dividing the composition into rectangular shapes. For contrast, he added white tissue collage and an impasto of white gouache scattered throughout the composition. This is a clear example of painting the sensation of the scene, not just the visual image. The artist said that in Strong Light, "warmth and an incandescent brilliance was the objective."[121] A similar treatment can be seen in Corral by the Sea (cat. 37), a view of the stables along the coast in Corona del Mar. Both have compositions employing a high horizon line with a brilliant sky; the foreground is described in a complex interplay of lines and patterns. The palettes are also similar, with an emphasis on yellows, umbers, blue-gray, and black.

Magic Night, in contrast, is rendered in a cool palette of blues and grays. Brandt wrote in one of his sketchbooks: What about the mysterious darks? . . . does light imply only the obvious?"[122] The same palette is seen in The Balboa Ferry, painted ten years later (cat. 45).

One of his most dramatic night paintings is Moonlight: Promontory Point (cat. 38). Brandt was not very keen -- to say the least -- on the development of the large apartment complex at the foot of Jamboree Boulevard just above Bayside Drive. Built in 1972, it was located on a bluff with arguably one of the best views along the California coast. Brandt -- the artist -- looked at the structure in the moonlight and saw the wonderful possibilities of dark-light contrasts and abstract forms. The painting likely didn't make him feel any better about the loss of the bluff -- he deemed the work a "lament to overbuilding" -- but it pleased him as a successful sensory interpretation, and it became one of his most exhibited paintings.[123]

Newport Harbor was by far his favorite subject matter. An avid sailor, he was passionate about portraying the many moods of the harbor and the bustling activities that took place there. He would paint sailboats navigating the harbor, lying at ease at the docks, or preparing for the start of the annual race to Ensenada. Sometimes he just painted one or two boats dancing in the waves as in Racing Sails, a wonderful, quickly rendered wet-into-wet painting from 1948, and Easy Motion, a stylized interpretation painted in 1970 (cat. 12 and 32). The harbor provided the best subjects for using the white of the paper as part of the design. In the 1980s, the percentage of white paper that he incorporated as part of his composition increased. Although his best known white paper painting is Sunlight­San Miguel Allende, painted in 1969, there were many works in the 1960s and 1970s in which white paper played a lesser role, as in Coast of Oregon (fig. 28). In his 1964 mixed media painting of sailboats near Balboa Pavilion -- Gold and Brass -- the whites are delineated with opaque pigment (cat. 23). In Brilliant Bay at Balboa, from 1985, and Sunlight and White Paper, from 1987, there is more white paper than pigment (cat. 48 and fig. 37).

In 1992, on Shaw Island, Brandt painted Harney Channel from Broken Point (cat. 51). The work can be seen as a summation of his career. The composition is reminiscent of Afternoon at Kellers -- a view of an open area of water surrounded by land on both sides. It is filled with implied sunlight. The pigment is applied in a calligraphic, gestural manner-the style he learned in his years at Berkeley. Finally, like so many of his mature works in watercolor, white paper is a dominant design element.

The sparkle of white paper against the foil of transparent, colorful darks is the charm of watercolor, but its excitement is a product of the unique potential for gradation. No other medium so easily accommodates interchanges of color, arpeggios of value, and fluid oscillations of both color and value. [124]

Finally, for Brandt, the sun was his inspiration and his challenge. He found it the most rewarding of experiences in his many decades career. He differentiated between sunlight -- the light of the sun -- and sunshine -- the shining of the sun that you feel. His paintings are reflections of his sensory experience. The oil Surfriders, painted in a rich palette of golden yellow, reddish purple, and deep blue with a white-hot sun, conveys the intensity of a blistering day at the beach (cat. 17). Cooler light prevails in works such as Light on the Sea and Wind After Rain (cat. 43 and 29). Finally, the warm, sunlight on a perfect day in Newport Bay is seen in Afternoon Sun and Sunshine Today (cat. 49 and fig. 38).

It's a good feeling, painting at my easel outdoors. Dry grasses rustle. Smells drift like wisps of smoke. The earth pushes against by shoes. The sun burns the tops of my ears. As I work, more and more unfolds -- shapes, colors, textures -- a splendid treasure so overwhelming that I disappear as an entity and time stands still. What a happening! [125]


1 Rex Brandt, In Praise of Sunshine (Costa Mesa, CA: 1991), not paginated.

2 Rex Brandt, "Balboa Bay Byzantine," transcript of lecture, February 19, 1982 (Corona del Mar, CA: privately printed, 1982).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Records from http://www.ancestry.com.

7 Arthur Millier, "Rex Brandt," American Artist 17 (February 1933): 40. Richard Allman received an MA from Berkeley in the 1920s. He left Riverside in 1935 and returned to San Francisco where he chaired the art department at San Francisco City College until his death in 1948.

8 "The Empathetic World of Rex Brandt," NWS '94, 74th Annual Exhibition catalogue, National Watercolor Society (Fullerton, CA: Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1994), 6. Brandt received the society's Life Achievement Award.

9 Millier, "Rex Brandt," 40.

10 Robert Nisbet, Teachers and Scholars: A Memoir of Berkeley in Depression and Ward (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 117. Brandt often repeated a story about a professor who when seeing his painting Afternoon at Kellers (cat. 1) remarked: "Brandt, you know too much for your own good." Brandt used a German accent when quoting the professor. It is likely, therefore, that the professor was the German-born Neuhaus who immigrated to San Francisco in 1904 in his mid twenties.

11 "The Empathetic World," 6. Another teacher at Berkeley was Worth Ryder, who, like John Haley, had also studied with Hofmann in Munich.

12 Joachim Smith, "Excerpts from Rex Brandt: The Early Years," in Rex Brandt, Into the Outside: Rex Brandt's Landscapes (Corona del Mar, CA: Rex Brandt, 1994), 7.

13 Ibid.

14 Brandt, In Praise of Sunshine.

15 Glenn Wessels, "The Art World," The Argonaut, October 17, 1935. Clipping in Brandt scrapbook, copy in the E. Gene Crain Collection, archive. The painting was later exhibited at the Fifteenth International Exhibition of Water Colors, Pastels, Drawings and Monotypes at the Art Institute of Chicago in spring 1936 and selected by director Robert Harshe to be one of thirty watercolors in the American painting exhibition at the Texas Centennial Exhibition. "The Empathetic World," 6.

16 San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 1937, quoted in James W. McManus, exhibition brochure, Thinking Modern: The Berkeley School, 1930­1950 (Chico, CA: University Art Gallery, Chico State University, 1994), n.p.

17 "The Empathetic World," 6.

18 Brandt told Susan Anderson that he changed to a "strictly representational" manner due to peer pressure. Susan M. Anderson. "Dream and Perspective: American Scene Painting in Southern California," in American Scene Painting: California, 1930s & 1940s (Irvine, CA: Westphal Publishing, 1991), 27. In a telephone conversation with the author on April 15, 2014, Brandt's daughter, Joan Scarboro, said that her father told her he was physically ill from the stress.

19 Lawson P. Cooper, "Commendation from Art Critic," clipping in Brandt scrapbook, marked as Nov. 1936, Crain archive.

20 Aqueduct 2000 Vol. 61, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (November/December 1995): 10.

21 "Metropolitan Aqueduct," Fortune 15, no. 4 (April 1937): 89.

22 Ibid.

23 Rex Brandt, "From the Brandt Family Collection: Ten Graphics: 1936-1938, The $220,000,000 Metropolitan Aqueduct," unpublished folio. Crain collection archive. Brandt listed and illustrated ten works -- seven watercolors, two etchings, and one lithograph -- that related to the aqueduct, describing them as "on-the-site sketches." Brandt was apparently given "carte blanche" to continue working after the article was published. David Keller, "Treasured Finds," Archival Outlook (September/October 2013), 34.

24 Rex Brandt, "The Summer Painting Classes," brochure, privately printed, n.d., c. 1986, 2.

25 Glenn Wessels, The Argonaut, August 13, 1937, in Brandt scrapbook, Crain collection archive.

26 Millier, "Rex Brandt," 40.

27 Arthur Millier, "The Art Thrill of the Week," Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1939, iii, 8.

28 New York Times, March 10, 1940; Art Digest (March 15, 1940): 7, 26.

29 "California Painters: Their Land Lends Grandeur to Their Work," Life (October 1941): 72­76. Artist profiled in the article were Rex Brandt, Tom Craig, Phil Dike, Dong Kingman, Emil J. Kosa, Jr., Dan Lutz, Barse Miller, and James Patrick.

30 Francis Colburn, "Educational Value Seen in Exhibition by Miller, Brandt, Sample at Museum," The Burlington Free Press, July 26, 1940.

31 Arthur Millier, "Art Parade Reviewed," Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1941, C7.

32 Rex Brandt, "Four Decades of Alfresco Painting," (Corona del Mar, CA: Privately published, 1985): 3.

33 Unidentified clipping in Brandt scrapbook, noted as 1942, Crain collection archives.

34 Arthur Millier, "Water Color Society Announces Winners," Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1941, C9. See also Millier, "Rex Brandt," 38. The Twenty-first Annual Exhibition opened at the Los Angeles Museum in February 1942.

35 Noted in catalogue of the April 1943 one-man exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum. Crain collection archive.

36 "Fine Arts Society of San Diego purchases Brandt painting," Undated, unidentified clipping in scrapbook, c. 1942. Crain collection archives. Also see http://www.sdmart.org/collections/americas/item/1942.101.

37 Edwin Alden Jewell, "Higgins Painting Takes $150 Prize," New York Times, March 23, 1943, 16.

38 Los Angeles Herald and Express, April 10, 1943.

39 Arthur Millier, "Rex Brandt Has Excellent Show," Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1943, C5.

40 San Francisco Chronicle, July 11, 1943. Copy in Brandt scrapbook, Crain collection archive.

41 "Artists Find Coastline Has Wealth of Subjects," Long Beach Press-Telegram, July 3, 1947.

42 Anne LaRiviere, "Artist Happy Finding His Own Way to Success," Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1971, H1. By 1971, the home had been expanded onto two additional lots and included two studios and an office, all surrounding a patio.

43 Millier, "Rex Brandt," 63.

44 Brandt, "The Summer Painting Classes," 5. The school continued every summer through 1955 at which point Phil Dike retired because of obligations at Scripps College. The school continued as the Rex Brandt Summer School of Painting from 1956 to 1972; then as the Brandt Painting Workshop from 1973 to 1985. Citing "increasing urbanization, especially at Corona del Mar," which made the "alfresco" classes difficult, Brandt closed the school. Brandt, "The Summer Painting Classes," 7.

45 Brandt, "Four Decades," 3.

46 Reprinted several more times, the original book was further expanded to become Brandt's signature book Watercolor Landscape published in 1963 by Reinhold Publishing Corporation in New York.

47 Rex Brandt, Watercolor Technique in Fifteen Lessons, rev. ed. (Corona Del Mar: The Brandt-Dike Summer School: 1950), 3.

48 Rex Brandt, Watercolor Landscape (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1963), 45.

49 Santa Barbara News-Press, March 20, 1949, clipping in Brandt scrapbook, Crain collection archives.

50 Rex Brandt, interview with the author, July 1982, transcript, p. 1. I conducted an extensive interview with Brandt concerning the controversy over his painting First Lift of the Sea, which was exhibited Seventh Annual Exhibition of Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity at the Greek Theatre, October 12-28, 1951.

51 Kenneth Ross, Foreword to 1951 Seventh Annual Exhibition by the Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity, Greek Theatre, October 12 through October 28, exhibition brochure. Brandt recalled that even though he was living in Orange County, Ross personally asked him to enter the exhibition. Brandt, interview, transcript, p. 4.

52 The title of the painting is First Lift of the Sea. However, it was exhibited at that time under the title First Surge of the Sea. Brandt had not recalled this fact when interviewed.

53 "A Matter of Taste," Fortnight, The Magazine of California (12 November 1951), clipping in Crain collection archive.

54 Alma May Cook, "Bizarre Art Exhibited by L.A. Painters," Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express, October 10, 1951.

55 Arthur Millier, "All-City Art Display Is Modern in Tone," Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1951.

56 "Reactions of Viewers at Art Show," copy of letters to the editor, probably Los Angeles Times, October 1951, Crain collection archive.

57 "Art Fracas Splashed with Low Opinions," Los Angeles Times, October 26, 1951, A1.

58 "Art Exhibit Under Probe," Los Angeles Examiner, October 24, 1951, 3, 1.

59 "Red Influence Charge Spurs Council Study of Art Exhibit," Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1951, A1.

60 "Red Sails . . Red Hearing . . Red Face," Newport Beach Ensign, October 25, 1951.

61 Brandt, interview with the author. Brandt also stated that he thought Duncan Gleason, also a sailor, had immediately pointed out that the symbol was a boat insignia.

62 "Red Sails," Newport Beach Ensign.

63 Jack Massard, "Apologies, Hisses Mark Art Hearing," Los Angeles Examiner, October 25, 1951, A1.

64 Copy of report from the Building and Safety Committee, File No. 50460, dated November 5, 1951. Crain collection archive.

65 Brandt, interview with the author. See also H. L. Dungan, "Oakland Art Annual to Open Today," Oakland Tribune, September 27, 1942.

66 Millier, "Rex Brandt," 38.

67 "Laguna Pageant to Be Extended to Four Weeks," Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1954, 16. The planning would lead to the founding of the Laguna Beach School of Art in 1961 (today the Laguna College of Art + Design.

68 "Painter to Show Film in Color," Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1954, E6.

69 Kent, Seascapes & Landscapes, 125.

70 Norman Kent, N.A., ed., Seascapes & Landscapes in Watercolor (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, Inc., 1956), 122-126. Kent noted that Brandt was selected as the last artist in the book because "every good book needs a strong finish . . . " p. 123.

71 Noted by the artist on the stretcher bar of the painting. The E. Gene Crain Collection. The artist wrote that the watercolor Sunset Beach was in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. However, the work was deaccessioned in 1959 with a notation that it had been returned to the "James D. Phelan awards, which likely meant to the San Francisco Art Association. Its whereabouts today is unknown.

72 Arthur Millier, "North of us, and south: Two great neighbors, as visualized by a Southern California artist," Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1957, 72.

73 Henry Seldis, "In the Galleries: Freshness, Freedom," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1960, I17.

74 Joan Scarboro, email message to author, April 26, 2014. Joan also said her father liked Shaw Island because there were no rattlesnakes or poison oak.

75 Rex Brandt, About the San Juan Islands (Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA: Rex Brandt, 1986), n.p.

76 Sue Hitchman, "Boats Sunand Paint: The Brandts Salute 20 Years of It," Orange County Illustrated 4, no. 9 (June 1966): 27.

77 "Fine Arts Patrons Group Organized," Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1961, OC9. The thirteen members were Dorothy Ahmanson, Joan Brandt, Judy Burndall, Thelma Chastain, Em Crary, Dorothe Curtis, Kay Farwell, Ailene Hays, Gloria Irvine, Jane Lawson, Betty Mickle, Flo Stoddard, and Betty Winckler, the group's first president. Nora Lehman, "Here's to the Ladies Who Founded an Institution," Newport Beach Independent, June 21, 2012.

78 William Wilson, "Newport Names Museum Director," Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1968, C47.

79 Henry J. Seldis and William Wilson, "A Critical Guide to the Galleries: La Cienega," Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1968, H10.

80 Brandt would conduct eleven workshops for the Hewitt Painting Workshops between 1967 and 1986, with multiple trips to Mexico, a trip to Italy, a trip to England, and several other trips in the U.S. See Thurman Hewitt, Painting Around the World: The Story of How Painting Workshops Began (San Diego: Hewitt Painting Workshops, 1993).

81 Frederic Whitaker, "Watercolor in California," American Artist, Vol. 32, No. 5 (May 1968): 36. Memory of Taxco was one of only three paintings out of twenty-four reproduced in color.

82 Gregory Firlotte, "Painting with Spirit: Celebration of the California School of Watercolor," Designers West, Vol. 32, No. 7 (May 1985): 117.

83 "Creating Light, Space, and Atmosphere," Art Masters (An American Artist Publication), June 1995, 50.

84 Rex Brandt, Rex Brandt's San Diego: Land of the Sundown Sea (Palm Desert, CA: Best-West Publications, 1969), n.p.

85 Ibid.

86 Mary Lou Hopkins, "Will Be a Good Ol' Day in Balboa: Sentimental Journey to Balboa Set," Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1970, G1. Two years later, in 1972, the Newport Harbor Art Museum opened its new museum on San Clemente Drive.

87 Anne LaRiviere, "Artist Happy Finding . . ."

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 Brandt, Sketchbook 20-64.

91 "Artist Wins $5,000 for Watercolor," Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1974, OC, B10.

92 "Watercolorist Named," Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1974, OC, B2. It was noted in the Laguna Hills News-Post that Brandt was filling the chair vacated by the late Barse Miller. Laguna Hills News-Post, March 20, 1974.

93 Quoted in "Rex Brandt," Challis Galleries, Laguna Beach, CA, July 9-31, 1977, exhibition/sale brochure.

94 Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, The California Water Color Society Prize Winners, 1931-1954; Index to Exhibitions, 1921-1954 (Glendale, CA: Dustin Publications, 1975).

95 Dextra Frankel, preface to California White Paper Painters: 1930's-1970's (Fullerton, CA: The Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton, 1976).

96 George James, introduction to California White Paper Painters: 1930's-1970's (Fullerton, CA: The Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton, 1976).

97 Rex Brandt, West Coast Portfolio: Sixteen Watercolors and Four Drawings in Wash and Line (Corona del Mar, CA: Rex Brandt: 1977).

98 California White Paper Painters, 6.

99 Henry J. Seldis, "Watercolors at Cal State Fullerton," Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1976, OC-A1.

100 E. Gene Crain, introduction to Southern California School of Watercolor: 1928-1978 (Fresno, CA: Fresno Arts Center: 1978), 5.

101 Dike's painting was exhibited in error under the title Big Sur. The exhibition traveled to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, July 25 to October 26, 1981.

102 Diane Casella Hines, "The Living Legends of Watercolor," American Artist Vol. 47, Issue 487 (February 1983): 68-76. The fourteen artists were Andrew Wyeth, Donald Teague, Edmond J. Fitzgerald, John C. Pellew, Joseph Henninger, Mario Cooper, Dong Kingman, Edward Betts, Chen Chi, Phil Dike, Rex Brandt, Ogden M. Pleissner, Millard Sheets, and Edgar A. Whitney, presented in that order.

103 Hines, "Living Legends," 74.

104 Rex Brandt to Ray Miller, 9 March 1982. Crain collection archives. Brandt also stated that he felt that the show would be more popular if works in watercolor were emphasized. The exhibition was announced in the Los Angeles Times; however, it was only reviewed in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "'Two from California' art show features former Riverside pair," Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1984, U10. Hazel Simon, "Sculptor and watercolorists produce Riverside art Events," The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, November 18, 1984, C2.

105 Laurie Lucas, "Art Center to exhibit a couple's paintings," The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, November 9, 1984, C1.

106 Janice Lovoos, "The Empathetic World of Rex Brandt," in Two from California (Riverside, CA: Riverside Art Center and Museum, 1984), not paginated.

107 Rex Brandt to Gene Crain, 6 August 1991. Crain showed Brandt a proof copy of the book. Rex and Joan Brandt to Ruth Westphal, 3 October 1991. Crain collection archives.

108 Rex Brandt, "The Metamorphosis of California Landscape Art," in Janet Blake Dominik and Ruth Lilly Westphal, eds., American Scene Painting: California, 1930s & 1940s (Irvine, CA: Westphal Publishing, 1991), 11.

110 The exhibitions were: The Berkeley Art Scene: Years of Change, 1930s and 1940s at the Berkeley Art Center and Thinking Modern: The Berkeley School, 1930-1950 at Chico State University.

111 Rex Brandt, The Winning Ways of Watercolor: Techniques and Methods (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1973), 9.

112 Brandt, interview, transcript, p. 9.

113 Dorothy Grafly, in reviewing the 1939 Thirty-seventh Annual Exhibition of Water Colors of the Philadelphia Water Color Club, noted: "Abstractions are few, the trend away from this form of imaginative composition probably following the general veering of world thought." Dorothy Grafly, "Water Colors in Philadelphia," Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1939. Clipping in Brandt scrapbook, Crain collection archives.

114 Rex Brandt, About Landscape (Corona del Mar, CA: Rex Brandt, 1988), 3.

115 Learning from Today's Art Masters (June 1995): 62.

116 Rex Brandt to Gene Crain, 28 February 1999. Crain collection archives.

117 Brandt, About Landscape, 3.

118 Ibid. Brandt was quoting from Clark's Landscape into Art (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1956), 150.

119 Brandt, About Landscape, 19.

120 E. Gene Crain, interview with the author at Laguna Art Museum, April 4, 2014.

121 Brandt, In Praise of Sunshine, n.p.

122 Sketchbook 74-1, p. 120. Laguna College of Art + Design, Rex and Joan Irving Brandt Papers, Box 29.

123 Brandt, About Landscape, 3.

124 Brandt, The Winning Ways of Watercolor, 151.

125 Learning from Today's Art Masters (June 1995): 86.


About the author

Janet Blake is Curator of Historical Art at the Laguna Art Museum.


About the exhibition Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine

Laguna Art Museum presents from June 29 through September 21, 2014 Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine, a retrospective exhibition of the paintings of California landscape artist Rex Brandt (1914-2000), curated by Curator of Historical Art Janet Blake.

Rex Brandt gained national renown for his watercolor paintings during the period from the mid 1930s to the 1990s. As a dedicated teacher of the watercolor medium, he conducted painting workshops both at his home in Corona del Mar, his summer home in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, and at several international locations. Brandt published more than ten books on watercolor painting, including The Winning Ways of Watercolor. Although he painted with other media (including oil, to which he developed an allergy), he preferred watercolor, which he considered to be the most expressive and the perfect vehicle to paint "light and air."

The exhibition consists of approximately fifty paintings, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue. The title of the exhibition is his own, from a 1991 privately-published pamphlet he wrote that was illustrated with nine paintings. In it he acknowledged sunshine as the essential theme of his long career. He wrote: "Whether we are conscious of it or not, everything in the perceived world is in motion. Sunshine is the mediator, a pervasive quality in which things are lost and found, emerge and recede...."

Rexford Elson Brandt was born in San Diego in 1914. He grew up in Riverside and attended Riverside Junior College and the University of California, Berkeley, receiving his degree in 1936. The art department at Berkeley was decidedly modernist, in part a legacy of the German abstract artist and teacher Hans Hofmann, who taught there in the summers of 1930 and 1931. Brandt's teachers at Berkeley included John Haley and Margaret Peterson, both of whom had studied with Hofmann. Brandt also studied Byzantine and Chinese art, both of which influenced his painting style and his teaching..

After returning to Southern California, Brandt joined the California Water Color Society and became an active participant with artists of the American scene including Millard Sheets and Phil Dike. He was a champion of the so-called California school and organized one of the first group exhibitions of their work, in 1937. In the post-War era, Brandt eschewed literal representation except in his teaching and instead focused on complex, semi-abstract studio works in which he explored the effects of sunlight.


Resource Library editor's note:

To view images of paintings in the exhibition please click here.

To view the checklist for the exhibition please click here.

Resource Library readers may also enjoy:

California Art History,
Scene Painting and Regionalism,
Representational Art (other): 18-19th Century, 19-20th Century, 20-21st Century

For further biographical information on artists mentioned in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on July 9, 2014 with permission of the Laguna Art Museum, which was granted to TFAO on June 26, 2014.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Marni Farmer, Director of Communications, Laguna Art Museum for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Laguna Art Museum in Resource Library.

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