Orange County Museum of Art

Newport Beach, CA



Circles of Influence: Impressionism to Modernism in Southern California Art 1910-1930


The establishment of an art community in Southern California coincided with the building and expansion of Los Angeles itself. From the 1890s until the stock market crashed in 1929, the region experienced a period of dramatic economic, social, and cultural growth propelled by real estate development, oil, tourism, and the film industry. During these decades, the new Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art opened, major art schools were established, and Southern California painters formed numerous groups for the purpose of promoting their work. Those artists who forged the transition from conservative to avant-garde aesthetics were concerned with the brilliant effects of color and the drama of expressive brushwork. In fact, the paintings they produced, many of which followed the figurative tradition, defied the region's aesthetic preference for beautiful landscapes. Trained in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and abroad, these painters brought a cosmopolitan sensibility and appreciation for new ideas with them when they moved West and they maintained a consistent dialogue between the West and East coasts. (left above: Henrietta Shore, Women of Oaxaca, 1927-28, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, The Buck Collection, Laguna Hills, California)

Left to right: Robert Henri, Tam Gan, 1914, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, Collection of Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Sarah A.Gates Fund, 1915; Robert Henri, The Beach Hat, 1914, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, Collection of The Detroit Institute of Arts, City of Detroit Purchase; Edmund Tarbell, Josephine Knitting, 1916, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 20 1.4 inches, Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Bequest of George M. Oyster, Jr.; Donna Schuster, Woman Sewing, 1909, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches, Collection of John and Brenda Watkins

"Circles of Influence" thematically explores Southern California's early twentieth-century artistic development--from the expanding influences of East Coast artists, to the building of local art organizations striving for independent expression, and finally the early stirrings of avant-garde Modernism. Presenting over seventy paintings, drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition will focus attention on the progressive artists of Los Angeles and their response to national and international art movements.

Continuing through September 3, 2000, this major exhibition includes work by renowned and Lesser-known California painters including Mabel Alvarez, Guy Rose, Donna Norine Schuster, Clarence Kaiser Hinkle, Henrietta Shore, and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, as well as paintings by the era's most prominent East Coast artist/teachers such as William Merritt Chase, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Robert Henri.

Left to right: Mabel Alvarez, Portrait of Mrs. McGee Bernhart, c. 1918, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of Mrs. Joseph Moure, Pasadena, California; William Merritt Chase, Self-Portrait, c. 1914, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, Collection of The Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of the artist; Guy Rose, Marguerite, c. 1918, oil on canvas, 15 x 17 inches, Collection of The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana, California, Martha C. Stevens Memorial Art Collection; Herbert Chester Cressey, Contentment, c. 1918, oil on canvas, 36 x 40 inches, Courtesy of Michael Johnson Fine Arts, Fallbrook, California

In the 1910s a number of East Coast painters had a decisive influence on California art whether through professional sojourns in the Sunshine State, major exhibitions of their paintings, or by teaching a new generation of California artists. While Robert Henri spent the summer of 1914 painting in La Jolla, William Merritt Chase taught a summer art class in Carmel. With international expositions held in both San Francisco and San Diego, in 1915 and 1916, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, spectacular exhibitions of the foremost American and international painters were seen by California artists, critics, and the public.

Following in the footsteps of such infamous, artist-organized, jury-free exhibitions as "The Eight" and the "Armory Show," progressive California painters sought additional exhibition opportunities beyond the established, juried shows of the California Art Club . The Los Angeles Modern Art Society was founded in 1916 by local artists seeking to foster new forms of artistic expression. Although this short-lived society mounted only two exhibitions, new art organizations such as the California Progressive Group and the Group of Eight were soon formed by independent-minded artists. By exploring their individuality, through boldly expressive paintings and participation in independent exhibitions, these artists indicated their engagement with art issues of larger national concern.

When Stanton Macdonald-Wright returned to California from Paris via New York in 1919, he brought with him knowledge of the most vanguard Modernist styles. Earlier in his career, Macdonald-Wright, in collaboration with Morgan Russell, created Synchromism, a modern art movement indebted to the spatial structure of Cubism and Futurism, and the color of Fauvism. While Macdonald-Wright quickly became an influential teacher at the Los Angeles Art Students League, his significance for the art community was far greater because of his organizational efforts on behalf of modern art. After spearheading Los Angeles's first exhibition of American Modernists in 1920, he established the Group of Independent Artists in 1923 and the Modern Art Workers in 1925. One important participant in the Modern Art Workers exhibition was Swiss emigré artist Conrad Buff. A true independent and an iconoclast, Buff painted boldly geometric, simplified compositions such as his Decorative Figure, 1923. With this small group of artists who promoted Modernism, a beachhead was established in the region preparing the way for true acceptance of the radically avant-garde in the post-World War II era. (upper left: Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Untitled (Vase of Flowers), c. 1924-25, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, Collection of Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California, LAM/OCMA Art Collection Trust, Museum purchase with funds provided through prior gift of Lois Outerbridge; right: Conrad Buff, Decorative Figure, 1923, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 32 1/4 inches, The Buck Collection, Laguna Hills, California)

Organized by OCMA assistant curator Sarah Vure, "Circles of Influence: Impressionism to Modernism in Southern California Art" and its accompanying catalogue contributes to the growing body of scholarship on California art. The full color book includes contributions by Vure; Kevin Starr, state librarian of California; and Nancy Moure, prominent scholar on California art.

The exhibition was organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and is made possible by the generous support of Fluor Foundation; Mrs. Richard Steele; Visionaries; Pam and James Muzzy; Max and Patricia Ellis; Jeanne and Dave Tappan; Bente and Gerald Buck, The Buck Collection; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP; Historical Collections Council; Michael Johnson Fine Arts; Bill and Pat Podlich; Tutto Mare Ristorante; Valaree and Robert Wahler; Donald and Nancy Zinsmeyer Wynne; the Friends of the Exhibition; and Delta Air Lines.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11

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