Florence Griswold Museum

Old Lyme, CT




The California Impressionists at Laguna

June 3 - September 24, 2000


The Florence Griswold Museum, a museum of American art, announces "The California Impressionists at Laguna," the first East Coast exhibition devoted to California Impressionism and the Laguna Art Colony. Rugged seascapes, bright fields of poppies and majestic California vistas by Guy Rose, William Wendt, Joseph Kleitsch, and Granville Redmond are among the artwork to be exhibited. Drawn from premier private and public collections, the exhibition illustrates how a group of artists forged a unique style of American Impressionism that responded to the light, color, and atmosphere of the West Coast. The Florence Griswold Museum is the only site to present this impressive collection. (left: William Wendt (1865-1946), South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 1918, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Stiles II)

Organized by Florence Griswold Museum curator Jack Becker, the exhibition consists of twenty-six paintings by over a dozen California artists and selected works by members of the Lyme Art Colony, providing opportunity to compare and contrast the styles and subjects of the Lyme and Laguna Impressionists. The exhibition examines how the colonies contributed to the very identity of their regions; in the case of Laguna as a new Eden of perpetual sunshine, and for Lyme as a place rooted in traditional New England values.

In the early 1900s, at the same time that artists in the East found the idyllic scenes they sought in the gentle countryside along the Connecticut shoreline in Old Lyme, another group discovered the beauty of southern California. Over the course of the next three decades these artists developed two of the nation's most important centers of American Impressionism. The first artists to discover Laguna encouraged fellow painters to join them, in the same way that news of Old Lyme spread among art circles in New York. Unlike the artists of the Lyme Art Colony, who gravitated to a central location, Miss Florence's boarding house, for the summer, the Laguna artists rented rooms or cottages and even set up tent cities along the beach. Over time artists in both colonies established homes and studios and many began teaching classes, popularizing the areas and bringing both amateurs and professionals to the regions. (left: Clarence Hinkle (1880-1960), Overlooking Laguna, c. 1925-30, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Stiles II)

Artists on the West Coast, like their counterparts in the East, were introduced to Impressionism through their educational experiences. Many American artists studied in France where they absorbed first hand the use of high-key color and broken brushwork employed by the leaders of French Impressionism. With these lessons in hand, the artists set out to forge a distinctly American style of art that responded to the light, color, and subjects of the specific places where they chose to work. Adapting the Impressionist aesthetic to the diverse American landscape, artists of Laguna Beach set out to capture the "sense of place" ­ its brightly colored sunlight, poppy fields, and eucalyptus groves ­ so distinct to southern California. (left: Joseph Kleitsch (1881-1931), Laguna Canyon, 1923, oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Stiles II)

The paintings in the exhibition are arranged to represent the different themes depicted by the California artists - the rugged coastline, the undeveloped landscape, the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, and the town of Laguna Beach. Included in each section is artwork by a member of the Lyme Art Colony to compare the subjects and styles of these two distinct centers of American Impressionism. Historical photographs provide perspective as to how the artists in each colony lived and worked. (left: Joseph Kleitsch (1881-1931), Curiosity, c. 1923-24, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Stiles II)

The works on view illustrate the diversity of "plein air" styles developed by Laguna artists. In Under a Blue Sky George Gardner Symons interprets the kinetic forces of the ocean with boldly applied strokes of pigment. Guy Rose, in contrasts, suggests more subtle distinctions in atmosphere and color in his Laguna Shores. The coastline of Connecticut River did not provide the Old Lyme artists with such dramatic subjects. Instead, they turned their attention to intimate views of winding tidal rivers and salt-water marshes as seen in Childe Hassam's Late Afternoon Sunset.

Accompanying the exhibition will be a full color catalogue with essays by William H. Gerdts, Professor Emeritus of Art History Graduate School of the City University of New York and Curator Jack Becker. "Interest in American Impressionism, and the art colonies where some of the most important works in that style were produced, has risen over the past decade," explains Professor Gerdts. "The artists who were a part of these colonies enjoyed successful careers. However, knowledge and public viewing of their accomplishments beyond their immediate geographic environment is lacking. "The California Impressionists at Laguna" offers East Coast audiences the rare opportunity to experience the light, landscape, and beauty of Laguna as seen through the eyes of West Coast Impressionists. The fact that the setting for the exhibition is the site where Lyme Art Colony artists were working at the same time gives the audience a deeper appreciation of all the artists and their work." (left: Granville Redmond (1871-1935), Silver and Gold, c. 1918, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art LAM/OCMA Art Collection Trust, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Redmond)

The California Connection:

California painting spurned by Lyme artists revealed for the first time during this exhibition. In the late 1920s Laguna Beach artist Robert Dudley Fullonton (1876-1933) stayed at Miss Florence's boarding house in Old Lyme, CT. He was invited by the artists of the Lyme Art Colony to paint a panel on the dining room wall. This was considered a great honor among the artists. It was a tradition that the founder of the colony, Henry Ward Ranger, imported from French hostelries in Barbizon, Giverny and Pont Aven. Over 30 artists eventually left their mark on the walls and panels of the Museum, leaving a legacy unique to the Griswold House. Fullonton's contribution was a vibrant view of the Carmel coast Northern California. Unfortunately Fullonton left without paying his bill and, out of respect for Miss Florence, the other artists turned his panel to the wall and had William Chadwick paint a Connecticut landscape on the other side. The painting will be turned over to reveal Fullonton's panel for the first time and only for the limited run of "The California Impressionists at Laguna." (left: Robert Dudley Fullonton, Rocky Seacoast, dining room panel, Florence Griswold Museum)


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Rev. 6/7/00

Read more on the Florence Griswold Museum.in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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. 2/28/11

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