Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College
The following essay is excerpted from an exhibition catalogue titled "Maurice Logan, Artist and Designer" written in 1991 by Marvin A. Schenck, then curator of the Hearst Art Gallery. The exhibition opened July 14, 1991 and ran through September 15, 1991. The essay is reprinted with permission of the Hearst Art Gallery.
Maurice Logan, Artist and Designer
by Marvin A. Schenck
Perhaps the most exciting accomplishment for a curator is the opportunity to find or rediscover exceptional talent that has been overlooked or forgotten. In 1972, Terry St. John, then Associate Curator at The Oakland Museum, presented an exhibition entitled "Society of Six" in the Art Department's Special Gallery. This marked the beginning of a new audience for this group of important California Post-Impressionist painters who showed together in the 1920s. Since then, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, artists and collectors have paid increasing attention to the plein air landscape works of Society of Six members William H, Clapp, August Gay, Selden Gile, Maurice Logan, Louis Siegriest, and Bernard von Eichman. The effects of this one show have been far-reaching. Several more museum exhibitions have taken place since then, a major book on the group has been written by Nancy Boas, and a lively plein air painting movement now exists in the East Bay that can be directly traced to the 1972 Oakland Museum show.
At the time of that 1972 exhibition, the two surviving artists from the Six, Siegriest and Logan, were anything but forgotten art figures. Their paintings from the twenties may have indeed become obscure, but both had major contemporary art reputations. Louis Siegriest had become known for his abstract landscape-inspired works and Maurice Logan had established himself as a major watercolorist and a leading commercial artist. The bright spotlight over the past twenty years on the innovative works of the Society of Six has actually had the effect of obscuring the later achievements of these artists. Thirty-four years after Maurice Logan had a solo show in the former Saint Mary's College Art Gallery, the Hearst Art Gallery presents this rediscovery of the entire career of this very important artist.
Maurice George Logan was born in 1886 in Saint Helena or San Francisco. The official records prove incomplete and Logan was known to recite different versions of such important facts. Even his middle name is open to some discussion. His mother died when he was six months old but within two years his father, George, remarried. Maurice's father moved his family -- Maurice and his older sister Jessie, his new wife, and her five children -- to the East Bay, where he was in charge of constructing Lake Temescal Dam in the hills above Oakland. After completion he became its first superintendent in 1888, which necessitated the family live next to the lake. Maurice grew up in the Oakland hills on the shore of Lake Temescal, surrounded by rounded hills, oak trees, and sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. He was inspired by the artistic and literary bohemians of the day who were attracted to the lake as a camping spot during the summer. Logan, who showed his artistic leaning at an early age, had already taken art lessons for several years. But it was not until he was in his teens, while watching the British painter J. H. E. Partington and his son Richard Langtry Partington painting outdoors, that his desire to be an artist really took hold.
Logan first enrolled in the Partington Art School in San Francisco. After the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the school he continued his studies from 1907 through 1913 at the San Francisco Institute of Art (formerly the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art). Instruction there was in a variety of then-current painting styles, not the least of which was Tonalism. This particular painting concept of using soft, close color harmonies had become popular through the nocturnes of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the landscapes of such artists as George Inness and William Keith. Two important teachers for Logan were to be the impressionist Theodore Wores and the figurative artist Frank Van Sloun. Such influences would be key to Logan's future facility with the landscape and the figure.
Within two years of finishing his studies, Maurice had a studio in San Francisco, was working as a commercial artist, and had married Bertha Kipke, a long-time sweetheart whom he had met: at Lake Temescal. About this time he moved his residence back to the hills of Oakland to a house on Chabot Road and became a member of the San Francisco Bohemian Club. He also took to wearing a three-piece suit, which he would cover with a smock when painting. This may have been to prove to his father that being an artist was respectable or perhaps it just helped him in working in the commercial art field.
In 1915 Selden Gile and August Gay moved to Chabot Road and became neighbors of Logan. That same year at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition thousands of contemporary paintings were put on exhibit. For the most part the art on display consisted of works in the familiar movements of American Impressionism, Tonalism, and the California Decorative Style. But there were some eye-opening new approaches to be found in the French Impressionists' and Post-Impressionists' works. There was also a much scaled-down version of The New York Armory Show of 1913 (the International Exhibition of Modern Art) and a display of Futurist works. The experience of such European modern paintings helped Logan and the other members of the Society of Six to discover new uses of color and new ways of seeing, Their isolation amid traditional California close-toned 'tobacco juice" painting had been broken.
From 1917 well into the late 1920s, the Society of Six would gather on weekends to paint outdoors in the East Bay hills, or along the Bay or across it in Marin County. The day would end with food and drink while critiquing each other's work at Gile's "Chow House" on Chabot Road. The group's support for each other stimulated each individual's growth. For "Maury" Logan, as his friends called him, the emphasis on simplified design, energized brush strokes and pure color pushed him towards reduced compositions and a brighter palette. A culmination of such influences is seen in the Logan oil painting, "Beach Road, Belvedere," circa 1925. The Fauvist colors, the Impressionist technique of short quick brush strokes, and the somewhat flattened perspective also closely reflect Gile's bold experiments at this time.
There were comings and goings of some of the Six over the years, but they always kept in touch and usually sent works to the annual shows they had from 1923 to 1928 at the Oakland Art Gallery (then under the direction of fellow Six member William H. Clapp). In 1913 Logan, with his wife and one-year-old son, Richard, went to Chicago for a job with the Charles Everett Johnson Company, a large design agency. During the year he spent there, Logan attended night classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Their daughter, Jean, was born back in the Bay Area in 1323. In 1924-25 he was sent on expedition to British East Africa (Kenya) to make sketches for dioramas to be used in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. On his return trip he was able to visit museums in Europe. The trip gave him even more perspective on how color and light can interact in various landscapes. The experience was also invaluable in creating his many paintings for travel illustrations, such as the untitled Egyptian scene, circa late 1920s. In 1926 Logan and Gile made a car trip to the Southwest to paint. They would make another Southwest trip in the early 1930s.
In 1927 Selden Gile moved from Oakland to a houseboat studio in Tiburon. This move made it harder for the group to get together regularly, and from then on the group influence lessened. Logan's palette started to soften and a more three-dimensional structure also began to reappear. An oil painting, "Mexican Town," circa early 1930s, is typical of this softer coloration and clearer definition of subject. This painting also shows the close link in style to some of his commercial illustration of the period. Indeed, it is even hard to confirm whether this painting was a commercial illustration or a work done in Mexico.
By the late 1920s Logan had already established himself as a leading illustrator in San Francisco. His specialty was creating painted images on demand for advertising work. Someone else would then usually do the lettering and layout work. His expertise with the landscape and the figure made him very versatile. There were few ad agencies at that time. Logan was well liked and was able to make the rounds of customers and come back with jobs to do. Some of his clients were railroads such as Southern Pacific and Canadian Pacific which wanted landscape travel advertisements. He did a number of landscape Sunset Magazine covers in the 1920s and 1930s as well. In 1935 Logan founded the commercial art business of Logan, Staniford, and Cox. Their accounts included such names as Dole, Lucky Lager Beer, and Ghirardelli Chocolate. Standard Oil of California was another major client. Logan had a distinctive style that served him well until he retired in 1957. Even after that he occasionally did watercolors on commission for special projects such as Westways magazine covers.
During the 1930s most of Logan's many art exhibitions were of watercolors. He now painted far fewer oils than he did when working with the Six. His son Richard Logan states that his father "liked to work fast, and the watercolor medium suited him." His early efforts have a careful, studied look with small areas of white paper allowed to show between colors and forms. As his work developed, he became a major artist in the new "California School" of watercolorists who worked spontaneously in the landscape. Their goal was to elevate watercolor as an art form in itself and not have it be considered a mere sketching tool. Logan found great freedom in the wet-into-wet technique of painting. This style of watercolor fostered a simplification of objects that is reminiscent of his Society of Six oils. The quick wet-into-wet technique portrays well the damp environments of San Francisco Bay where Logan sought out his many images of boats, sloughs, docks, and shacks. His colors became dominated by blues, greys, browns, and ochres. The carefully applied areas of color next to patches of white have been replaced with broad tones and a master's quick brush stroke.
The oils from the mid-1930s and 1940s of houses, boats, shorelines, and mudflat scenes also show an increased use of yellow ochre, browns, muted greens, and black which give a much more tonal, somber effect than the works of the twenties and early thirties. Some works from the late thirties and early forties show a thickly painted surface that gives the impression of being overworked. This same heavy paint texture, however, also gives these oils an energized intensity.
In the early 1950s there seems to be a new color surge in Logan's oils. A much more spacious vista of the landscape is also presented using larger canvases. "Clark's Cove - Summer," circa 1956, was the cover illustration of the catalog for his 1957 solo exhibit at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco and contains some quite bright colors along with a very complex composition that has a perspective similar to "Beach Road, Belvedere". It demonstrates a final synthesis of styles where pure color is still controlled but now is given a wider role. At age 70 his painting had reached a new peak.
Watercolors painted in the same period also show him at the height of his ability in that medium. The watercolor, "Off Season," from around 1955, demonstrates a similar compositional balance of light and dark as well as the punctuating use of red found in the "Clark's Cove - Summer" oil. He continued to paint bay scenes but also traveled as far as Mendocino and Carmel to find subjects. The darks in many of these later watercolors of the 1950s and 1960s are more dramatically accentuated than ever before.
Looking over the range of paintings that "Maury" Logan produced, the most powerful in color and abstraction were those done when he was closely associated with the Society of Six. Certainly, these works of the 1920s show the most influences of modern art from Europe. As he spent less time with the Six, the influence of Gile and the others waned and his earlier training in the traditions of Tonalism reappeared to bring a more realist three-dimensional feeling to the work and a substantial softening of his palette. Eventually the two influences combined and the bright colors returned as accents or focal points.
Although Logan's style and palette changed over the years, he remained committed to painting out in the landscape. While he had a studio at home, his son Richard recalls that "he only did occasional touch-up work at home; his work was exclusively plein air." He loved to spend his weekends outdoors painting, especially around the Bay. Many of the paintings that he did during the week as backgrounds for advertisements also remain today as interesting variations on his plein air landscape work.
Logan turned out to be the most successful of the Six, financially speaking. He did well as a partner in his own commercial art firm, as a part-time teacher of life drawing at Oakland's California College of Arts and Crafts between 1935 and 1943, and through consistent sales of his watercolors and oils. He exhibited extensively on the West Coast and was in group shows in New York, England, and Japan. He won many prizes and honors including an honorary doctorate degree in 1956 from the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he was a Trustee from 1932 to 1972.
In 1954 Logan was named Associate of the National Academy
of Design in New York. In 1960 he was voted a full Academician. Two years
later a savage mud slide destroyed 203 watercolors in the
basement studio of his house in Oakland. His wife Bertha died in 1963 and he remarried in 1965 to Ruth Trevalier. In 1966 he took a final painting trip to the Southwest and Mexico. He suffered a stroke in 1968 and ceased to paint. Several more exhibitions of his paintings were presented in the 1970s including a retrospective of his watercolors at the Bohemian Club Art Gallery in 1975. Maurice Logan died on March 22, 1977, having been a highly successful and esteemed artist in his own time.
See "The Society of Six," an essay by Terry St. John; Harvey L. Jones' essay on California Tonalism, "Twilight and Reverie: California Tonalist Painting 1890-1930;" both in this magazine, and information on Maurice George Logan from The Significance of Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource in 19th and Early 20th Century California Art. By William Miesse
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
Read more about the Hearst Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine.
editor's note rev 3/4/10
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