Editor's note: The following essay from the catalogue for the exhibition In Nature's Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt, on view at the Laguna Art Museum November 9, 2008 - February 8, 2009, was reprinted in Resource Library on November 28, 2008 with permission of the Laguna Art Museum. 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:
William Wendt: Plein Air Painter of California
by Will South
William Wendt (1865-1946) painted a California-one of immense poppy fields, uninterrupted forest, and vacant, sun-startled coastline-that no longer exists. Indeed, it was slipping away during his lifetime. Any story of Wendt (fig. 1), for a true biography is impossible, owing to the dearth of documentation about his life, must begin and end with this realization. Wendt loved and interpreted a land largely lost to us: we imagine it beneath the maze of man-made developments that now define the Golden State, and our knowledge of his world is necessarily partial, nostalgic, and compromised.
To reduce Wendt's art to romantic artifact, to pretty pictures of a bejeweled, bygone era, is to misunderstand drastically both his art and his era. His paintings flowed from a genuine spiritual attachment to and respect for nature, feelings that underpinned his aesthetic and his expressive ambitions, even as he could see the object of his heart's desire -- California -- was hardly pristine but instead was both a magnet and a catalyst for tourism and industry. Wendt's monumental landscapes recognized the beauty of the natural environment but also, collectively, identified the land as the central and most important component of our well-being and happiness. His great fear -- one that nearly matched his great love -- was that we could, and would, lose our natural treasures.
Despite his genuine passion for ocean and forest, mountain and meadow, Wendt was not an environmentalist per se, not even a preacher. He was not a political agitator, not a writer. He was a painter. His art spoke for him, and his art remains to speak to us. The central message is that nature is special, munificent, grand, and bountiful -- the source of our physical and spiritual sustenance. Our proper relationship to the land is one of reverence and respect, as we humbly accept and enjoy our participation in nature. His art conveys this simple but critical message with a profound pictorial elegance, making the story of William Wendt wonderfully worth telling in our own time.
Simple messages, however, are the most difficult to understand. Appreciating Wendt's astonishing reverence for nature is not the same as acknowledging its deeper significance. To say that Wendt's goal was purely the pursuit of beauty -- the dappled sunlight, the verdant hills, the rugged oaks -- is as philosophically reductive as it is historically dismissive. Wendt -- and by extension, California artists in general -- deserve deeper consideration. To appreciate this artist's submersion in landscape painting is to grasp something about the mythic dimensions of nature as well as its poetic possibilities, something about its biological centrality as well as its political implications.
The reason that the art of William Wendt continues to interest us today, then, beyond its lush praise of earth and sky, is the proper subject of the following essay.
William Wendt, Chicago, and the Relentless Sublime
The art of William Wendt is alternately monumental and intimate, yet always architectural and geometrically stable. His subject matter does not evoke the transient, his forms do not dissolve, and his finished pictures do not conjure the ephemeral either physically or philosophically. In short, his art is not Impressionist by any stretch of the imagination. The proof is simply in the looking. The Impressionists painted parasols in the sun, people in the street, trains and boats moving to and fro, the occasional dispossessed café habitué immobilized by absinthe -- all in shimmering, summary, evanescent strokes. In point of view and in painting practices, they embraced the common and the fleeting, the mundane and the mortal.
Wendt, by contrast, always took the metaphoric high road and painted with his eyes lifted to the hills, ever searching for the elevated and the permanent, the extraordinary and the eternal. The Impressionists welcomed the modern world, whereas Wendt saw painting as meditation, much like Henry David Thoreau meditated on the sanctity and peace inherent in the wooded pond. Wendt, though he was a painter of the twentieth century, did not look at the modern world of machines, planes, and skyscrapers, save to avoid it.
All biographical accounts of William Wendt to date give his birthplace as Bentzen, Germany. Here begins the frustration of piecing together a biography of the artist: there is no longer a city of Bentzen in Germany. The artist's death certificate records that he was born on 20 February 1865 in Benzin (alternately spelled Bentzen, apparently by Wendt himself). In 1865, the tiny village of Benzin was in neither Germany nor Prussia, but rather was located southeast of Schwerin in the northern plain along the Baltic Sea in what was then the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, under the rule of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II.
We know next to nothing of Wendt's youth, and what we do know is largely anecdotal. He was the only son and namesake of a livestock trader, William Wendt, and Williamina Ludwig. He attended school and at some point was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. His apprenticeship was an unhappy one, sufficiently so that Wendt implored an uncle living in the United States for passage there. Surely, then, Wendt came to America alone: if he begged his uncle for assistance it was because neither of his parents offered funds or intercession.
Wendt may have dreamed of America as a land of opportunity and wealth, or he may have turned to a distant relative in desperation. We can surmise that Wendt, as a very young man, had the courage and determination to make a life-altering decision and break from what he perhaps envisioned as a bleak and limited future.
In 1880, at age fifteen, Wendt settled in Chicago. He arrived in between two of the city's defining moments: the Great Fire of 1871 and the World's Columbian Exposition (or World's Fair) of 1893. Bridging the gap between those two events, one an epic catastrophe and the other an artistic apotheosis, were the Haymarket Riots of 1886. Wendt's sense of life in a city, specifically an American city, was thus shaped in a cauldron of risk and violence mixed with a deliberate civic effort to attain cultural eminence.
Wendt most likely lived initially in Chicago's heavily German North Side. Settled in the 1830s, the North Side retained its ethnic makeup for more than half a century. Skilled German immigrants shaped the economic development of the area, starting bakeries as well as tailoring, shoemaking, and woodworking shops. Important industries in the neighborhood also included distilleries, breweries, and brickyards. Crucial, too, were the furniture and metal industries. Wendt's early apprenticeship to a cabinetmaker gained him employment in a commercial shop, where he eventually painted landscapes "as a staff painter." The artist and writer Charles Francis Browne (18591920) later reported that young Wendt produced as many as twenty pictures a day, "suitable for framing."
While that claim may be inflated, it is nonetheless true that furniture making ranked fifth among Chicago's industries in 1880, five times what it had been in 1870. It was an industry mechanized to a high degree, with an output second only to New York's. First- and second-generation Germans made up over half of its labor force. Wendt made his start within this community of cabinetmakers, woodworkers, and upholsterers, and -- while it is difficult to believe he painted a score of pictures a day -- he certainly could have progressed from cabinets to what Browne, himself a Chicagoan of that era, called "painting pictures by the yard."
One could point to Wendt's early years in commercial painting as being the impetus for his leap into fine art. We might just as easily assume he rejected the tedium and repetition of assembly-line work as heartless and thankless and looked to the fine arts as both an escape and an antidote. Chicago offered a wealth of visual art capable of inspiring anyone inclined to become a painter. William H. Gerdts has observed that Chicago was noteworthy for the number of art clubs and organizations there that were founded or active in the 1880s. The majority of these were short-lived. There were the Vincennes Gallery of Fine Art, the Chicago Art Club, the Chicago Art League, the Western Art Association, and the Chicago Society of Artists (which exists to this day). Also in the 1880s the Art Institute of Chicago evolved out of the Academy of Fine Arts. Indeed, the Art Institute became a leading institution for both instruction and exhibitions.
Included among these organizations was the Bromley School of Art, opened in 1885 by Frank C. Bromley (1859-1890) and closed by 1887. John Franklin Waldo (1835-1920) taught at the Bromley School in addition to Bromley himself. Wendt received his first professional instruction there with Waldo, a painter of large, epic landscapes. At the age of twenty, Wendt made a commitment to the formal study of painting. He very well may have continued to study privately with Waldo after the Bromley School closed.
Not insignificantly, Waldo visited Santa Barbara, California, in 1884 and wrote a poem extolling its beauties. In 1885, Bromley's painting Off the Coast of Cornwall was made into a print that became commercially successful. Both these locales, Santa Barbara and Cornwall, would become destinations for Wendt in the next decade.
Wendt's Sunshine and Shadow of 1886 (fig. 2), painted when the artist was just twenty-one years old, evinces progress made under professional instruction. While not yet possessing either the means or the experience to attempt an out-size landscape in the manner of Bromley, Wendt in this early effort nonetheless persuasively describes a sweeping view, replete with cloud streets receding into a blue-gray distance. Wendt's penchant for interlocking topographical planes is already clear.
In 1887, the Tonalist landscape painter Annie Shaw (1852-1887) died in Chicago, and a retrospective exhibition of nearly three hundred of her paintings was shown at the Art Institute. Tonalism, with its emphasis on diffuse atmosphere and elegiac landscape as exemplified by the Barbizon School in France and by George Inness (1825-1894) in America, was the first serious influence on Wendt's artistic direction. It would be hard to imagine that he did not see this exhibition of the work of the now-lesser-known Shaw, as she was highly regarded at the time of her death. He would have been duly impressed by the breadth of Shaw's accomplishments as the first female academician of the Chicago Academy of Design. Such direct encounters with art in combination with his study with Waldo would have been the springboard for Wendt's dedication to a life in art -- much more so than years of "painting pictures by the yard" in a craft shop.
Also in 1887 the young Julia Bracken (1871-1942), the future Mrs. William Wendt, arrived in Chicago and began her studies at the Art Institute. Born in Apple River, Illinois, in 1871, Bracken was the twelfth child of an Irish-Catholic family. Committed to family as much as she was to art, she spent considerable time seeing to the needs of her sister's orphaned children. Despite this significant claim on her energy, Bracken managed to make sculpture that caught the attention of the prominent artist Lorado Taft (1860-1936). He made her his studio assistant, a position she held for roughly five years. While working for Taft, she received her own sculpture commission, Illinois Welcomes the World, which was shown in the Illinois Building during the World's Fair.
Bracken rented studio space on Wabash Avenue to carry out her commission. Given how long it would have taken her to finish such a large-scale work, she must have rented the space from about 1889 to 1890. Living directly across the hall was one William Wendt. Julia recalled hearing beautiful violin music emanating from the room and thought it surely came from the distinguished, pale, and bearded artist. Instead, one day Wendt knocked on her door and told her he had to move out, as he could not stand his roommate's "infernal fiddle" any longer. She called him "Mr. Wendt" then, but a friendship began that evolved into a lifelong commitment.
All studies of Wendt to date have said that he was self-taught. In addition to his early studies with Waldo, Wendt attended the Art Institute from 1891 through 1894, further eroding the romantic patina of his "self-taught" status. Among Wendt's instructors at the Art Institute was the English-born Charles Edward Boutwood (d. 1917), who collaborated with the institute's best-known teacher, John Vanderpoel (1857-1911). In 1891 -- during the time Wendt was studying with Boutwood -- Vanderpoel and Boutwood took their students to Oregon, Illinois, for outdoor summer classes.
Browne, the aforementioned artist who wrote an article on Wendt in 1900, was in Chicago in 1892 and came to know Wendt at this time. Browne came into contact with Wendt either at the Art Institute, where Browne was teaching, or through Bracken, the object of Wendt's affections. As already noted, Bracken was the studio assistant for Taft, and Browne was close to Taft -- he went on to marry Taft's sister in 1898. Whatever the circumstances of their meeting, it is certain that Wendt and Browne were friends during Wendt's Art Institute years, as Wendt mentions him in letters written in the mid-1890s.
As a painter, Browne was a committed Tonalist; this direct link between Browne and Wendt further fueled the latter's move into an early Barbizon-oriented style. There was no other painter in Chicago as committed to Tonalism as Browne, and no other as accomplished in its practice.
Wendt's early California landscape Owens Valley Farm (fig. 3) is typical of the Barbizon aesthetic. Here, we see brown trees suffused with gray, crusty, ocher growth along the riverbank, the still, silvery sky. It is a visualization of silence and season, the late fall. Its composition is very nearly that of Browne's 1891 Pastoral with Landscape (fig. 4): both are composed of a slice of river foreground, trees in the middle ground left and right; both are finished by empty, soft-blue skies. Clearly, Wendt imbibed compositional and stylistic strategies from Browne, but even more important, he was introduced to a way of thinking about art and its relation to nature that shaped his subsequent career: Browne taught that there was a spiritual connection between art and nature.
Browne was a follower of the philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), whose theology had greatly influenced the landscapes of Inness. Browne joined the Swedenborgian New Church in 1885 and is known to have spread its precepts to his students and colleagues. Although no hard proof exists that Browne spoke to Wendt of his beliefs, it is mental miserliness to assume he did not: the two knew each other, admired one another (especially as evidenced by Browne's later adulatory article), and, as comparison shows, painted alike at that time.
Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist and philosopher who built on these pursuits in his theology. Swedenborg believed that although one can distinguish one object from another, in actuality nothing is separate: all things in nature correspond to and are connected with deeper layers of spiritual reality. Indeed, for Swedenborg the spirit world was very real, and the earthly environment was vague. Since God is literally manifest in all the corresponding layers of being, the laws of nature can be used to understand spiritual laws. The world of matter -- the earth -- provids us with material to discover the spiritual. Although we are capable of distinguishing a tree from a bird, they are -- like all extant beings -- ultimately one.
Wendt did not have to become a Swedenborgian, of course, to be heavily influenced by the philosopher's ideas or by ideas that were similar in construct. Wendt was a religious man who was receptive to the already well-established connection between God and nature in American landscape painting. As Barbara Novak pointed out in her seminal study Nature and Culture, in early-nineteenth-century America, "[i]deas of God's nature and of God in nature became hopelessly entangled, and only the most scrupulous theologians even tried to separate them. If nature was God's Holy Book, it was God."
In the post-Civil War era, the Hudson River School painters who had painstakingly plied the theme of nature as Creation for decades were no longer the dominant force in the visual arts, including in the Chicago area. Hudson River School idealism demanded linear transcriptions and was thus stylistically inflexible. Swedenborgianism offered a more mystical relationship between artist and landscape. Instead of seeing nature as the fingerprint of God, as the perfect and unchanging effect of a divine event -- Creation -- one could see nature as continually manifesting the energies of a divinity: there is a power immanent in light itself. For Swedenborg, nature is not the effect and God the cause, but rather nature and divinity live together hand in hand, corresponding to and ineluctably intertwined with each other. Inness painted nature's ambiguities, not its hard details, to reach things of greater clarity -- that is, spiritual truths (Gathering Clouds, Spring, Montclair, New Jersey, c. 1890-94, fig. 5). Wendt would pursue a parallel path with his own style.
In 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair, Wendt was twenty-eight years old. He had quit the production-line business and was painting for some time out of his own studio, if Browne's account is correct, suffering the consequences of "the severities of a life without regular income to meet the fixed charges of food and raiment." Since Wendt had already made a strong commitment to full-time painting, the 1893 fair would not have been a defining moment in his career, though certainly it must have been exhilarating and informative in the extreme. Another aspect of it, too, might have been unsettling -- the "soul-destroying hurly-burly of life" it fueled.
The World's Columbian Exposition took place twenty-two years after the fire that had razed so much of Chicago (fig. 6). In a Herculean and concentrated effort, the city rebuilt itself. This meant a radical change of infrastructure: new roads, parks, and buildings everywhere. Since Wendt was largely absent from Chicago after 1893, the bulk of his Chicago years were spent amid the sights and sounds of constant construction. The newly built Chicago represented the latest advances in technology and architectural theory, and, with the great fair, the city staked its claim as a cultural center. It is interesting to note that Wendt chose to leave the city at the moment of its rebirth. The newness and excitement it offered were apparently not of interest to him.
The 1893 fair covered 686 acres and attracted a reported twenty million visitors. Stunning Beaux-Arts palaces made of plaster of Paris gave the site its name -- the White City -- and within its walls were orchestral extravaganzas, enormous displays of machinery and scientific marvels, theatrical performances, and every variety of amusement concession. The fair lasted six months and dramatically announced the state of American culture: ambitious, colossal, consumptive, and aggressively expansive. Add to all that activity a sense of fun and spectacle, as evidenced by the 264-foot-high Ferris wheel that rose above the grounds. If one had to envision an environment that was in all respects the antithesis of the art Wendt would make for decades to come, this was it.
It was here, though, that Wendt saw painting and sculpture from all over the world. Heroic stories were told on canvas, and goddesses carved out of white marble. The sheer quantity of art objects at the World's Fair would have been overwhelming for any visitor, let alone an aspiring painter.
We do not know what, specifically, Wendt admired at the fair. He must have taken a keen interest in the sculptural achievement of Julia Bracken on view in the Illinois Building. She was noted in the press for "making several heroic figures that give great promise." His friend and colleague Charles Francis Browne showed four paintings (all currently unlocated) that were, to judge by their titles, all of a Tonalist bent. Inness was well represented with his haunting September Afternoon of 1877, among others. The seascapes of Dwight Tryon (1849-1925) from the mid-1880s were there, dark and dreamlike. All of these must have given the youthful Wendt pause.
There was figure work in abundance, too, from Winslow Homer (1836-1910) to John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), whose technical aplomb and compositional confidence were at the time, and remain, striking. There were huge genre paintings by the likes of Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914), as well as unfamiliar exotica such as Fellahin and Child -- The Bath, Cairo by Frederick Bridgman (1847-1928). Wendt saw, too, the religious allegories of Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) and Abbot Thayer (1849-1921), the high theatrical drama of The Witches by Walter McEwen (1860-1943). He saw examples of American Impressionism, including work by Childe Hassam (1859-1935). One cannot help but wonder if Wendt stopped before the large painting Potato Gatherers by Wendt's future California compatriot Guy Rose (1867-1925).
The Chicago World's Fair made it possible for Wendt to experience firsthand, and over a considerable period of time, examples of the most disciplined, accomplished, and advanced painting being done in America. It was a critical component of the artist's early education, one that erased any vestige of artistic ignorance. His choice to focus on landscape was made against the backdrop of knowing full well what other avenues were available to him. Wendt became a confirmed landscapist with virtually no interest in other subject matter. And, he became a landscapist of a very specific sort, one who did not paint storms, or ruins, or cities, or vistas with human forms of any kind. In his art, humans are absent, not important. He depicted only the signs of human presence: a road, a house, a tree cut down. Wendt would spend the next half-century painting the landscape in order to evoke spiritual truths that he believed to be embedded there.
In fundamental ways, Wendt continued aspects of the search for the Sublime identified with the Hudson River School. Ultimately, Wendt would be less grand than Frederic Church (1826-1900), less ideal than Thomas Cole (1801-1848), less overtly moralizing than Asher B. Durand (1796-1886). Nonetheless, Wendt spread the land out before us with cleanliness and orderliness, with welcoming and healthful atmosphere. In an approach analogous to that of the Hudson River School, he showed us nature as Creation and, with echoes of Swedenborg, that God is, indeed, in nature. This is the dynamic myth that Wendt absorbed and dedicated himself to: that the landscape first and foremost was evidence of plan and promise, of connection and rejuvenation, of continuity. Wendt did not have to paint like the Hudson River School painters or the Swedenborgian Inness in order to experience a common faith. He chose his own way to practice that faith.
In 1893, the same year as the great exposition, Wendt won the Second Yerkes Prize in the Chicago Society of Artists Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, which carried with it the handsome sum of two hundred dollars. Shortly thereafter, emboldened by this recognition and buoyed by the gravitas lent to an artist's life by the exposition (and, with the necessary funds in hand), Wendt made his first trip to California. He did not travel there in search of religious allegory, the exotic, or historical narrative or figurative art of any kind. He went to see the land.
Contact with California
In the company of fellow artist Gardner Symons (1861-1930), Wendt traveled to Santa Barbara, California, in 1894[.21] According to Antony Anderson (1863-1939), the well-known Los Angeles art writer who first discussed this initial visit, the trip was a short one. No matter the length of his stay, imagine Wendt's reactions when standing atop the Montecito Hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He was not in the Midwest anymore.
The mixture of heart-stretching scenery and legendary climate invigorated Wendt, as it did so many other painters. Though work from this first visit remains unlocated, we know his palette must have brightened via direct inspiration from the geography he encountered. Less than two years later, four of his California landscapes, painted between 1894 and mid-1896, were reviewed in Chicago:
Wendt left California, no doubt with great reluctance, for a job teaching art at Mount St. Joseph College in Dubuque, Iowa, in the fall of 1895. From there, he returned to Chicago and then went back to California. He traveled from Santa Barbara to Los Gatos, where he painted, and his letters suggest he spent time in San Francisco, as he exhibited a "woodland stream" there in 1896. During this time, he associated with fellow Chicago artist Samuel McCrea (1867-1941), who became a student at the California School of Art and Design in San Francisco in 1896, then left California for Paris. Wendt's recently discovered letters to McCrea shed light on Wendt's early travels, achievements, and attitudes.
Wendt was teaching again at Mount St. Joseph's in the summer and early fall of 1896. The school was run by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While there, Wendt lived in the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Duggan, who greatly admired the artist despite his not being a Catholic (the connection to these Irish-Catholic nuns may have been the Irish-Catholic Julia Bracken). Wendt painted a number of landscapes in Dubuque, including On the Mississippi, which won the Young Fortnightly Prize in Chicago in 1897 (fig. 7), and another view of the Mississippi, which he gave to his hosts, the Duggans. That painting was eventually given to the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both paintings are currently unlocated.
From Dubuque, Wendt returned to Chicago and took a studio on the eighth floor of the Athenaeum Building. He wrote to his friend McCrea: "I heartily wish I were away from Chicago again, from its discords in artistic circles and other disagreeable things. Still, I would rather be here than Dubuque."
Though he found local art politics "disagreeable," Wendt enjoyed a formidable success in Chicago that would continue, more so than less, unabated. Four hundred people were in attendance at the Art Institute on the frigid night of 26 January, when he was awarded the Young Fortnightly Club's prize. He exhibited at the West End Women's Club in February, and in April a painting by Wendt was part of a juried traveling show of Chicago art that went to Nashville, Tennessee. Julia Bracken served as one of the jurors, a fact Wendt might not have found discordant.
Wendt also received glowing criticism in the Chicago press. Of his work on view at the Art Institute in January 1897, which included a number of California paintings, the critic for the Times-Herald wrote:
The object of this praise returned to California in the summer of 1897 at the invitation of Gardner Symons. "It will cost me very little to go out," Wendt wrote at the time, "and little after I get there." Symons had known California since 1890, when he established a studio south of Laguna Beach. In 1897, the pair enjoyed the unique opportunity of living at and painting the environs of Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, which encompassed the land known today simply as Malibu. While at Rancho Malibu, Symons painted a large, grand-view landscape entitled Big Boney, an example of how pervasive the Hudson River School aesthetic remained.
Very different from Symons's Big Boney is Wendt's moonlit nocturne entitled Malibu Coast (Paradise Cove) of around 1897 (fig. 8). Concise and quickly applied strokes are in evidence here, and the obvious and not incorrect connection to make is with the Impressionistic art Wendt had thus far encountered, including oils by Childe Hassam and, for that matter, Theodore Steele (1847-1926). The more immediate source, however, is Dwight Tryon's Sunset at Sea of 1889 (fig. 9), which Wendt would have known from the World's Fair (along with other sun- and moonscapes by that artist). Both paintings explore the subtleties of the less-than-fully-lit sky; in each, a subdued atmosphere is attained through a pervasive evenness in tone. The older master Tonalist, Tryon, is actually looser in his application of muted greens and browns, whereas Wendt clearly delineates the beginning and end of each hill, from foreground to background. Most important, both emphasize intimacy and compositional simplicity. Both paintings depend on the basic orchestration of natural elements to elicit a sense of stillness; their ambitions here are humble and quiet, the spirit in nature writ small.
Malibu Coast is, at the same time, an intensely rhythmic composition, spilling out from left to right in one dominant falling curve. This visual solidity, this use of clear line and shape, would remain constant throughout Wendt's career. Malibu Coast also shows that Wendt understood certain fundamental Impressionist strategies, as seen in the blue-, yellow-, and green-spotted sky. Note, though, how the colored spots of this sky respect the sharp horizon line; they do not so much as smear it. Wendt would borrow from the Impressionist vocabulary, as he did from the Tonalist. He achieved his singular style precisely because he was synthetic rather than slavish. Symons wrote to the Chicago Daily Tribune that Wendt was "painting landscapes which excel anything he has yet produced."
While in California, Wendt also clearly expressed his feelings toward nature in an 1898 letter to his artist-friend William Griffith (18661940). That Wendt understood God to be immanent in nature is made absolutely clear. His own religiosity is here, as is the mark of Swedenborgian thinking. Note, too, how strongly God is felt away from "the soul-destroying hurly-burly of life" -- a reference to Chicago in the 1890s. In his words:
Consolidation of a Career
Though Wendt continued to use Chicago as his home address until he moved permanently to Los Angeles, between 1894 and 1906 he would be more accurately described as a world traveler. His travels were numerous and far flung during this period, though during his constant forays he managed to exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago almost yearly, including a large one-person show. In addition, he showed in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, winning awards and receiving favorable press along the way. He showed, too, in Paris. His upward trajectory during this period fits the description of an individual who knew that to sustain a career as a professional artist, he needed his medals and his European credentials. Wendt's twin virtues of extraordinary discipline and focus served him well during these years, as he methodically built the résumé that would allow him to live.
Wendt's substantive connection to California was recognized in 1899 by an unidentified critic writing on the occasion of a William Keith (1838-1911) exhibition then on view in Chicago. This same critic astutely associated Wendt with the then-widespread influence of Swedenborg, who had in fact a major effect on Keith, California's master Tonalist:
Yet another bridge connecting Wendt with Inness, and thus Swedenborg, was the Chicago merchant, philanthropist, and millionaire Edward Burgess Butler (1853-1928). Butler had founded Butler Brothers, wholesale dealers in department store merchandise, in Boston in 1877. The company became an enormous success and the precursor to such chains as Woolworth's. Butler, known as "E. B.," moved to Chicago, where he served as one of the chairmen of the World's Fair in 1893. Such was his love of art that he himself was a landscapist, built a gallery in his home, and later funded an art gallery for Jane Addams's community-service project, Hull House. Butler was also an avid collector of the work of Inness. He eventually donated many paintings by Inness to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Butler and Wendt were great friends and probably became so in and around the years of the fair, when Wendt was a rising star on the local scene. That the pair shared enthusiasms is clearly evidenced in Wendt's later gift to Butler, a 1915 painting that carries the inscription "To E. B. Butler, whose love of nature is an inspiration" (Grassy Hillsides, 1915, fig. 10).
From Malibu, Wendt and Symons returned to Chicago in June 1898 and left for England a mere two weeks later, remaining in Europe into 1899.  Wendt spent a good deal of time in Cornwall, a county along the southwestern coast. He worked steadily, including drawing, which he did at the studio of J. Noble Barlow (1861-1917), a colleague of Browne's. Barlow painted moonscapes that Wendt admired, and this subject matter would become a staple of Wendt's work. Though he could ill afford the opulent frames required to do so, he showed two works at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Wendt also missed Julia Bracken. He painted a view of the Kingthorpe Mill in Northampton and dedicated it "To my friend J. M. Bracken," no doubt presenting this work to her when he returned to America (fig. 11). Their relationship had deepened over the course of the decade despite, or because of, Wendt's regular absences from Chicago. The practice of dedicating paintings to important people in his life remained with Wendt throughout his career.
At the century's end, showing at the Paris Salon remained a rite of passage for aspiring painters. Wendt was in Paris in May 1899, and he showed two paintings in the revamped Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (referred to as the "New Salon") One was entitled An Autumn Melody, described subsequently by Browne as being "low tones of greens and drabs" and "uncharacteristic" of the artist. Wendt described one of his large chef d'oeuvre efforts while working in Cornwall as an "unfortunate Corot": perhaps this was it.
In a letter, Wendt made note of the work that most impressed him from both Salons (the other being the "Old Salon" sponsored by the Société des Artistes Français), and, while scant, it is hugely enlightening. After seeing a "surfeit of pictures" in Paris, the memory of very few stayed with him, and all of these were landscapes "by preference of course." He appreciated the work of Barlow, with whom he had painted in Cornwall, and admired a landscape by the English artist Alfred East (1849-1913). Most telling, though, is this statement: "In the New [Salon], there are some pictures by E. B. Ménard, I think, that give me great pleasure. His subjects as well as his handling of them express to me Art in the highest sense."
Émile-René Ménard (1863-1930; misidentified as "E. B." in Wendt's letter), little known to the general public now, was at that time well regarded for his romantic landscapes that featured calm seas in the distance, stacks of roiling cumulus clouds, and very often a group of winsome women, small in scale, in the foreground. Years later, Wendt plied the motif of sun-draped nymphs in his Glimpse of the Sea (Wood Nymphs) (fig. 12), a retrospective nod to Ménard's formula, one not so different from Corot's, which had struck Wendt in 1899 as the proper balance.
Another work Wendt mentioned specifically was a landscape by the Belgian artist Franz Courtens (1850-1943), La Dreve des Tilleuls, depicting an avenue of trees, with sunlight leaving golden bars across the road next to deep, rich shadows. Wendt wrote: "The whole picture is a healthy vision of Nature glorified by the light of a genial sun and by the artist. It may lack poetry, but for the sake of Heaven, which we all hope to inhabit, let us have always a goodly portion of this phase of art, which will keep our minds and bodies in a healthful state. Amen. Amen. Amen."
Here, Wendt defined for us his own artistic mission: to create art that kept our minds and bodies healthful. He would paint versions of the sunlit space among trees throughout his life, one of the most dramatically successful being his Fairyland of 1915 (fig. 13).
Before leaving Paris, Wendt visited the artist Frederic Frieseke (1874-1939), who had just arrived in the city from Étaples, where he had been painting. At that time, Frieseke, who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1893 to 1896, was not yet working in the loose and frenetically colored outdoor style for which he is now known. Wendt (who lamented not seeing Frieseke's work while in Paris) thought about following him back to the French countryside but opted to return to England instead and finish landscapes for a fall show in America.
Wendt shipped his completed paintings back to Chicago, where he had his first major show in 1899. In November of that year, he showed forty-six paintings, from England and from his earlier California trip, installed in their own gallery simultaneous with but separate from the 12th Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute. The show was hailed as
Money for the extensive amount of crating and shipping seems to have come from Wendt's by-now regular sale of his work in the Chicago area. He sold sixteen works from the show at its opening, and it was reported later that he sold nearly half of the forty-six before it was over. Among the prominent Chicagoans to acquire a landscape by Wendt was the architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), who may have designed the frame for it.
This 1899 show of Wendt's is the one Charles Francis Browne wrote of in 1900, giving Browne the opportunity to review Wendt's development up to that time. Not surprisingly, the Tonalist and sincere Swedenborgian Browne preferred the pervasive grays of Cornwall to the strong colors of California:
For Browne, tonalities -- that is to say, colors modified toward gray -- were "refined." Tonalities had to be carefully mixed, whereas pure colors did not: unmixed, thus unrefined, color was "aboriginal," or primitive.
It was not Browne's intent to insult Wendt; to the contrary, the review overall was glowing in the extreme. The "aboriginal" comment was, however, used to underscore the superiority of subdued tone over bright, highly saturated pigment. Browne went on to praise the coloristic brilliance of Wendt's oil Scarlet Robes, with its "great masses of scarlet poppies." That painting, reproduced in black and white in Browne's review, appears very similar to Red Poppies of 1899 (fig. 14). In it, intense reds are scumbled over a muted green field, with dark trees and a neutral sky beyond. Still, Browne found the shadowy pearlescence of Wendt's Old Age, a dark village street scene, to be "more refined than the 'Scarlet Robe' and many of the California scenes . . . where the earth is very red and the foliage is a strong, dense green." For Browne, those reds and greens looked "forced" until one understood it was California, where everything was startling. For him, the pictures of Cornwall "renewed our interest." Finally, though, Browne commended Wendt for the incessant worker he was, for his success with color, and for his honesty.
Wendt spent the first day of the twentieth century -- 1 January 1900 -- traveling to California. He had long been there, then, when Browne's review appeared in Brush and Pencil in September of that year. The review must have been a parcel of mixed blessings: here was praise for his honesty and yet clear enough criticism of his "unchaste" California color. Yet, to retain his honesty -- to paint California as he experienced it -- Wendt increasingly had to liberate his palette from the Barbizon mood. An example is his 1901 San Francisco Marshes (fig. 15). Although a skyless image, it is suffused with an evenly illuminated atmosphere over a marsh of faint, delicate lavender. The background trees are not the "dark notes required" that Browne would insist on to achieve harmony and balance, but rather are flickering violet. The color in San Francisco Marshes is not startling (or aboriginal) but neither is it Tonalist.
Browne need not have feared (though one imagines him cringing over the fluid pastels in San Francisco Marshes) that Wendt would descend into the exponentially increasing unchasteness of Impressionism. When the artist went to Paris in 1899 to show at the Salon, he did not remain long, and he never returned. No doubt he saw ample quantities of paintings by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and company while there, but he never worked in one of the many artist colonies in France, such as Giverny. One or two entries into the French Salons were enough, and the lack of study in France was not a detriment. Given our ample evidence of Wendt's total commitment to painting and his willingness to travel and live by his wits in remote climes, surely he would have studied in France if French Impressionism were a guiding force for him. It simply was not.
The argument could be made that San Francisco Marshes is an Impressionist painting, as arguments can easily be made on any subject. What is certain is that it is outdoor painting. Camille Corot (1796-1875) painted outdoors, as did Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878) and a host of earlier nineteenth-century artists. They used feathery brushstrokes, saw the lost edges in nature and the blurring forms, and their blue skies painted en plein air match the blueness of any subsequent painter. They were not Impressionists, however. A basic but critical point in California studies needs to be reinforced: anyone who paints outside and looks at nature is going to see shifting color. That color may be interpreted quickly and summarily, or laid on carefully and methodically over careful drawing. Wendt would always fall into the latter category.
From San Francisco, Wendt traveled down the coast to Santa Barbara and made a trip out to Catalina Island. Back on the mainland, he wrote from Montecito that he was living on about five dollars a week: "I simply have to trust in a future existence, hoping that the gods then will usher me into the world with a gold spoon in my mouth."
In 1901, Wendt traveled back east to New York, Boston, and eventually up to Ogonquit, Maine. A primary reason for this trip was Wendt's inclusion in the Society of American Artists exhibition with his Cornish Coast, painted in England two years before. In New York, Wendt saw hundreds of paintings, including the large society show, and, consistent with his firm stance on nature, spirit, and healthfulness, was repulsed by most of it:
Wendt, writing these words a dozen years before modernism would strike New York with the Armory Show, nonetheless found art in New York in 1901 "defiled," not congruent with the way he wished to express nature. He felt that many of the pictures reeked of "the perfume-laden air of a ladies boudoir" (though quipped of boudoirs: "how do I know?") instead of "the breath of the sea or the zephyrs that come laden with fragrance over clover or wild mustard fields, or the scent of the pines as the wind soughs through their tops." The winner of the Carnegie Prize at the Society of American Artists was John White Alexander (1856-1915), with Autumn, a lush and rhythmic painting of two women in flowing dresses. Typical of Alexander's turn-of-the-century work, replete with daring décolletage and sinuous curvature, is Portrait of a Lady (fig. 16). If the work of Alexander carried the scent of sinfulness for Wendt, then to understand Wendt we cannot underestimate his conservatism.
Wendt's landscape was favorably noticed by the New York Times: "'Cornish Coast' shows that Mr. William Wendt is a follower of the open-air painters. Renoir [1841-1919] or Montenard [1849-1926] could not lavish strong greens, purples, and yellows with a freer hand." This trip also seems to have been a search for exhibition opportunities and gallery contacts. While in New York, Wendt met with the Tonalist painter Birge Harrison (1854-1929), with whom he had corresponded earlier about galleries. He also met with Alexander Harrison, brother to Birge, another widely admired painter of lyrical-to-arcadian land- and seascapes.
Wendt's output continued to be prodigious. In 1901, he exhibited twenty-four works at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the next year nineteen at the same venue. In 1903-4, he returned to England, painting again at Cornwall and St. Ives. He was working toward another major one-person show, which was held in Chicago in March 1905 and which traveled to Detroit in April. Awards and sales continued apace, and it seems as if Wendt could have continued in this pattern indefinitely -- that is, traveling, painting, and exhibiting. However, in 1906, the year he finally married Julia Bracken and settled in California, he traveled away less and stayed closer to home, a change easily attributed to his new marital status and responsibilities.
Where biographical evidence does not exist, it is risky at best and irresponsible at worst to supply it by way of conjecture. However, it could well have been that Wendt worked feverishly and continually before 1906 for two reasons: first and most obviously, to establish himself as a professional artist and, second, to achieve sufficient financial wherewithal to ask for Julia's hand in marriage. Wendt never had much in the way of money in Chicago and continued to struggle into the 1890s and beyond. A man of his time and possessed of high moral standards, Wendt would not have presumed his worthiness until he could demonstrate it. Add to this the fact that she was a Catholic and he a Protestant, at a time when such divisions carried real social implications: their marriage could ill afford the additional critique that Wendt was unprosperous -- a damning assessment in those days. By waiting, working, achieving, and, no doubt, saving, the ever-pragmatic artist preempted any potential objections to their marriage at the same time that he planned for its security.
California at Last
William Wendt moved to Los Angeles in 1906 at the age of forty-one. He was a mature man and artist, and had been for years. At the time of his arrival, his technique and style were fully grounded in established landscape traditions in American art, amended by Barbizon and Impressionist approaches. He was not a rote follower of any one of these three main paths; his art was singular, and confidently so. Wendt's vision, style, and expression would change little during his California years. Indeed, it was his combination of confidence, experience, and impressive painting skills that almost instantly made Wendt the leader of Southern California's emerging visual arts culture. From the outset, his authoritative landscape paintings, vistas that all Southern Californians knew, celebrated clarity and solidity, cleanliness and truth. His art met the expectations of his mostly white, Christian audience in a way that modernism, when it finally arrived, did not and could not.
Los Angeles in 1906 was hardly a metropolis like Chicago, let alone New York. Even within the state, San Francisco (up until the 1906 earthquake, and then again after the city was rebuilt) claimed economic and cultural superiority. Still, there were professional artists living in Los Angeles before the turn of the century, and arts organizations forming that would portend those to come.
Granville Redmond (1871-1935) relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1898, though painting sales were scarce for him in those days. John Bond Francisco (1863-1931) moved there in 1892; William Lees Judson (1842-1928) arrived in 1893 after several years of painting portraits in Chicago; Benjamin Brown (1865-1942) came in 1896; and the French-born decorative floral painter Paul de Longpré (1855-1911), who lamented the lack of art appreciation in Los Angeles as late as 1907, arrived in 1898. Among the more vital institutions extant before Wendt's arrival were the Friday Morning Club, founded in 1891, which sponsored a variety of art-related talks and events, and the Ebell Club, established in 1894, which promoted similar programming. Opportunities for formal instruction included William Lees Judson's courses in outdoor painting at the University of Southern California beginning in 1897. In 1899, Frederick W. Blanchard (1878-1948) built the Blanchard Music and Art Building in Los Angeles at 233 South Broadway, which featured studio space for painters and musicians and a large exhibition space on the top floor. The visual arts were not booming at the turn of the century, but they were not absent, either.
Early in 1906 Wendt visited Santa Barbara and sent off six paintings to show in Chicago. By the spring he was in Los Angeles, and plans were well underway for him to head back to Chicago and marry Julia, which he did in June. What was not scheduled was an appendicitis operation the artist underwent the very next month. He recovered, and the newlyweds went together to the Southland, where they purchased a well-appointed bungalow on Sichel Street from the painter Elmer Wachtel (1864-1929), whose brother John was married to the sister of Guy Rose.
It was also in 1906 that the Painters' Club was founded. Among the original members of the club were Hanson Puthuff (1875-1972), who went to Los Angeles from the Art Institute of Chicago, Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), and Antony Anderson, the new art critic for the Los Angeles Times, who would become an indefatigable promoter of local art in general. In the official club minutes for 10-17 March, the aims of the group are stated as "betterment in the craft, mutual good-fellowship, and exhibitions when the club decides they have enough good canvases on hand." The members also agreed to critique each other's work regularly.
It was not long before Wendt was being actively recruited for membership and for his expertise. On 4 August 1908 he was invited to the Blanchard Building (where the club was meeting) to look over works submitted for a members' show planned for October. One reads in the minutes for that night: "Mr. Wm Wendt was present at the meeting as an invited guest. It was the pleasure of the Club to have Mr. Wendt's criticisms on the sketches submitted for that purpose. At the close of these preliminaries, it was very gratifying to have Mr. Wendt become a member of the Club."A few weeks later, the club met at Julia and William's Sichel Street studio, and the minutes record an enchanted evening:
The "boys," though enamored of Julia and her talent, nonetheless denied her membership in this men-only organization. By 1909, however, internal dissension caused the Painters' Club to disband. Its members were described as "straggling ranks" composed of a "few carping critics" and a "hoard of small minded individuals." Everett C. Maxwell recorded that it required a leader of "strength and purpose" to unify the artists, and this role "fell to the lot of William Wendt."
The collapse of the Painters' Club cleared the way for the formation of the powerful California Art Club, over which Wendt would preside for many years. In 1911, he was elected president of the organization. He proved to be an ideal leader and ambassador for those artists, men and women, who would become known -- somewhat imprecisely -- as the California Impressionists.
Typical of Wendt's work at that time is Arcadian Hills of 1910 (fig. 17), a painting that summarizes his artistic personality. The image is clear, linear, rhythmic, and imbued with a sensitively studied palette (a vestige of his Tonalist origins). The composition is an elegant matrix of intersecting curves, yet the net effect presents a unified, dynamic earth against empty, bright air. For Wendt, a sense of enormity could be implied rather than dictated-that is, he did not go the route of Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) or Thomas Moran (1837-1926) and attempt to represent geographic infinitude; Wendt made the simple into the big.
Indeed, Wendt's relationship to earlier American landscape painting can be summarized this way: he substituted humility for the grandiosity of the Hudson River School. Instead of Church's Niagara Falls, Wendt gives us a marsh; instead of Bierstadt's Sierra Nevada, Wendt gives us rolling hills near his home. His penchant for finding the Sublime in the less than spectacular was the result of a complex intellectual debt to his Swedenborgian-tinged spirituality (the divine was everywhere); the precedents set for artistic intimacy by Tonalism; and the idea, best exemplified by French Impressionism, that subject matter could be taken from everyday life. Wendt extended the ideological core of early American landscape painting-that divinity and nature were linked-without duplicating the strategies of those artists, and without surrendering his own artistic identity to either Tonalism or Impressionism.
Arcadian Hills was most certainly finished in the studio. Wendt's Avalon, Santa Catalina (fig. 18) of the same era was most certainly not (though a larger version was, fig. 19). Here, he takes the otherwise huge subject of the Pacific Ocean and fits its grandeur into a canvas measuring a mere twelve by sixteen inches, no small feat. Painted out of doors, the shadows tucked into the hillsides above the bay are predominately reddish-browns, not the staple blue-violets of Impressionism. The striking blue water is outlined by the ocher shore it reaches, while distant waves are reduced to serpentine lines. Wendt's geometric creativity was applied on both small and large scale, oftentimes with a similar result: the evocation of nature's awesome, yet calming, largeness.
Antony Anderson, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 1911, could hardly contain his enthusiasm for Wendt. Interestingly, Anderson employed language that mirrors the spiritual intentionality ascribed to the artist in the present essay:
Wendt paints Topanga with the perfect understanding that comes from perfect love. In his pictures of this wonderful canyon the very spirit of the out-of-doors and also -- what is equally to the point -- the very soul of Southern California, is felt. You who know his work must agree with me.
And, no doubt, Anderson's readers did. Wendt represented the epitome of craft, beauty, and, after the advent of modernism in the Southland, sanity. There were none of the "eccentricities of impressionism," as John Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) had described them more than a decade earlier, such as brushstrokes too broken or color too bold. In 1911, Anderson did us the favor of identifying the artists in Los Angeles who were considered to be Impressionists: Jack Gage Stark (1882-1950), Sydney Dale Shaw (1879-1946), Detlef Sammann (1857-1938), and Helena Dunlap (1876-1955)[.67]
Admiration for Wendt as a painter quickly spread to admiration for him as a leader. The decision to admit women into the California Art Club very likely stemmed directly from Wendt and his marriage to the undeniably accomplished Julia Bracken. While there were surely those who opposed this daring social innovation, they did not give voice to it. Instead, the change was welcomed in the press. Another visionary move made by Wendt was to arrange for the shipment of the California Art Club shows to San Francisco, where the audience (and potentially the market) would be broadened. An extended quote from the Los Angeles Times sheds light on Wendt's administrative energy:
According to Los Angeles art writer Alma May Cook (seconding the opinion of curator and critic Everett C. Maxwell), Wendt was the reason for the club's success. She recalled that he routinely visited studios to give critiques, encouraged members to enter outside exhibitions, and accompanied groups on outdoor painting trips, as they were "without great experience." To begin to understand the ascendancy of Wendt within Southern California's art community, we must recognize the dual nature of his contribution and stature: he was highly regarded as a mentor and teacher as well as an artist.
Evidence of Wendt's firm hand over the California Art Club came on the occasion of the opening of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in November 1913. The museum had been nearly seven years in the making and was rightly anticipated as a leading cultural institution in the city. Maxwell, formerly curator for the Blanchard Building, was appointed curator of the art gallery. For the opening of the museum he arranged, with the help of Gardner Symons, a loan exhibition of works by Eastern artists. The California Art Club, as the premier arts organization in the area, fully expected to be granted exhibition space for its membership. Instead, the club was told that members had to submit works individually for consideration.
Naturally, relations became severely strained between the club and the hanging committee of the museum, a group that included the writer and painter Rob Wagner (1872-1942), Elmer Wachtel, Jean Mannheim (1863-1945), John Bond Francisco, and Franz Bischoff (1864-1929). Wendt gave the press the official position of the California Art Club:
Many members of the club did, in fact, decide to participate as individuals, but not Wendt. Instead, he mounted an alternative exhibition for the club at the Blanchard Building.
In 1914, the museum handed over space to the California Art Club for its annual show. The head of the selection committee was, not surprisingly, William Wendt. Anderson reported in the Times that the "privilege of showing in the splendid gallery placed at the club's disposal by the board of governors of the museum of history, science and art, by invitation of its exhibition committee, is a consummation long looked forward to by the California Art Club." Wendt had stood his ground and secured for his organization the rights he felt it was entitled to. The club was allowed to hold its annual exhibits there until 1938. Throughout the remainder of the decade and into the 1920s, the Los Angeles Museum instituted a program of regular one-person shows, the vast majority of which came from the membership roll of the California Art Club.
The story thus far of the rise of William Wendt, of his integrity, commitment, talent, and vision, is not, of course, the story of Southern California. The history of painting in the Southland played out against the backdrop of the much larger story of the material expansion of Los Angeles -- a story of land, water, oil, and money. The account of Los Angeles's change from a sleepy, sunlit pueblo in the nineteenth century to a smog-choked megalopolis in the twentieth is an enormous saga, beyond the scope of this essay or any single statistic-laden book. While that saga cannot be recounted here, any discussion of Wendt would be incomplete without mention of the spectacular growth that occurred around him in the years he lived in Los Angeles, a "soul-destroying hurly-burly" that easily matched the pandemonium of Chicago in the early 1890s. The unchecked, environmentally damaging growth that took place in Los Angeles unnerved Wendt just as it had in Chicago.
The population of Los Angeles more than doubled between 1890 and 1900, going from 50,000 to 102,000. Four years later, it was nearly 200,000. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, despite the collapse of the last big land boom in 1887, continued its manic advertisement of California across the country with pamphlets, brochures, and trainloads of fruit sent to cities from the Midwest to the East. California, it was claimed, was the land of anything and everything: the best climate, healthiest food, most beautiful land, and thus happiest lifestyle. A problem was how to supply water to a city of more than 200,000 when all of the area's artesian wells were going dry. The solution was to move water from Owens Valley, 250 miles to the north, via an aqueduct. The historian T. H. Watkins tells us that this was the most ambitious water project since the time of the Romans:
The building of the aqueduct began shortly after Wendt moved to Los Angeles, and the opening of the aqueduct coincided almost exactly with the opening of the Los Angeles Museum. Very shortly after the Owens Valley water arrived, Los Angeles annexed most of the San Fernando Valley. By 1920 the population of Los Angeles was 576,000. This was not the California Wendt first encountered when he was inspired to write "the earth is new again." Indeed, the changes in the city were steady and significant: the steamship Missourian, the first to pass through the Panama Canal, docked in Los Angeles Harbor in 1914; in 1915 D. W. Griffith produced Birth of a Nation, the Universal City Studios was founded, and the Los Angeles County Hospital, the second largest hospital in the nation, was built.
The art historian Susan Landauer has correctly characterized the region's growth during this period as fueled by "a veritable orgy of boosterism." The development of California Impressionism, in her view, was part of the avalanche of advertising and propaganda: "Briefly summarized, California Impressionism crested with Los Angeles' boom culture and expressed its propensity toward boosterism, nostalgia, and willful escapism." However, Landauer herself identified a major exception to her thesis: "For Wendt," she writes, "a pious Lutheran, the notion of California as a New Eden was hardly an idealized fiction, the product of promoters' over-active imaginations." How fully conscious Wendt was that he was rejecting the expectations of boosters or tourists or even his fellow artists was made clear in his own words of 1914:
Again, Wendt's profound spirituality permeated his thinking and thus his art: painting is the act by which he finds the "message, which is for him alone." Painting is akin to meditation or prayer; it is the way to hear the divine voice speaking through nature, which is the divine one. This conviction was deeply at odds with rampant development, and Wendt recoiled from it, just as sensitive individuals continue to do in the present time.
A little-noted but important aspect of Wendt's early career was his work on behalf of art education in the community -- especially for children -- which was hardly the concern of realtors, builders, and oil men. In 1914, Wendt donated two large oil paintings to Manual Arts High School to advance art appreciation there. In 1915, the California Art Club partnered with the South Side Ebell Club to bring a collection of fifty paintings to the Vernon Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. While the show was there, children in various school districts were brought to see it, a practice common enough today but a real innovation then. In addition, Alma May Cook, representing the California Art Club, spoke to groups each evening the paintings were on display, addressing the topic "What Art Means to Every-day Life."
The essence and lucidity of Wendt's art in 1915 is fully present in his large-scale work The Silent Summer Sea (fig. 20). At forty by fifty inches, it is most likely a painting (like his Avalon Bay) that was preceded by outdoor sketches, then finished in the studio. The work has remarkable angularity, sharpness, and vivid contrasts. The shore is warm, yellowish brown, almost wholly uninterrupted save for a few clumps of grayed green, set in front of a flat sea of blue. The ocean's horizon is pressed close to the top of the large canvas, allowing room for the characteristic Pacific sky of pale green and violet. The water hardly moves, the surf is barely audible in the few small upswings of white paint. The stillness, distance, and overall quiet are the hallmarks of Wendt's most personal expression: nature is where respite is. Open, vast, and serene, The Silent Summer Sea is an homage to natural grandeur, a sensual success in terms of sheer color, and an object lesson in what he felt painting should leave out.
While Los Angeles was growing by leaps and bounds, its rival to the north, San Francisco, was being rebuilt after the earthquake and fire that had devastated it in 1906. To recognize both the opening of the Panama Canal and the resurrection of San Francisco, an immense World's Fair opened in February 1915: the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It featured a complex of enormous buildings, including the Tower of Jewels, which was bedecked with thousands of pieces of colored glass illumined at night by dozens of colored searchlights. Over the next ten months more than two million people visited the exposition, where there were marvels in abundance inside the Palace of Machinery, the Palace of Horticulture, the Fountain of Energy, and, of course, the Palace of Fine Arts (fig. 21).
On view inside the Palace of Fine Arts were works by painters from nearly every region of America, and exhibiting with them were the Californians. Wendt was represented by another summa theologica of his aesthetic, The Land of Heart's Desire. It was a fitting image to be included in a sweeping survey of American art, an exhibition designed, as Chicago's had been in 1893, to confirm America's splendid cultural achievement, an achievement running alongside those in industry, science, and agriculture, which were feted in other buildings. The great world's fairs always touted the notion of progress along with cultural achievement, as their organizers and consumers envisioned a future all the more remarkable with continued progress. Wendt's art did, in fact, contribute to the image of a culturally vigorous California, but -- and he was certainly not alone here -- not to a progressively modern California art.
Julia Bracken's and William Wendt's views on modernism appeared in print in 1914 and 1915 respectively. A close reading of their commentary reveals that they were bothered by the excessively radical movements emanating from Europe, and also by certain kinds of work being done in Los Angeles. Julia and William despised the extremes of cubism and futurism. Julia made this specifically clear in 1914, when she wrote for a local paper about an inevitable effect of the opening of the Panama Canal: "the Pacific Coast will be made a dumping ground for much trash in the name of art," including "the work of the decadent schools of the so-called futurists and cubists, but let them exhibit such work in a dime museum, not in an art gallery."
She argued that Los Angeles, though the decadence of cubism had yet to reach it, was already plagued by bad art: "Art should be good or not encouraged at all. Neither shall we have commercialism in art. The trouble now is there is too much shop standard and little understanding of real art." Real art, naturally, was represented in painting by her husband. On the heels of Julia's comments, William had this to say in 1915:
To whom, exactly, was Wendt addressing these strong words? To cubists and futurists generally, as he and Julia saw eye to eye on that score, and she had already targeted them for contempt. But let us read the quote carefully: Wendt is talking to the "landscape painters" specifically, not to Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) or Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Just as Julia had made it plain that unacceptable work was being made locally (something the art critics of Los Angeles were loathe to say), William was addressing those painters who were failing to see that "nature has more to say than can be caught in a minute." Wendt was talking to and about younger plein air painters who were working right then.
He never named names, being the conservative and diplomatic Victorian he was. Here is a guess: Wendt probably took severe exception to paintings like Sydney Dale Shaw's Plumy Trees (fig. 22), described by Antony Anderson in 1911 as "hardly a sketch." Shaw's sketch was an example of the kind of scene that was "caught in a minute." It represented modernism as it was practiced then in Los Angeles, and it was not a direction Wendt approved of.
In that same 1915 statement, Wendt admonished younger artists and advised them -- in a moment reaching back to his own artistic origins -- to look at artists of the Hudson River School. Bierstadt and Church, he said, continued to interest him, as "they studied nature with a reverent thoroughness that should put many of our present day painters to the blush." This is not advice that Wendt was giving to cubists -- he had nothing to say to them -- this was advice to the more radical landscape painters in his midst.
A local painter who must have given both Wendts palpitations was Jack Gage Stark. As already noted, Stark was identified as early as 1911 as representing Impressionism. In 1914, right after Julia's article appeared and just before William's tirade, Stark had a one-person show at Exposition Park:
If only we knew what Mr. Stark's "ultra-modernism" consisted of. His paintings, called "cubist," must have been broken in surface far beyond his earlier work, which was (according to Anderson) like the Shaw painting reproduced here as figure 22. Perhaps he had discovered Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), as so many East Coast Americans had, and was painting like an Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), Alfred Maurer (1868-1932), or John Marin (1870-1953). Cubism of any stripe represented decadence to Julia and William, and an indebtedness to Europe, as Julia wrote, only slowed the development of a great American art. And the "dernier cri," the latest word in art, was not what nature had to teach us.
Just how carefully Wendt observed his subjects is evidenced in a comparison between a painting from 1917, The Winding Stream (fig. 23), and a contemporaneous postcard of the same subject (fig. 24). Wendt must have stood very close to the same spot as the anonymous photographer of Aliso Canyon. His studied simplification is everywhere: he edits out the railing along the bridge; the individual hillside trees and shrubs are swallowed up by broad, earth-colored strokes. Yet, the scale of bridge to stream and of each hill to the next is nearly identical to what is seen in the photograph. Wendt maximizes the drama of sunlight on the angular slopes, exaggerating their sharpness in the process, and amplifies the blue of the water. His bright color and reductive brushwork is, as always, layered over exceptionally careful drawing.
Before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition opened, World War I broke out in August 1914. This created a demand for labor in the Eastern United States that temporarily slowed immigration to Los Angeles through the later 1910s. The war may very well have caused some concern for the German-born Wendt, though this is impossible to document. In 1917, the Zimmerman Telegram, whose clear implication was that Mexico might join Germany in the war in order to reclaim U.S. territory -- including California -- was published. This caused a scare in Los Angeles: the harbor was fortified and the National Guard was mobilized and sent to the Mexican border.
In March 1917 Wendt wrote to his old friend Leonard Lester (1870-1952):
The very next month, April 1917, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany. The result was a wave of patriotism that also carried with it a wave of anti-German sentiment.
Late in 1917 the German-American Trust and Savings Bank in Los Angeles changed its name to the Guaranty Trust and Savings Bank. In 1918, Wendt built a studio at Laguna Beach, and, while he did not sell his home in Los Angeles, he effectively moved there while Julia remained on Sichel Street. Biographical sketches of Wendt to date have maintained that Wendt was escaping urban development -- as he had once left Chicago -- and that was doubtless part of the reason for his move. But the timing of the move suggests that the war and his German ancestry constituted the other part. Why did Wendt never comment on this? The answer: What could he possibly have said?
In the local art world, Wendt was recognized and respected. Outside of it, in a big and growing city, his stature as an artist would have meant precious little in the face of patriotism and inflamed hostility. Wendt, the shy, serious, and spiritual Wendt, perhaps wished to avoid confrontations and ease the burden of association for his wife. Wendt was fifty-three when he built his Laguna studio, and by so doing, he removed himself from his role as the leader of the visual arts in Los Angeles.
Wendt and His California Peers
When grouping a large number of artists under a single banner such as "California Impressionism" or, for that matter, any "ism," we naturally look for commonalities of style and subject, for unifying principles. When individuals are defined by way of a group, it is all the more difficult to see the individual. Wendt was not a Californian by birth as Guy Rose was, yet it was Rose who amassed extensive painting experience in Europe, including direct contact with Impressionism, Rose who lived and taught in New York, and Rose who became somewhat cosmopolitan in the process. Wendt and Alson Clark (1876-1949) both hailed from Chicago, but Clark fearlessly embraced technological change when he made a series of large-scale paintings documenting the building of the Panama Canal, an experience that would have been a nightmare for Wendt. And, while Wendt was and continues to be identified as a leader, if not the leader, of California Impressionism in its heyday, he was clearly not an influence on the order of Rose or Clark, who matured in their own ways and who, significantly, were not defined by pantheism.
A brief look at Wendt and his peers suggests that his spirituality, intense and genuine, insulated him from international influences in a way it did not the others. Select comparisons further suggest, beyond our present interest in Wendt, that the rubric of "California Impressionism" might now be surrendered for a more useful phraseology, such as California plein air painting (though the term continues to strangle the unilingual), words referring more specifically to those artists who worked out of doors, but words that do not overinflate the relationship these artists had to Impressionism as exemplified by Monet. The term could embrace both works done wholly out of doors and studio paintings generated by outdoor study.
Granville Redmond, a native Californian, was in the Southland when Wendt arrived and in many ways had a similar stylistic progression. Redmond's bout with scarlet fever at age two and a half left him completely deaf. After study at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, where he met the talented artist Theophilus Hope d'Estrella (1851-1929), who had been a student of Virgil Williams (1830-1886), Redmond went on to the San Francisco School of Design beginning in 1890. There, he became deeply impressed with the Tonalist style of the school's new director, Arthur Mathews (1860-1945). Redmond made his way to Paris for study, and his hard-won Salon debut was a painting wholly Tonalist in approach. He was not unaffected, however, by Impressionism.
Back in California, Redmond's work was parallel with Wendt's in that it was ultimately an aggregate of approaches to painting, including the academic, Impressionist, Tonalist, and, for lack of a less-incendiary word, decorative. Redmond's Silver and Gold, from around 1918 (fig. 25), is a bookend to Wendt's The Silent Summer Sea with its emphasis on simplicity and its evocation of stillness. Shapes of sky and hill are as distinct as they are in Wendt's work, and the seeming desire to express an oceanic arcadia is present as well. In contrast, Redmond essayed the broken stroke to a far greater degree and lingered over the details of each poppy. Wendt moved toward flatness and geometry (an almost prescient sense of modernism), while Redmond found his métier in effusive decoration.
Their similarities are germane to California plein-airism: outdoor painters of this era remained tied to a traditional landscape view -- one of largesse, clarity, and metaphoric goodness related philosophically to the idea of God-in-Nature. Indeed, Redmond also believed in a moral imperative to painting. He gave his thoughts to the Los Angeles Times in 1906:
Redmond went on to say that "many paintings we see are not true to nature." Might he have meant Monet and company? Quite possibly, since he then cited the masters who showed "true character," and these were all Barbizon artists: Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Narcisse Diaz (1807-1879), Daubigny, and Jules Dupré (1811-1889). In any case, his insistence on a moral dimension to art mirrored Wendt's.
Hanson Puthuff studied in Chicago before making his home in Los Angeles in 1903, and he was one of the few eventually brave enough to try and paint the Grand Canyon (something Wendt maintained could not be done). Edgar Payne (1883-1947) likewise had studied in Chicago and undoubtedly saw the work of Wendt there, went to California in 1917, and made overwhelming mountain views a specialty (he was also an inveterate traveler and painter of harbor scenes). Then, of course, there was Gardner Symons, born in Chicago and Wendt's friend there from his student days at the Art Institute, who poetically dramatized snow scenes in New York as well as sand and surf at Laguna Beach. These three artists, all connected to Wendt through friendship and his Chicago background, shared his landscape focus and traditional compositional methods. Not as firmly focused on pure landscape (who was?), they routinely painted in parallel to him, further grounding the rudiments of Southern California plein-airism in tradition, clarity, craft, and moral uplift. Add to this list Maurice Braun (1877-1941), and the conceptual framework of landscape in the Southland is very nearly completed.
Braun's crystalline seascapes and iconic California Valley Farm of 1920 (Collection of Joseph L. Moure) were driven by his academic background at the National Academy of Design and his strident Theosophical beliefs that, while not Swedenborgian, established a literal link in his mind among land, light, and spirit. While his work is easily discernable from Wendt's (as is that of all these artists), his aesthetic objectives are not.
Guy Rose returned to California from Giverny by way of New York in 1914 and suffered a career-ending stroke in 1920. Rose enjoyed celebrity status in the Los Angeles art community for his distinguished accomplishments. His California seascapes from Laguna to Carmel done over that short period are disciplined, descriptive, and luminous. If there were any doubt as to the absolute supremacy of poetic, deftly painted landscape in Southern California art, from its enshrinement at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 through the 1920s, Rose's presence removed it. Like Wendt, Rose commanded respect for his dignified perseverance in the arts as well as for his evident skill. He, too, spoke little, but when he did, people listened.
Guy Rose's career, however, stands in significant degrees of opposition to that of Wendt. Rose submerged himself in the French experience, going from Académie Julian student to full-time Giverny resident. He knew Monet, painted in his shadow, and, while still unwilling to dissolve form fully (think of Rouen Cathedral melting into pure atmosphere), Rose adapted an overall brokenness of stroke in his 1910 view of the River Epte (fig. 26) that vibrates in the direction of disappearing shapes. His pink-, orange-, and green-streaked willows preserve the three-dimensionality of the picture, as do the unequivocal light gradations of the water. It is an overtly scintillating canvas, the kind of image that revels in the sensory delights of a moment. This was part of the Impressionist legacy, and Rose partook of it.
He continued the Impressionist experiment during his California years, albeit to a lesser extent. Rose's small Coastline (fig. 27) is an actual impression, painted on the spot, of a given fleeting atmospheric condition: vaporous water meeting rocky shoreline, shown by a very few slanting strokes of violet, blue, and green. More common in these years is the camera-sharp Carmel Seascape (fig. 28), an effect that does not negate Rose's sporadic but authentic Impressionist bent.
The fundamental difference between Rose, the Impressionist, and Wendt, the traditionalist, was understood in its time by the Los Angeles Times critic Arthur Millier (18931975). Millier noted in 1926, a year after Rose's death, that Rose had "built up his technique during years of association with the French Impressionists." He opined, "Guy Rose has yet to meet his equal, among landscape painters of this section [i.e., Impressionists], for delicacy of perception, refinement of color and melodic charm." Wendt, Millier recognized, was a different artist altogether:
Rose's career places Impressionism within a California context, distinguishable from and aesthetically separate from Wendt. However, he was not the only one. There was Alson Clark, who in 1910 had executed his high-keyed, briskly painted Summer, Giverny Hillside (fig. 29), a canvas in which shapes collapse into one another (despite the presence of a few clear lines of demarcation that almost have to be looked for). Another clearly Impressionist effort is Clark's Thousand Islands, New York of 1911, where discreet daubs of emerald green rush across the riverside trees. Emerald green straight from the tube, intense and electric, is a color Wendt studiously avoided in his career-long obsession with green. Indeed, he warned: "never use emerald green."
Clark went to California for health reasons: he had gone completely deaf in one ear and was advised to find a warm clime that would not aggravate the situation. Clark wound up teaching at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena at Guy Rose's invitation. When Rose had his stroke, Clark filled the position of director of the school for years. Like Rose before him, Clark injected an aesthetic that was arguably Impressionist in an international sense (though he, too, was sporadic in its full implementation). Clark's 1924 oil of Mission San Juan Capistrano (fig. 30) trembles on the verge of dissolution as edges of shrubbery, cobblestone path, and mission wall converge and consult. Clark's agile scumbles of white light onto the brick colonnade bespeak rapidity of execution, acquiescence to the moment. Wendt's small, plein air version of the same mission (fig. 31) is deft and briskly painted, but with unbroken architecture at every edge.
Whereas the bulk of Clark's and Rose's California output fits comfortably within the category of Impressionistic Romantic-Realism, casting such a broad (and lazy) art historical net does not account for the existence of the verifiable strand of Impressionism that exists in California plein air painting and is distinct from the geometric fixities of Wendt.
Clark and Rose are sufficient to prove that there is indeed Impressionism within California Impressionism, but only as one strand woven into the overall fabric of outdoor painting made there between roughly 1890 and 1930. The periodic appearance of Impressionism does not justify using the word to describe a school or movement that clearly did not exist; rather, its appearance asks us to identify it, locate it, and compare it with other extant art impulses. The result is a California plein air period that is actually more diverse, complicated, and contingent than published studies have allowed.
Within that more complicated history put forth here, California plein air painting is tripartite: Wendt is the classical master of outdoor landscape, strenuous and architectural -- his pictures sit on an easel like a pyramid. Rose and, to a lesser extent, Clark, were conservative acolytes of a once-revolutionary mode and represent the in-state presence of what can be justified as Impressionism. Selden Gile (1877-1947), working in Northern California, accepted by the 1920s the radical implications of a brilliant palette and a fractured picture plane and represents those artists who did not praise nature so much as construct artifice from nature.
Many California artists working between 1890 and 1930 could be cosmopolitan to varying degrees (Jules Pages, 1867-1946, for example), but the vast majority simply could not be modern: they could not make the journey from moral certitude to existential doubt. Including, and especially, William Wendt.
William Wendt in the 1920s and After
We know from contemporaneous accounts that Wendt was quiet and reclusive. In the detailed and numerous news accounts of his Southern California career, we see that he rarely spoke to groups (the present writer found one instance of public speaking referred to in the Los Angeles Times). Mildred McLouth, staff member at the Los Angeles Museum, described him thus in 1926:
In 1918, the year he built a studio at Laguna Beach, this very private man lay awake at night brooding over the passage of time: "The years that have passed," he wrote in a letter, "have brought little in the fulfillment of my dreams and hopes and have not yet brought the peace of mind I fain would have."
He was, despite decades of accolades in the arts, not satisfied or possessed of "peace of mind." In the same letter, he noted that he was reading books about World War I, including E. C. Randall's The Dead Have Never Died and War Letters from the Living Dead Man. His discontent, not surprisingly, was linked to America's war with Germany, in addition to the common-enough middle-age preoccupation with aging and career disappointments.
Wendt was always described as sober and serious, as in the 1930 profile by his longtime associate, the ever-enthusiastic Antony Anderson, who was compelled to counter assessments of the artist as "a melancholy fellow." Melancholy was, and had been for generations, a general term for what we now call depression. When charged with melancholia, according to Anderson, Wendt "confesses he is often very low in spirit." Anderson happily maintained that low spirits were the price exacted by the gods in exchange for the joy of being an artist.
Such a rose-colored diagnosis does little, of course, to dispel the idea that Wendt's self-imposed isolation in 1918, due in part to wishing to escape urban development and, perhaps, prevailing anti-German sentiment, was underpinned by his own inability to find, as he himself admitted, peace of mind. Even before 1918, over the whole of his life, was not Wendt always looking to be removed from cities and crowds, and people in general? Now, in 1918, he was living away from Julia most of the time.
Wendt had been the central force of the California Art Club in Los Angeles, but in Laguna Beach the founding of the art gallery there in 1918 (fig. 32) was largely the work of Edgar Payne and Anna Hills (1882-1930). Wendt showed at the gallery but absented himself from parties, meetings, and openings. An article on the early life of the Laguna Beach art colony pointedly noted that "Mr. Wendt's rare emergence into the social light of Laguna was remembered long after the usual faces were gone."
While we will not fall into the vagaries of unsubstantiated psycho-history here, it is nonetheless difficult not to see Wendt as a lonely man at this stage of his life, sleepless and worried. In 1925, he tacked signs on every door of his studio that read "No Visitors." Was such a sign needed in early Laguna? Was there such a crush of admirers flocking to bother him? Were there relentless reporters? Surely not. This was the act of a man who did not want to be bothered by anyone.
From his new living quarters in Laguna Beach, Wendt was nonetheless busy and productive, in addition to being occasionally pedantic and short-tempered. He worked incessantly, and in 1921, he and Julia had a joint exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. That same year, Julia was commissioned by the Ebell Club in Los Angeles to sculpt a World War I memorial for the group's clubhouse. Simultaneously, one of William's paintings was purchased by the Los Angeles District Federation of Women's Clubs and presented as a war memorial to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (The Mantle of Spring, 1917, fig. 33). Both works of art were intended by the women's clubs to express "through the message of art their gratitude to American soldiers and sailors." A rare photograph of an angelic and sincere Wendt appeared in the paper along with a photograph of his painting.
It is both tempting and problematic to see this episode in light of the prevailing nationwide anti-German sentiment, which raises more unanswerable questions: Was this war memorial opportunity extended to Wendt because of his stature -- the obvious explanation -- or as a way for his adherents in the local art community to publicly link him with patriotism? Was it, in fact, orchestrated by Julia and her connections within the women's clubs?
Wendt was nothing if not pragmatic and had been so the whole of his career. Without being hypocritical, he could announce his allegiance to his adopted country and defray subtle antagonism. So utterly pragmatic was he that, in 1922, when a show of his work at Stendahl Galleries was approaching, the artist wrote to his dealer that he would like the show to be up when a large convention of dentists was scheduled to be in town, because this was a group likely to buy his art.
Wendt's painting trips from Laguna Beach were many and diverse, though largely close to home. In the mid-1920s he painted at locales such as the Santa Margarita Ranch, El Toro, and Morro Bay. Whether painting in the field or in his studio, Wendt worked methodically: he began painting early each morning, broke for lunch, and continued into the late afternoon. Though large canvases were most often finished in the studio, he took them on location, saying in 1922 that "Nature isn't a two-by-four affair and I don't think pictures ought to be either." One of these large-scale works, Where Nature's God Hath Wrought (fig. 34), was shown in the First Pan-American Exhibition of Oil Paintings, an enormous show at the Los Angeles Museum. It was awarded the Balch Prize, which carried with it a two-thousand-dollar purse.
In 1925, Wendt was sixty. Sales had been mostly steady for years, and prizes a regularity. Still, Wendt routinely wrote his dealer, Earl Stendahl, to prompt him about sales. His worries and insecurities extended to financial concerns for both himself and Julia. He was no longer young and no doubt already feeling the arthritis in his hands that would drastically slow his production. In 1926, a major retrospective of eighty-two paintings was held at Stendahl Galleries inside the Ambassador Hotel. The exhibition was accompanied by a 120-page clothbound book, published by the gallery, which reproduced the works in the show and included texts by Antony Anderson, Alma May Cook, Fred Hogue, and Arthur Millier. Stendahl had earlier arranged for Wendt to be photographed by the young and talented George Hurrell (19041992) for the publication (fig. 35).
This was, in very real ways, the moment that marked the apotheosis of William Wendt. The large-scale landscapes that defined his career were here en masse, as were more modest paintings, descriptive of California oaks, mountains, slopes, groves, clouds, valleys, and seasons. The effusive encomiums that he enjoyed from the local press year after year were consolidated and updated, with no laudatory adjective left unused. His fame in California was of course secure, but now his importance as a great American artist was asserted, a claim echoed by virtue of the present publication. He had by 1926 exhausted the limits of his skill and imagination and had composed variations on the same themes far more than once. Though he continued to paint at a reduced pace into the 1930s, his contribution had been made.
The out-size canvas Where Nature's God Hath Wrought is a multilayered metaphor and visual summary of the long career of its creator. It is at once the mountain we struggle to climb, a symbol of life and work. It is again nature as God's formidable handiwork, looming above us and pointing, literally, heavenward. Painted at Morro Bay, it is a stylistic amalgam of interlocking planes and jagged curves, stitched together into one vast shape that mimics an ancient pyramid. It thus evokes time and endurance, God and man, and the earth itself that we would dare to manipulate. This painting, in essence, was William Wendt, the closest thing he would make to a self-portrait, a deliberate and very formal paean to everything in which he believed.
To walk through Stendahl Galleries in 1926 would have been to experience numerous moods and sensual evocations from the hand of one who worked so diligently to have the tools to express them. All themes present in the show would have been different notes in an operatic piece that we might entitle "All That Is Good Is in Nature." Wendt no doubt would have approved of this title.
Even to page through the 1926 exhibition catalogue today is to be overwhelmed by Wendt's sturdy production and the deep well of his visual poetry. Wendt remains interesting because he painted with such care and discipline and with an unshakeable belief that nature was edifying -- morally and physically and spiritually edifying. We ignore nature to our detriment, we destroy it at our peril.
From 1928 to 1938 William Wendt painted only thirty pictures. He was slowed by age, poor health, and an increasing sense of his own anachronistic status. In 1933, California and the nation were sinking further into the Great Depression, paintings were nigh unto impossible to sell, and Wendt openly lamented the state of the art world and his place in it:
As if Wendt had magically conjured him -- that younger and more daring person -- the brilliant founder of Synchromist painting and radical theoretician of modern art and for years the leader of the vanguard in Los Angeles, no other than Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973), visited Wendt's Laguna Beach studio in 1934. As one of the first Americans ever to paint abstractly (before World War I), an outspoken critic of all things retardataire, a legendary wit who practiced conversation as a martial art, what would Macdonald-Wright have thought of the art of William Wendt, the conservative paragon of the California Art Club?
Happily, we know. For a short time, Macdonald-Wright was the art critic for Rob Wagner's Hollywood Script (a magazine Wendt surely would have found unforgivably vulgar). In a 1942 review of an exhibition of the Foundation of Western Art, Macdonald-Wright easily dismissed as typical the work of Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), John Hubbard Rich (1876-1954), and Max Wieczorek (1863-1955). He noted that James Swinnerton (1875-1974) was a good painter -- "in an illustrative vein." Then, the following sentence: "William Wendt has a very beautiful landscape, characteristic of the California he loves, replete with atmosphere and good art."
To appreciate this brief nod to Wendt, one again must realize it came from California's most vanguard artist, whose praise was rare. What he saw in Wendt was precision, structure, discipline, and, most important, faith. That last ingredient, Macdonald-Wright believed, was rapidly fading from twentieth-century art -- faith in the transcendent, in the state of being beyond where we are. He saw that faith in Wendt. He did not see it in much of the contemporary art being made in the 1940s. In another article, Macdonald-Wright took swipes at insincere modernists and New York City in general:
William Wendt, in the view of Macdonald-Wright -- California's pioneer modernist -- was a craftsman, with a message for posterity.
At the time of the 1926 Stendahl show, Wendt was ill. The exhibition, originally planned for February of that year, was postponed until April. During that time, Wendt sought medical treatment for an undisclosed but long-term and serious problem. A year later, Wendt showed again at Stendahl's, the so-called Farewell Exhibition, as it preceded Wendt's trip back to Germany, the place of his birth. He painted there, but perhaps the primary reason for going was to see his first home one more time before he died. Wendt traveled with Julia and his old companion Gardner Symons. At the time of their departure, Stendahl bought sixty-four paintings from Wendt for ten thousand dollars, a transaction that might well be interpreted as securing the future for Julia.
When he returned to Laguna Beach, Wendt was greeted by a huge reception that included bands, speeches, and a gala banquet. The reclusive and shy Wendt, who took pains to avoid people and talk, was moved to tears. He wrote at the time to a patron named Mrs. Evans:
Wendt's depth of feeling expressed itself in another way at this time-he worked to sell a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), a prominent painter of religious subjects. Wendt had been aware of Tanner since the 1890s, when Tanner won fame for his recognition at the all-important Paris Salons. In 1927, a painting by Tanner owned privately in California was for sale, and the owner had gone to Wendt for help. Wendt first tried to sell it to the Los Angeles Museum (which pleaded lack of funds), then asked Stendahl for his assistance. Wendt described Tanner's Flight into Egypt as being beautiful "aside from its religious sentiment." Recognizing Tanner as a significant artist, Wendt wanted the painting to go to a museum and did not want it "kicking around" in Stendahl's gallery. Again he wrote to Stendahl: "Remember it [the Tanner] is not a Wendt or Tom, Dick and Harry canvas."
In 1929, Wendt finally had major surgery related to his ongoing condition, and it was assumed he would not survive: even the Los Angeles Times mournfully reported that "William Wendt is passing." Wendt, however, lived. He recuperated under Julia's care at her Sichel Street studio, and by the summer he was able to paint again. All the while, Stendahl kept Wendt's paintings on view in his gallery and made sure they were included in regional exhibits. Tributes and reviews alike, though there was little difference between the two at this stage of Wendt's now-mythic career in Southern California, regularly appeared.
Wendt, though, never fully recovered. He became increasingly arthritic and easily fatigued. Added to his general physical discomfort was the increasing commonality of modernist painting in 1930s Los Angeles. Though Stanton Macdonald-Wright saw the enduring value of Wendt's art, Wendt would not have reciprocated that sentiment. Wendt, who earlier in the century had reprimanded the "flip" younger quasi-Impressionist painters, had no sympathy for abstractions or the grimy realities of Depression-era genre scenes. Wendt became a member of the reactionary Society for Sanity in Art, a group dedicated to crushing the perceived evils of modernism. In 1935, he gave a picture to Sister Mary Blanche of Iowa and wrote her the following:
Pray accept the same with my regards and high esteem for yourself, and a reminder that "Only God can make a tree." As I am nearing the three score and ten mark, with physical powers waning, I know that there is very little to look forward to in the way of achievement in Art, especially since the world has gone mad in what is considered progress in these times.
Later that same year he lamented to his good friend Leonard Lester, "Death does not seem unkindly and when its call comes for me, I trust that I may go without a whimper." In 1937, as Wendt's health continued to decline, Julia sold the Los Angeles home and studio and went to Laguna Beach to live with him. In 1938, he was diagnosed with both diabetes and heart disease. The days passed ever more slowly for the couple. Stendahl nonetheless kept Wendt's work before the public (fig. 36).
In a letter to his friends Guy and Lucia Edwards, Wendt wrote: "Mrs. W. and I play dominos on occasion. She is a good loser." Wendt's dry humor -- while rare -- was still in place, as was his wont to avoid contact with others. In the summer of 1940 he left Laguna Beach not necessarily because he wanted to, in his words, but because he wanted to be away from "Laguna's summer crowds, its Artists Festival, etc. etc." He referenced with a restrained but deep sadness, too, the advent of yet another world war with Germany at its center. God, he observed at the time, "must be oblivious to the miseries of the thousands of his poor creatures that suffer through no fault of their own."
That the horrors of war occupied Wendt is further confirmed by a poem written by an old friend of Wendt's, the Chicago lawyer and writer Ernest McGaffey (b. 1861), "Fall In." This poem was handwritten in 1940 by McGaffey and dedicated to "my friends William and Julia Wendt." The first stanza reads:
Yet another "comprehensive" exhibit of the work of Wendt was held at Stendahl Galleries in 1942, and on 22 June of that year Julia died. Anna Kasdorf Wendt, the artist's younger sister, went to live with her grief-laden brother.
Wendt managed in his remaining years, with the help of Stendahl, to continue to submit paintings -- most of them earlier canvases that he had reworked -- to various exhibits. He received visitors, usually artists, and wrote letters, even though these were physically demanding to produce. Early in 1946 Wendt, the lifelong Lutheran, converted to the religion of his wife, Roman Catholicism, and attended mass every day. After he died on 29 December 1946, from complications related to heart disease, Wendt was buried next to Julia.
William Wendt: Legacy and Meaning
Art persists in human societies. We tell stories, make music, dance, carve figures, and draw pictures on the wall. We mark our faces and bodies, weave elaborate headdresses, erect monuments, and now devise elaborate multimedia performances that take place over time and space and may reach a worldwide audience. There are numerous theories as to why we make art, and what art means. Some are as old as the Greeks, some as recent as yesterday. In the dense forest of contemporary critical theory, the tendency over the past several decades has been to deny meaning by claiming meaning to be continually deferred within a maze of signifiers, referents, and contingencies. Outside the art world, serious scholars of the human mind have concluded that art theory has, in fact, made a hash of the art world. Many prominent voices within the art establishment -- curators, collectors, and dealers -- have come to wonder if the twin excesses of a criterion-less aesthetic free-for-all and a marketplace driven by hype have left us, finally, confronting the death of Art.
Among the more lucid voices to enter the critical fray in these same past decades is that of Ellen Dissanayake, a scholar working across disciplines -- including anthropology, evolutionary biology, and psychology -- to clarify the role of art in human history. Her provocative thesis begins with the observation that our species has always had the ability to distinguish between the mundane, ordinary, or "natural" and the unusual, extraordinary, or "supernatural." Homo sapiens, according to Dissanayake, is characterized by
This ability -- to transform something from the ordinary to the extraordinary -- is the basis of aesthetic behavior and the source of art made the world over.
According to Dissanayake, the human species has ingeniously developed ways to enhance and refine objects, stories, and rituals to make them more effective in helping us survive in a complex and often threatening world. This process of enhancing and refining she calls "making special," and it imbues the historical phenomena we think of as "art." Once made special, art -- whether a spear, a song, or a ceremony -- is extraordinary, stylized, formalized, socially reinforcing, and set off from day-to-day life. Art's purpose as it evolved was to help us recognize and define what was essential in life, and thus it played a role in helping us survive.
Dissanayake's theory (made dangerously skeletal here) has a genuine and persuasive resonance with the art of William Wendt. Throughout the history of the world, artisans made things special that were important to societies, thus the intimate link historically between religion and art (as in pyramids or cathedrals). To set nature apart in a grand, idealized painting, to make it special, was to draw attention to its importance. Wendt, as put forth in this essay, continued to focus on the landscape, to set it apart, to enhance and refine its presentation. Wendt's gift to us is actually part of a much larger legacy handed down by the whole of the American landscape tradition: nature is our source, the continuum between us and that which lies beyond.
We continue to be compelled by the paintings of William Wendt because of how he made them special: through discipline, hard work, and refinement of his craft. We find them pleasurable for their sensitive orchestrations of color and light, for their mastery of sensual materials. We prize them for their relative rarity, as few artists share his level of technical and poetic accomplishment. Most important, though, we are moved by them spiritually and intellectually because he endows his subject, the landscape, with formal grandeur in such a way that we recognize the paramount status of the environment, its importance and centrality to our lives. Just as this message is not tied to an ideology of any earlier century, it will not be irrelevant in any future one. It remains germane to us.
Over one hundred years ago the philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) recognized that our experiences provide us with a wealth of knowledge that is connected and applicable to all our other experiences: to see a picture of a mountain is one aesthetic experience, to physically walk up that same mountain is another -- the second is inseparable from the first, each experience informs the other. As we appreciate the beauty of William Wendt's painted surfaces, we feel and know this beauty to be intrinsic to our own environment. As we act to protect and keep our environment as special as Wendt saw it, we reconfirm his art, his beliefs, and our own -- all inseparable, each one informing the other.
1. The death certificate for William Wendt is on record at the Orange County Clerk-Recorder's Office. Information on it was provided by Wendt's sister Anna Kasdorf. The author thanks Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick and Phil Kovinick for their help in acquiring this information.
2. Obituary, Los Angeles Times, 30 December 1946, 8. Information on Wendt's apprenticeship from Walter Lamb, interview by Nancy Moure, Riverside, Calif., 1976, cited in Moure, William Wendt, 18651946, exh. cat. (Laguna Beach, Calif.: Laguna Beach Museum of Art, 1977), 9.
3. See Hartmut Keil and John B. Jentz, eds., German Workers in Industrial Chicago, 18501910: A Comparative Perspective (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983).
4. Lamb, interview by Moure, in Moure, William Wendt, 18651946, 9.
5. Charles Francis Browne, "Some Recent Landscapes by William Wendt," Brush and Pencil 6 (September 1900): 257.
6. William H. Gerdts, "Illinois," in Art across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710-1920, 3 vols. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990), 2:293.
7. Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, 28 October 1885. "Frank C. Bromley, the artist, has opened an art school in Chicago with J. F. Waldo, formerly of this city as one of the teachers. Mr. Waldo has just completed a new picture of the Chicago lake front for the New Orleans exposition." The author thanks Edward P. Bentley for sharing this information.
8. Donald C. Meadows, Waldo's great-nephew, met Wendt in Laguna about 1920. He asked Wendt if he knew of J. Frank Waldo, to which Wendt clearly replied: "Oh yes, he was one of my teachers." Meadows related this to Edward P. Bentley in an interview for an unpublished article on Waldo. The author again thanks Mr. Bentley for this important biographical information.
9. Waldo's poem on Santa Barbara was written for the Chicago Post and is entitled "Southern California." The first stanza reads:
Waldo vertical file, Chicago Historical Society. The author thanks Dr. Wendy Greenhouse for her invaluable assistance locating primary source material in Chicago.
10. "Art Matters," Chicago Daily Tribune, 8 February 1885, 13.
11. A label affixed to the original stretcher bar of this painting, written in Wendt's hand, gives the painting's title and also the artist's address: "212-214 E. Randolph St., Chicago." The author thanks Ray Redfern for his past and present support of California studies.
12. Arthur Millier, "Our Artists in Person, No. 35-Julia Bracken Wendt," Los Angeles Times, 29 November 1931, 16.
13. Wendt's violin-playing roommate was a man named Burber. There is no record of an artist with the surname Burber in the online registry of Illinois artists. It may well be he was a musician, despite Wendt's objections. For an image of Wendt with a beard, see Blance Ostertag's drawing of him reproduced in Browne, "Some Recent Landscapes by William Wendt," 257.
14. Wendt attended the Evening Antique Class in 189192, and the Evening Life Class in 189293 and 189394. The instructors during these years were Charles Boutwood, Louis O. Jurgensen, and Edward Wesley Hoehn. The author thanks Bart Ryckbosch, Archivist, Art Institute of Chicago, for this information.
15. Boutwood won the Yerkes Prize for best painting, awarded by the Chicago Society of Artists, in 1894, the year after Wendt won second place. In the society's 1894 show, which featured Boutwood's winning oil, entitled A Pleasant Interruption, Wendt showed two landscapes, Verdure-Clad and Back of the Village. See "Art Prizes Awarded," Chicago Daily Tribune, 15 April 1894, 1.
16. William Wendt to Samuel McCrea, 15 December 1896, courtesy of Thomas Gianetto, Edenhurst Gallery, Los Angeles. This letter and a cache of others are owned and currently preserved by Thomas Gianetto of the Edenhurst Gallery. The author thanks Mr. Gianetto for his generous and indispensable support of the present study. These letters were carefully transcribed by the pre-eminent California scholar Nancy Moure and are reprinted verbatim in Moure, Publications in Southern California Art 9: Historical Collections Council Newsletters, January 1999May 2006 (Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 2006), 491506.
17. Judith A. Barter, with contributions by Andrew J. Walker, Window on the West: Chicago and the Art of the New Frontier, 1890-1940 (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, in association with Hudson Hills Press, New York and Manchester, Vt., 2003), 47.
18. Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 18251875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 3.
19. For a most useful and insightful account of American art at the World's Fair, see Carolyn Kinder Carr and George Gurney, Revisiting the White City: American Art at the 1893 World's Fair, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1993).
20. "Women at the Fair," Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 January 1893, 26.
21. Antony Anderson, "William Wendt: Painter of California Landscapes," in William Wendt and His Work, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Stendahl Art Galleries, 1926), unpaginated. In this decision, Wendt may have been influenced once again by Charles Francis Browne, who was making his own plans to visit the Southwest, which he did in 1895.
22. Wendt to Samuel Harkness McCrea, 15 December 1896. The exhibition reviewed was of the Society of Western Artists and opened at the Art Institute on 15 December 1896. Wendt excerpted part of a review by a Miss McDougall of the Chicago Post.
23. C[harles] F[rancis] B[rowne], "Art Notes," Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 October 1895, 42: "William Wendt is in Iowa, but will return this month."
24. On Wendt exhibiting in San Francisco, see Wendt to McCrea, 15 December 1896.
25. Wendt to McCrea, 15 December 1896: "The good Sister who had charge of the Art Department at the Motherhouse, died the week after I left this fall." Wendt's paintings done in California in early 1896 were shown in Chicago in April of that year at the eighth annual exhibition of the Chicago Society of Artists. See "In the Art Studios," Chicago Daily Tribune, 29 March 1896, 48.
26. The author thanks Sister Sara McAlpin, BVM, for generously sharing an interview she did with Monsignor E. L. McEvoy in 1981, in which Monsignor McEvoy discussed inheriting the Wendt painting, dated 1896, from his friends the Duggans. He in turn gave the painting to the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Wendt's On the Mississippi is reproduced as an ink sketch in Chicago Daily Tribune, 14 February 1897, 42.
27. Wendt to McCrea, 15 December 1896.
28. The painting was A Frozen River. See "Selects Art Work for Nashville," Chicago Daily Tribune, 1 April 1897, 2.
29. Chicago Times-Herald, 24 January 1897, Scrapbooks, vol. 8, Art Institute of Chicago.
30. Wendt to McCrea, 15 December 1896, postscript added in January 1897. That Wendt cared little for Symons at that time was evident: "It will cost me very little to go out and little after I get there (Los Angeles) but the man, an old acquaintance who has been there for three years and who wants me as a companion (just fancy), who is a landscapist, a Mr. Symons (Simons originally) has not improved enough in all these years to suit my fancy, and I fear is not to my liking otherwise." Also see "In the Art Studios," Chicago Daily Tribune, 13 June 1897, 36: "William Wendt is still in the mountains of California."
31. The land extended "northwesterly 20 miles from Las Flores Canyon (northwest of Santa Monica), which was later extended to approximately 25 coastal miles varying in depth of 1 to 3 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean." From Ronald Ringe, "Frederick H. Rindge -- a Biography," in Happy Days in Southern California (reprint: Los Angeles: Anderson, Ritchie, and Simon, 1972): 5-6. Information courtesy of William L. Horton, Los Angeles.
32. Symons, Big Boney, 1897, oil on canvas, 48 x 75 in. Leslie Adamson London collection, illustrated in Nancy Moure, Loners, Mavericks, and Dreamers: Art in Los Angeles before 1900 (Laguna Beach, Calif.: Laguna Art Museum, 1993), 36.
33. For an earlier discussion of this same painting by the present author, see Will South, California Impressionism, with an introduction by William H. Gerdts (New York: Abbeville Press, 1998), 121.
34. For a list of Tryon's art at the fair, see Carr and Gurney, Revisiting the White City, 32831.
35. "Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 July 1897, 31. The paper misspelled Malibu as "Mababa," reflecting an unfamiliarity with the nowworld famous location. Symons noted, too, that the pair expected to return to Chicago in the spring of 1898 and have a show of their new work.
36. Quoted in William A. Griffith, foreword to William Wendt Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum, 1939).
37. "Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 8 October 1899, 42.
38. For Wendt's return to Chicago, see Chicago Evening Post, 18 June 1898, and on the chronology of Wendt's European travel, see "Of Interest in Chicago Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 May 1899, 47. Wendt and Symons are noted as having just arrived in Paris after a six-month sketching trip "in England, Wales, Norway, and Sweden, and are now on their way to Italy."
39. Wendt reported that he attended life-drawing sessions at this time but apparently very few: "Have been to the Evening Life Class but twice and have only paid for a month tuition, which amounts to a guinea." Wendt to McCrea, 6 January 1899.
40. "Of Interest in Chicago Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 May 1899, 47. See also "Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 15 October 1899, 46. This article notes Wendt had two paintings at the Royal Academy, one entitled Cool and Shady Woodland, the other a painting depicting "a pea field overrun with red poppies."
41. Wendt's two Salon entries were number 1462, La rivière des Roches, and number 1463, Mélodie d'automne, in the Catalogue illustré du Salon de 1899, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
42. Reproduced in Browne, "Some Recent Landscapes by William Wendt," 263.
43. Wendt to McCrea, 20 May 1899.
44. La Dreve des Tilleuls, no. 399, in the Catalogue illustré du Salon de 1899, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
45. Wendt to McCrea, 20 May 1899.
46. Scrapbook, Art Institute of Chicago.
47. "Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 12 November 1899, 34.
48. On the sale of sixteen, see "Art," 12 November 1899; for the "half," see Browne, "Some Recent Landscapes by William Wendt," 262.
49. Wright purchased an untitled landscape from the 1890s, oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 32 3/8 in., now in the collection of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, Gift of Frances Welsh Lloyd Wright, and displayed on its website at www.wrightplus.org. The painting hung in Wright's Oak Park home for many years, prominently displayed in his living room.
50. Browne, "Some Recent Landscapes by William Wendt," 258.
51. "Art," Chicago Daily Tribune, 31 December 1899, 31: "William Wendt will go to California tomorrow for a long period, possibly two years. It is his intention to devote himself to the painting of American landscape."
52. Wendt to McCrea, 1 July 1900.
53. Wendt to McCrea, 5 May 1901.
55. "The Society of Artists," New York Times, 31 March 1901, 2.
56. It is not within the parameters of the current study to recount in depth the broader story of the early history of art making in Los Angeles. The interested reader is referred to a wealth of material now available on both general and specific aspects of early California art, beginning with South, California Impressionism, which provides an overall account of the development of painting north and south in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A more encyclopedic account is Nancy Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media (Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998). Susan Landauer, California Impressionists (Athens, Ga.: Georgia Museum of Art, 1996) offers a slightly different interpretation than either South or Moure, focusing on the economic implications of California Impressionism. On the art colony at Laguna, see Deborah Epstein Solon, Colonies of American Impressionism (Laguna Beach, Calif.: Laguna Art Museum, 1999). For an account of the rise of modernism in Los Angeles and its relationship to the traditional painters, see Will South, Color, Myth, and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Museum of Art, 2001).
57. In 1907, De Longpré wrote to Charles Lummis: "I have resigned from everything [clubs] as the complete, absolutely complete lack of appreciation in Art in Los Angeles will oblige me after a struggle of 8 years to go back to the great Art City in America, dear old New York, which was my home for 10 years. . . ." Lummis correspondence, 5 October 1907, Southwest Museum, quoted in Moure, Loners, Mavericks, and Dreamers, 44.
58. An advertisement for Judson's classes appears in Land of Sunshine 7, no. 4 (September 1897): 196.
59. On the founding of the Painters' Club, see Los Angeles Times, 25 March 1906. The minutes for the club are extant and are preserved today by the membership of the California Art Club.
60. Minutes of the Painters' Club, courtesy of the California Art Club Archives.
63. "Exit the Painters' Club," Los Angeles Times, 12 December 1909, 17.
64. Everett C. Maxwell, "Exhibition California Art Club," Fine Arts Journal 28 (JanuaryJune 1913): 190.
65. Antony Anderson, "Pictures by William Wendt," Los Angeles Times, 8 October 1911, 18.
66. John Gutzon Borglum, "An Artist's Paradise," Land of Sunshine 2, no. 6 (May 1895): 106.
67. Antony Anderson, "Art Club's Exhibition," Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1911, 26.
68. See Antony Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 1 January 1911: "The rapid strides that we in Los Angeles are taking in the intelligent appreciation of art is largely due to the indefatigable zeal of our women, in clubs, as well as singly."
69. Los Angeles Times, 19 November 1911.
70. Alma May Cook, "William Wendt: The Artist's Friend," in William Wendt and His Work, unpaginated.
71. "Skied: Great Gallery Not for Them," Los Angeles Times, 10 November 1913, clipping, Scrapbooks, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
72. Antony Anderson, "Fifth Annual Exhibition," Los Angeles Times, 19 September 1914, 10.
73. T. H. Watkins, California: An Illustrated History Updated (New York: American Legacy Press, 1983), 313.
74. Landauer, California Impressionists, 14.
75. Ibid., 21.
76. Untitled statement, William Wendt, Western Art, August 1914, 20.
77. Alma May Cook, "Wendt Paintings Given to Manual Arts High School," Los Angeles Tribune, 21 June 1914, clipping, Scrapbooks, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
78. "Bringing Art to the People," Los Angeles Times, 16 November 1915, 5.
79. "The Land of Heart's Desire" is the title of a chapter from John McGroarty's book, California: Its History and Romance (Los Angeles: Grafton Publishing Company, 1911), which Wendt would have known, as his painting was reproduced there on page 3. Another painting by Wendt known by the same title is reproduced in Moure, William Wendt, 18651946, 15.
80. Julia Bracken Wendt, "Los Angeles' Future as Art Center," Los Angeles Examiner, 25 January 1914, clipping, Scrapbooks, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
81. William Wendt, quoted in Los Angeles Times, 3 January 1915, 3.
82. Antony Anderson, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1911, 26.
83. Los Angeles Tribune, 1 February 1914, clipping, Scrapbooks, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
84. Julia Bracken Wendt, "Los Angeles' Future as Art Center": "The art of the East has been influenced by Europe, and, of course, the West by the East-but the great American art is yet to come through the fostering of America by her own."
85. The Zimmerman Telegram was a coded telegram dispatched by the foreign secretary of the German empire, Arthur Zimmerman, on 19 January 1917 to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, at the height of World War I. It instructed the ambassador to approach the Mexican government with a proposal to form an alliance against the United States. Intercepted and decoded by the British, its contents hastened the entry of the United States into World War I.
86. Wendt to Leonard Lester, quoted in John Alan Walker, Documents on the Life and Art of William Wendt, 1865-1946 (Big Pine, Calif.: Privately printed by John Alan Walker, Bookseller, 1992), 51.
87. Other scholars have joined in the ongoing debate regarding the term "Impressionism" and its problematic application to California art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. See for example, William H. Gerdts, "The Land of Sunshine," in Jean Stern and Gerdts, Masters of Light: Plein-Air Painting in California, 18901930, exh. cat. (Irvine, Calif.: The Irvine Museum, 2002), 68, n. 13. Gerdts astutely and correctly notes that many French Impressionist works, including some by Monet, were at least partially studio productions.
88. Redmond's first instruction at the School of Design actually began in 1887, when he enrolled, at D'Estrella's behest, in the Saturday drawing classes.
89. "Thoughts by Granville Redmond," Los Angeles Times, 10 June 1906.
90. Wendt's comment that it was impossible to paint the Grand Canyon is from For Art's Sake, 1 October 1924, quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 53.
91. Arthur Millier, "Important Works at Woman's Clubs," Los Angeles Times, 14 November 1926, 37.
93. Walker, Documents on Wendt, 64. Originally reported in South Coast News, 13 September 1935, regarding a comment Wendt made to the Laguna Beach artist Isaac Frazee (18581942).
94. Mildred McLouth, "William Wendt -- an Appreciation," (Los Angeles) Museum Graphic 1, no. 2 (November 1926): 54.
95. Wendt to Leonard Lester, quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 52.
96. Dorothy Vaughn, "Early Life in Art Colony Has William Wendt as Foundation," South Coast News, 15 July 1938, clipping, archives, Laguna Art Museum.
97. Laguna Beach Life, 6 March 1925, 45.
98. In 1923, Wendt wrote to his friend Leonard Lester that he, Wendt, had left Los Angeles because "neighbors, noisy children and dogs were too much for me. Laguna too is becoming impossible with its cheap pretenders in Art, with its summer visitors and society functions fostered largely by unattached females!" Quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 54.
99. Alma May Cook, "22,000 Southland Women Purchase Art Memorial in Hero's Honor," Los Angeles Express, 26 May 1921, clipping, Scrapbooks, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
100. Quoted in Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1922.
101. The Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Prize was actually shared by Wendt with co-winner John Carroll, and the award monies divided.
102. The painting depicts Hollister Peak in Morro Bay. The author thanks Joseph Moure for sharing this identification.
103. Wendt to Leonard and Marian Lester, 14 May 1933, quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 62.
104. Stanton Macdonald-Wright, "Art Stuff," Hollywood Script 27, no. 634 (1 October 1942): 25.
105. Stanton Macdonald-Wright, "Art," Hollywood Script 30, no. 683 (15 July 1944): 1213.
106. Wendt to Mrs. Evans, 5 December 1927, courtesy of Joseph L. Moure.
107. Wendt to Stendahl, 25 January 1927, Archives of American Art, Stendahl Papers, roll 2724, frame 0507.
108. Wendt to Stendahl, 1 March 1927, Archives of American Art, Stendahl Papers, roll 2724, frame 0512.
109. Fred Hogue, "William Wendt," Los Angeles Times, 22 April 1929.
110. Quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 63.
112. Wendt to Guy and Lucia Edwards, 21 March 1939. MS-R54, Special Collections and Archives, UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.
113. Wendt to Edwards, 12 August 1940.
114. Quoted in Walker, Documents on Wendt, 66.
115. The handwritten poem by McGaffey to the Wendts is courtesy of Ray Redfern. Wendt may have known McGaffey since the days of the Chicago World's Fair, when McGaffey wrote verse for a fair publication, Illustrated World's Fair. On World's Fair literature, see Herbert E. Fleming, The American Journal of Sociology 2, no. 6 (May 1906): 784816.
116. See Steven Pinker's chapter "The Arts," in his The Blank Slate (New York: Viking, 2002), 400420, for the point of view of this prominent cognitive psychologist. Typical of his opinion is the following: "The dominant theories of elite art and criticism in the twentieth century grew out of a militant denial of human nature. One legacy is ugly, baffling, and insulting art. The other is pretentious and unintelligible scholarship."
117. See Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005). The authors, Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin Buchloh, join for a concluding roundtable in which they see art being made now reduced to a mere commodity.
118. Ellen Dissanayake, Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and
Why (New York: Free Press, 1992), 71.
About the author
Dr. Will South is chief curator at the Dayton Art Institute. He is guest curator of the exhibition In Nature's Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt, on view at the Laguna Art Museum November 9, 2008 - February 8, 2009.
Resource Library editor's note:
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on November 28, 2008, with permission of the Laguna Art Museum, which was granted to TFAO on November 25, 2008.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Christina Limson of the Laguna Art Museum for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text
To view Resource Library's article for the exhibition please click here.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Laguna Art Museum in Resource Library.
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.