Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted, without accompanying illustrations, in Resource Library on July 14, 2010 with the permission of the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College and the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Hearst Art Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:

Mary DeNeale Morgan



by Julie Armistead


The Monterey peninsula, along the central coast of California, is a place of astounding beauty. Its multi-faceted character has attracted visitors since the mid-to-late 19th century, with artists well represented among them. The poet Robinson Jeffers called it his "inevitable place," and it became that for Mary DeNeale Morgan ("DeNeale" to her family and friends). 

Although the area was already home to a substantial artist colony, Morgan began visiting in 1903, only one year after the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea was founded.  Things had not changed much when her friend Jack London described it in his 1913 novel,Valley of the Moon:

They had taken the direct county road across the hills from Monterey, instead of the Seventeen Mile Drive around by the coast, so that Carmel Bay came upon them without any fore-glimmerings of its beauty. Dropping down through the pungent pines, they passed woods-embowered cottages, quaint and rustic, of artists and writers, and went on across wind-blown rolling sandhills held to place by sturdy lupins and nodding with pale California poppies. Saxon screamed in sudden wonder of delight, then caught her breath and gazed at the amazing peacock-blue of a breaker, shot through with golden sunlight, overfalling in a mile-long sweep and thundering into white ruin of foam on a crescent beach of sand scarcely less white.

Most summers DeNeale travelled from her home in Oakland, where her family had settled in 1872. She rented rooms or tent camped until 1910, when she made Carmel her permanent home by purchasing the late artist Sydney Yard's studio at Lincoln and Seventh Streets. The casual freedom afforded by the bohemian atmosphere must have appealed to her. As Scott Shields points out in his book, Artists at Continent's End,"it . . .offered a refuge for women, who in the city were more tightly bound by the constraints of Victorian respectability."

Morgan's attraction to California's central coast is not surprising -- in 1856 her maternal grandparents settled close to Castroville after emigrating from Scotland by way of Canada, ranching on Alisal Creek near the mouth of the Salinas River. It was there that her mother Christina met her father, Thomas Wolfe Morgan. Shortly after their marriage they relocated to San Francisco where DeNeale was born in 1868, the second of seven children. The move to Oakland came when her father became City Engineer; among his many engineering achievements was the dam and gates that regulate the flow of water from the Oakland estuary into Lake Merritt. The family lived in a home on 19th Street near San Pablo Avenue. 

From 1886-1890 and again in 1892, Morgan attended the California School of Design in San Francisco, where she studied with Virgil Williams, Amédée Joullin, Arthur Mathews and others. Her medium of choice was tempera, sometimes called opaque watercolor, at the suggestion of mentor and family friend, William Keith. In his book,Keith, Old Master of California,Brother Cornelius noted that "she came sometimes from Oakland, where she lived, to the Keith home to have a talk with Mr. Keith and to show him her sketches." Tempera was well suited to her early tonalist style, depicting the luminosity and softness in the northern California landscape. By the early 1900s, she began working in watercolor and experimented with monotypes. When Brother Cornelius inscribed a message on the flyleaf of her copy of his 1942 book, Morgan's style had evolved, becoming much more impressionistic, with looser brushstrokes, a stronger line and brighter palette, and after the 1920s, often painted in oil. Brother Cornelius wrote:

To Miss DeNeale Morgan, master painter of the strange form, color and texture, the weather beaten toughness, the ancient fantastic weirdness, in a word, of the truth of our beloved Monterey cypresses -- whose early and never-forgotten inspiration was Keith. 

DeNeale established her first studio near the family home in 1896. The studio became an early meeting place for the Oakland Sketch Club which she founded with other artist friends. There they drew from live models, one of which was Jack London, who attended Oakland High School with DeNeale's brother, Tom.[1]

Unlike Annie Harmon and her teacher, William Keith, Morgan's Oakland studio escaped the destruction that devastated so many San Francisco artists when the great earthquake and fire of 1906 occurred. Undaunted, DeNeale ventured across the bay and spent two weeks sketching many of the collapsed buildings, jotting down their identities and locations in notes written on the drawings. Twenty-eight of Morgan's earthquake sketches are on display in the Pacific Grove public library, from which the three shown in this exhibition are drawn. 

In 1907 Morgan had her first solo exhibition, at the Hahn Gallery in Oakland. It must have been gratifying when her mentor, William Keith, came to the exhibition and purchased a painting of Pacific Grove, with some eucalyptus and red-roofed houses in the composition. However, it was the cypress that most captivated and inspired DeNeale throughout her career. She painted it more than any other subject, and its strength and simplicity reflect her own independence and perseverance in her chosen lifestyle. Morgan never married, and though she evidently had suitors, was content to share her home at various times with her mother and with her widowed sister, Jeannie Morgan Klenke. She also had a pottery business with her brother Tom, producing work that they signed "tomdeneale."[2]  

Once Morgan was ensconced in Carmel, though she exhibited widely and often, she rarely left the area, participating fully in the civic and cultural life of her chosen home. She was the first artist tosell a painting when the Del Monte Hotel gallery opened to the public in 1907. An organizer of the Arts and Crafts Club of Carmel, established in 1905, she taught at its summer art school until 1925 and was responsible for inviting William Merritt Chase to teach in the summer of 1914. After its demise, she became a founder of its successor, the Carmel Art Association, in 1927. Her affinity for the landscape never waned; when she died in 1948 there was an unfinished painting on her easel, possibly the one she had been painting at Point Lobos only four days before.  

1 Jeannie Morgan Klenke, "Mary DeNeale Morgan, Artist," interview by Betty Lochrie Hoag, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1971, p. 29.

2 Ibid., p. 41. 


About the author

Julie Armistead is the Collections Manager/Registrar for the Hearst Art Gallery. She has curated numerous exhibitions for the Gallery since 1996, including Early Artists of the Bohemian Club, Footloose in Arcadia: Artists and Authors of Piedmont from 1890 to 1930, and Sacred Mountain: Images of Mount Diablo and Mount Fuji.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on July 14, 2010, with permission of the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College, which was granted to TFAO on July 10, 2010.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Heidi Donner at Hearst Art Gallery for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above essay.

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

RL readers may also enjoy:

Return to Superbly Independent: Early Western Landscapes by Annie Harmon, Mary DeNeale Morgan, and Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010- 2016 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.