Cantor Arts Center

Stanford University

Stanford, CA

(650) 723-4177


The World of Theodore Wores

June 23 - August 29, 1999


Theodore Wores (1859 - 1939), A Lagoon in Safuni, Savaii, Samoa, oil on canvas, 1902, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University


The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University presents an exhibition of thirty paintings by the Californian artist Theodore Wores (1859 - 1939). The World of Theodore Wores has been organized in honor of Dr. A. Jess Shenson, the Center's longtime friend and supporter. It features paintings donated to the Center in 1995 by Dr. Shenson and his late brother, Ben, as well as works on loan from Dr. Shenson's personal collection, the California Historical Society, and the Spanierman Gallery in New York City. The distinguished art historian Dr. William Gerdts has written the essay for the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. Dr. Gerdts will give a free public lecture on Wores on Thursday, June 24, at 4:00 pm in the Cantor Arts Center Auditorium.

Wores's vibrant depictions of different parts of the world were grounded in the teachings of the art academies of Europe, which espoused the careful study of form, color, and light as the basis of all finished work. After completing two years of study at the Royal Bavarian Art Academy in Munich, Wores traveled extensively in search of picturesque subject matter, filling his canvases with evocative portrayals of people and landscapes in Spain, Italy, Japan, Samoa, and Hawaii. At home in California, in addition to making portraits of the well-to-do, Wores painted a variety of landscapes that described the state's rich natural environment. (right: Interior of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, oil on canvas, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University)

Theodore Wores traveled to Japan in 1885, and was the first American artist to remain there for an extended period. During his three-year sojourn, Wores immersed himself in the art, religion, and history of Japan. He expressed his profound admiration for the aesthetic sensibilities of the Japanese in a series of ten articles written for The Century Magazine during the 1880s and 1890s. "The bright faces, happy dispositions, and general appearance of contentment I met with everywhere amidst sunny gardens and cheerful homes, and the scrupulous cleanliness of the people and their surroundings, combined at once to make a most delightful impression on my mind" the artist wrote. "The contrast in coming from a purely commercial community with its prosaic and practical spirit made this seem almost like another world."

Early in this century, Theodore Wores traveled to the South Pacific. In the Hawaiian Islands, he made portraits of prominent residents as well as studies of the local environment and way of life, including Hawaiian Child with Poi Bowl, and Honolulu Garden, Ainahau. Wores was disappointed by the modernization of Hawaii, however, and lamented that little remained of the indigenous customs. When he sailed to Samoa, he was pleased to find native traditions largely intact and made numerous "genre portraits" of islanders engaged in typical activities. "There the natives have their own civilization" Wores explained. "Their customs are the same their fathers and grandfathers knew, and the conditions of life on the islands have not changed in a hundred years." One of Wores's finest paintings of Samoa, A Lagoon in Safuni, Savaii, Samoa, will be included in the exhibition.

In addition to his travels in Japan and the South Pacific, Wores made many trips to Europe during his life. Visiting Italy in the 1880s, the artist produced an eloquent study of a church, Interior of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice. On a trip to Spain in 1903, Wores was particularly inspired by his discovery of Diego Velazquez and spent many hours at the Museo del Prado studying his canvases. Wores's paintings of Spain, such as Ancient Moorish Mill, Alcala de Guadaira, were infused by his desire to emulate Velazquez, whom he called "the greatest painter of them all."

In 1903, the peripatetic Wores settled permanently in California, but continued to travel widely. He produced scores of canvases that portrayed blossoming fruit trees in the Santa Clara Valley, the flora of the sand dunes near San Francisco, and the lush garden surrounding his country home. The exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center will include a number of Wores's most compelling portrayals of these subjects, including Girl with Rhododendrons, A California Garden, and The Garden of Villa Montalvo, Estate of James Phelan.

Wores also took a leading role in the art community of San Francisco. From 1907 to 1913, he served as dean of the San Francisco Institute of Art and became an outspoken member of the Society for Sanity in Art, a national organization dedicated to maintaining traditional standards in art. In 1927, discouraged by the highly publicized conflict raging in San Francisco between avant-garde and conservative artists, Wores withdrew to his summer home in Saratoga, where he spent the remaining years of his life painting the orchards of the Santa Clara valley and the hills near San Jose. The artist considered these late works to be the finest of his career. (left: Girl with Rhododendrons, 1899, oil on canvas, 44 1/2 33 inches, California Historical Society)

Wores's career was long and prolific, and his distinctive canvases won the admiration of a wide range of contemporaries, from James McNeill Whistler to Oscar Wilde and Henry James. In ways that may resonate for contemporary audiences facing a new millennium, Wores responded to the innovations of the modern age with ambivalence, creating paintings that evoke the simplicity and easy contentments of a world untouched by progress.


Read more about Cantor Arts Center in Resource Library Magazine

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

rev. 10/18/10

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