Visitors to Variations of Place might think they are attending an exhibition at the former Irvine Museum (the predecessor of the Langson Institute and Museum of California Art, IMCA, on Von Karman Avenue, where the show is currently mounted).
Indeed, Variations of Place is IMCA’s first exhibition to display paintings exclusively from the California Impressionist genre from the late 19th to early 20th century. Janet Blake, the curator of the show, previously Curator of Collections, Laguna Art Museum, explains in the didactics that the exhibition addresses California Impressionism as it evolved through artistic dialogue. She adds that the 22 artists in the show “shared a passion for Southern California with its Mediterranean climate and its geography – from ocean shores to valleys, the High Sierra to the deserts. With highly individualized styles informed by their education and experiences, these artists created a multifaceted genre rich with variation.”
Looking back, the Irvine Museum, founded in 1992, was devoted to “this beautiful and important regional variant of American Impressionism [that] has come to be associated with California and its remarkable landscape,” according to its mission statement. Following the 2016 museum closing, IMCA – with its recently acquired Irvine Museum collection of over 1,300 pieces, and the Gerald E. Buck collection of 3,000 plus artworks – was established at UC Irvine.
Variations of Place, with paintings from the Irvine Museum and Buck collections, contains three dozen pieces by 22 artists who settled in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach and San Diego. These painters – including Franz Bischoff, Maurice Braun, Alson Skinner Clark, Colin Campbell Cooper, Anna Althea Hills, Joseph Kleitsch, Edgar Payne, Granville Redmond, Guy Rose, George Gardner Symons and William Wendt – used the light, broad brush strokes and pure, bright colors of their earlier French Impressionist counterparts. Yet they concentrated on the magic Southland light, along with nocturnal settings, to depict landscapes, seascapes and people.
Several paintings in the exhibition have been displayed in previous Irvine Museum shows. Nocturne by Granville Redmond (circa 1920) was featured in the museum’s Masters of Light, California Plein-Air Paintings 2002-03 show, which traveled to three cities in Europe. The dark blue painting of ocean, mountains and sky illustrates a dreamy moonlit night. His California Poppies and Lupine (circa 1926) is more recognizable, as it features the artist’s signature golden-hued poppies in a field of lavender, with trees and mountains in the background. Another well-known painting in the show, this one previously owned by the Irvine Museum and often exhibited there, is The Idle Hour (1917) by John Hubbard Rich. It portrays a young woman, exotically adorned, a large, flowered fan framing her profile.
Conversely, Maurice Braun’s Bay and City of San Diego, or San Diego from Point Loma (circa 1910), from a private collection, is a rarely seen illustration of Point Loma, then devoid of most buildings and people that inhabit the area today. The painting reveals the hilly Point Loma peninsula, ringed by blue water with large puffy clouds imparting an ethereal aspect. Another rarely seen painting, Enchantment by Joseph Kleitsch (1922) from a private collection contains the artist’s detailed figuration of a brightly clad woman seated next to a stream and surrounded by stones and cliffs. Kleitsch’s Laguna Beach (circa 1923) is an overview of small buildings and trees, with canyons and sky in the background, before the city was built up as it is today.
Three paintings depict scenes from our beloved San Juan Capistrano Mission. Arthur Grover Rider’s From the Doorway, San Juan Capistrano (circa 1929) is a moody rendition of the mission, as seen from inside an arched doorway while looking out to a bucolic garden. Colin Campbell Cooper’s Mission Corridor, San Juan Capistrano (circa 1920) is also a scene looking out from within, yet with a longer view, revealing multiple arched passageways. Alson Skinner Clark’s San Diego Mission (circa 1922) presents a long outdoor view of the mission’s façade and porticoes.
Variations of Place features several seascapes and landscapes. Frank Cuprien’s An Evening Symphony (circa 1929) reveals a greenish-bluish tide rolling in on a misty day. His Reflections of Evening (1940) illuminates the afternoon sun glinting on the low tides as they lap at the shore. Guy Rose’s Incoming Tide (1917) illustrates the tide pools of Laguna Beach, a place that the artist often visited.
Autumn Glory (circa 1920) by Benjamin Brown is a magnificent autumn-hued landscape. Also displayed is California Hills (1914) by Maurice Braun, a classic look at our state before its extensive development. William Wendt (known as the dean of Southern California artists) is represented by two paintings. The House that Jack Built (1929) depicts several small homes against a hillside, possibly in Laguna Beach. His An Echo of the Past (1917) illustrates the side of an old, weathered mission-style building.
Other classic SoCal landscapes in the exhibition include Franz Bischoff’s Alpenglow, High Sierra (circa 1918) of the snow-laced mountains; Edgar Payne’s Temple Crag (circa 1920) of mountains above a High Sierra lake; and the magnificent Spring (circa 1928) by Charles Reiffel, of a farmer and horse amidst the desolate Southern California countryside.
Variations of Place: Southern California Impressionism in the Early 20th Century is on view through September 3, 2022. Langson Institute and Museum of California Art, 18881 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 100, Irvine. Tue.–Sat., 10 am–4 pm. 949-476-0294. Free. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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