California art: 6 names to know

This harbor scene by E. Charlton Fortune brought $4,000 in April 2017 at Hudson Valley Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Hudson Valley Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — While New York City may claim to be the art capital of the United States, California’s role in the art world cannot be overstated. Its striking geography and quality of light have attracted generations of artists to paint the ocean and landscapes there.

No treatise on California artists, unless it is book length, could be considered complete, given the decades of art history here, from Impressionists and plein-air painters to the two major schools of art in Northern and Southern California. The state also spawned several regional movements such as the Bay Area Figurative Movement centered in San Francisco and the Light and Space Movement that took hold in Los Angeles.

Among the renowned California Impressionists is E. Charlton Fortune (1885–1969). A native of Sausalito, she studied art in Europe, New York and California and was well known for her portraits and landscapes. She helped lead an art colony around Carmel.

Scott A. Shields, associate director and chief curator of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, recently curated an exhibition on the artist in Pasadena. “Fortune’s strong personality and progressive spirit are certainly manifest in her work. Though her paintings are frequently labeled Impressionist, she moved beyond the style in much of her work both in terms of her bold color and assertive handling of paint, qualities recognized even in her own time,” he said. “Fortune’s paintings served as a connector between the prior generation’s transcendentalism and evocative moodiness and the next generation’s bold, avant-garde approach. Fortune accomplished all this as a woman working at a transitional moment and in an atmosphere that still discouraged female professionals.”

Another impressionist on most anyone’s list of leading California artists is Guy Rose (1867-1925), whose landscapes of Laguna Beach and the Carmel area are renowned.

An oil study for ‘Windswept Trees, Laguna’ realized $140,000 At John Moran Auctioneers in March 2018. Photo courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“Guy was born and raised in Southern California and studied in Paris and Giverny,” said Patrick Abell, director of client services of Abell Auction in Los Angeles. “He studied under the great French impressionists and became a friend of Monet. When you look at some of his great Laguna Beach [works], you can see the influence of some of the greats of French Impressionism.”

Other notable Southern California Impressionists include William Wendt, Richard E. Miller and Maurice Braun while renowned Northern California painters included Arthur and Lucia Mathews, Guiseppe Cadenasso and the aforementioned Fortune.

Just as Julian Onderdonk was famous for his paintings of Texas bluebonnets, Granville Redmond (1871-1935) was well known for his landscapes featuring poppies. He was closely associated with the Tonalism and California Impressionism movements. Also renowned for his landscapes are Edgar Payne (1882-1947), whose depictions of snowy Sierra Nevada mountains and sparkling clear lakes there as well as Monterey and northern coastline scenes are highly regarded.

Granville Redmond’s oil on canvas of a California landscape with poppies achieved $130,000 at John Moran Auctioneers in March 2018. Photo courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“He painted California coastal landscapes from the crashing waves of Laguna Beach to the windblown cypress trees of Monterey,” says the website of the Edgar Payne Gallery in Newport Beach, Calif.

Born in San Mateo, Calif., Sam Francis (1923-1994) was best known for his vivid and colorful abstracted paintings, blending Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism and influences (including Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler), which, according to the Guggenheim’s website, led to his “eventually developing a personal style of abstraction focused on dripping, cell-like forms, an allover instability, and sensitivity to color and light.”

This large Sam Francis painting achieved $579,500 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions in May 2017. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among contemporary artists, David Hockney (b. 1937-) is highly coveted by collectors, especially his portraits. His work, Beverly Hills Housewife, depicting philanthropist/photographer Betty Freeman, part of his California Dreaming series, fetched $7.9 million in 2008 at a Christie’s auction. Born in England but living intermittently in California since 1964, Hockney has become part of the landscape there. “Hockney’s appeal is not local,” said Todd Schireson, vice president of Abell Auction. “The New York market would be strong for Hockney also.”

David Hockney’s ‘Red Celia,’ a circa-1984 lithograph, sold for $20,000 at Abell Auction in October 2017. Photos courtesy of Abell Auction and LiveAuctioneers

From plein-air and impressionistic landscapes of California’s hills and 840 miles of coastline to mid-century works, artists have long found and continue to find inspiration in the Golden State.

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