William Wendt and Early California Painting

William Wendt Painting

Tues 11.25.08 – This afternoon, my Mom and I drove down to the Laguna Art Museum to see the William Wendt exhibition, which is entitled, “In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt”.
While some of Wendt’s paintings were a bit too landscape-y and verging on the academic, many of them were delightful and a few were transformational. Almost all of the paintings in the exhibition were from his California days (1901 – 1930s) and they represented a California that is now gone or at least highly developed over.
For all of the wide, open landscapes, sycamore and eucalyptus trees as figures, and canyons turned majestic, I loved his approach to color the most: greyed out greens and darks that were purple, as they were the colors of California when she is cloaked in glory. And in that glory is how Wendt portrayed her. A glory that can only now be found in glimpses, if one takes the time to go hiking in the hills or up a canyon and one diverts one’s eyes from the stuccoed McMansions on the ridgeline.
A docent overheard us talking about one of the paintings, and asked how we knew so much about painting and the California Impressionist era. I explained that I was the 5th generation of artist along my mother’s line and that my mother’s grandmother (great-grandma Rachel) dabbled in the California Impressionist style in a few of her paintings dating from 1910 – 1925 and that we still have the paintings in the family. I grew up with looking at those small paintings and we as a few others that my mom and grandmother have by other artists of the genre.
It is a genre I like and possibly love, as the California Impressionists were not painting in the vein of the American Romantics or Hudson Valley School or even the Ash Can School, but were taking queues from the innovations coming out of France and then applying the plein-air, loose marked strokes to the California that they saw.
Some of the best of the paintings we saw today could only have been painted in California, all while one could see the cues that Wendt had taken from Cezanne’s Provencal period as well as a few tips from the Les Nabis. As we stood in directly in front of Wendt’s work, most of the paintings dissolved into marks and colors, but when we backed up 15 to 20 feet, the paintings would look refined and defined, much like may Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces.
Cues from the French or not, the true glory of the Wendt show at the Laguna Art Museum is the vibrant views of a California gone by. At times, I giggled at some of the works, “Look, Pacific Coast Highway as a one-lane dirt road.” “Hey, when did Aliso Creek ever have that much water in it?” “This painting looks like the grand view of Santiago Creek and its Sycamores” etc.
A celebration of Los Angeles and Orange Counties long before the current blight of stucco and strip malls.

2 thoughts on “William Wendt and Early California Painting

  1. I first found your blog through Biola. I thought of you when i saw this job posting at my alma mater. The college has a great academic reputation and it’s an exciting new program. Best wishes!

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