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California Impressionism: Selections from The Irvine Museum

In the early years of the twentieth century, California produced a unique artistic style which combined several distinctive aspects of American and European art. This style, which is often called California Impressionism or California Plein Air painting, after the French term for “in the open air”, concerned itself with light and color. As a variant of the American Impressionist style, it focused directly on the abundant California light. Here, the land became the principal subject of this style, and it was represented as clean and unspoiled, with vigor and grandeur. The sun shone its light on the land and gave it color: greens of spring, browns of late summer and fall and everywhere, the deep blue mantle of the sky.

One of The Irvine Museum’s most popular and successful traveling exhibitions, CALIFORNIA IMPRESSIONISM was inaugurated in 2010 when it was displayed at the Haggin Museum, in Stockton, California, and continued to the Boca Raton Museum in Florida, the Monterey Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Whatcom County Museum in Bellingham, Washington, and the Bakersfield Museum of Art. Now, this remarkable exhibition has returned home to The Irvine Museum.


Some of the most popular works of art in the museum will be displayed in this exhibition. ARROYO SECO BRIDGE, by Franz A. Bischoff (1864-1929), was painted in South Pasadena in 1912. The bridge still stands today, connecting Highland Park with South Pasadena at York Boulevard. However, what used to be the picturesque banks of the Arroyo Seco has since been completely paved over and is now the roadway of the Pasadena Freeway.

MAKING PORT, by Armin C. Hansen (1886-1957), shows a tugboat in heavy seas, valiantly going out to help guide a schooner safely into port. The scene is bathed in cold and dreary color and the composition is precariously perched on a series of oblique and angular lines. Seen as a whole, it shows a graphic view of the rigor and peril of seafaring life.

MOUNTAIN SILENCE, painted by Paul Lauritz (1889-1975) in 1922, is a view of the California Sierra Nevada mountains on a bright, clear morning. The artist combines the majesty of the mountains with a sense of clear, crisp intense light so typical of the Sierra. This is achieved by adept handling of color and its application in a multitude of brightly colored dots of paint. The constant apparent motion caused by numberless dots of color gives the work its exceptional sense of natural, fluid light.

One of the most popular paintings in this show is LA JOLLA SHORES, painted in the early 1920s by Alfred R. Mitchell (1888-1972). The scene shows the community of La Jolla, just north of San Diego, as it looked long before the rampant development that characterize the area today. Mitchell was one of San Diego’s most important painters and most popular art teachers.

Generally taken to be the most important of California’s Impressionists painters, Guy Rose (1867-1925) is represented by LAGUNA EUCALYPTUS, painted about 1916. One of the very few artists of this period to have been born and raised in California, Rose studied art in San Francisco and Paris and adopted a French Impressionist approach to painting. For eight years, between 1904 and 1912, Rose and his wife Ethel lived in the small village of Giverny and were friends and neighbors of Claude Monet. LAGUNA EUCALYPTUS was painted soon after Rose’s return to California.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST, by George Gardner Symons (1861-1930) shows the coast at Laguna Beach near today’s community of Rockledge. Symons became quite famous for his paintings of snow covered hills and valleys in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but also loved to paint in southern California. A close friend of William Wendt (1865-1946), whose work is also represented in this exhibition, Symons built a studio-home in Laguna Beach and became an active member of the local art community.

Suggested Books

To see The Irvine Museum Collection’s entire collection of high-quality books, cards and prints, please visit the bookstore.