The California Impressionists

The California Impressionists

05/09/2024     General, General Paintings, American Art

The Bartlett Burnap Collection of California Paintings is a remarkable assemblage representative of the diversity and beauty of the California landscape you see this in the costal scenes of William Wendt, the meadows of Granville Redmond, the desert scenes of John Henry Sharp and William Louis Otte, and the mountain scenes of Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.

To fully appreciate the paintings of the California Impressionists or if you prefer, the California Plein Air Painters, one must realize the circumstances that contributed to this unique style.

French Impressionism slowly came to America  Impressionism was born in 1874; the first show of Impressionist work in America was the Foreign Exhibition held in Boston in 1883. Durand-Ruel opening in New York and by the late 1880s, Impressionism was known to artistic circles on the east coast.

Left-right: John Henry Sharp, The Desert, Palm Springs (Lot 660) / Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, Mountain Stream (Lot 674) / William Wendt, Dana Point, 1907 (Lot 670).

At that time California was a distant isolated region. In 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad was completed, linking Southern California to Chicago; oil was discovered in 1890; the Owens Valley Aqueduct (opened 1913) brought water to Southern California, making it one of the richest agricultural tracts in the country. The 1880s also saw a tremendous real estate boom. California was advertised as the land of abundance  it was stated that you could enjoy the best climate, the healthiest food, the most beautiful land, and so it stood to reason in California, you could live your best life. Within a few years, the population increased ten-fold, and with this explosion, artists came to California.

Many California painters had studied in New York and Chicago, and several trained in Paris. Alson Clark studied under James Whistler and Alphonse Mucha, Granville Redmond, Guy Rose, William Griffith and George Gardner Symons studied in Paris. A few studied under William Merritt Chase, including Marion Wachtel, Maurice Braun and Donna Schuster.

While all of these artists were influenced in style by the Barbizon School, Tonalism and the Impressionists, the Californians developed a unique look based on a common, spirtual regard for the landscape and to the California light which was favorably compared to the light seen in the south of France.

Left-right: William Louis Otte, A Coachella Spring Day, 1927 (Lot 663) / Granville Redmond, California Spring, 1932 (Lot 676).

What is key to understanding California paintings is to look closely and think both of what you see, and more importantly, what you don’t see. When looking at a California landscape, you see color, you see impressionistic shapes….but what you don’t see are café scenes, you don’t see children at the beach, or people at everyday mundane pursuits, you don’t see bridges or cityscapes for the most part, you see only nature.

The Impressionists had embraced the modern world several California painters saw spirituality in the landscape, and sought to preserve the unspoiled world they had found in the West. What we are left with today are beautiful impressions of California landscapes as the gifted artists saw them.

The Estate of Bartlett Burnap

Auction Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at 11am
Exhibition May 11 - 13

Doyle is honored to auction the Estate of Bartlett Burnap of Palm Beach, Florida, and Sun Valley, Idaho. This remarkable collection features over 160 works of art, including exceptional examples of Western Art, Sporting Art and works by California artists.

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Jon King

Jon King

Vice President, Appraisal Department / Florida Regional Advisor