Still Life with Trees and Mountains

Still Life with Trees and Mountains by Selden Connor Gile

What makes California living special?

This tabletop study was likely painted in Gile’s Oakland cabin on Chabot Road. The still life includes fresh fruit, a ginger jar filled with flowers, and an upright bowl, all set against a distant hill in the background and capturing the spirit of indoor/outdoor living that characterizes daily life in much of California. In this work, Gile showcases the tactile qualities of oil paint; working wet-into-wet, he sculpted his pigments to capture the material and emotional qualities of his subject.


Spring by Seldon Connor Gile

What is unique about the quality of light in California?

This painting shows how Gile was able to combine the effects of French Impressionism with the distinctive pastoral landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area. The dominant feature in Spring is the large orchard tree, whose fresh blossoms explode outward like fireworks bursting into opalescent colors. A critic for the Oakland Tribune wrote in 1927, “Color is Gile’s God. And he plays with it until it is about as brilliant and clean and stimulating to look upon as a mortal can make it.”

The Oaks

The Oaks by Arthur Frank Mathews

What are the colors of California?

By the early 20th century, California painters began depicting the local landscape in more personal ways. Artists turned their attention away from the panoramic views of the 19th century to more pastoral scenes, usually close to home. Mathews and his peers demonstrated an interest in translating the specific shapes and colors of the land into simpler forms. In The Oaks, the characteristic geographical features of California are recognizable, but they are filtered through the artist’s eyes.


Cypripedia by William Sergeant Kendall

Why is “the nude” ubiquitous in art?

After 1922 Kendall developed an interest in painting classical female nudes. This subject dominated his creative output for the last 15 years of his life, resulting in works with titles such as Keheilet, Eidolon, and Cypripedia. Cypripedia is a plant or flower of the genus Cypripedium, in the orchid family. The cypripedia in this painting sprouts from the earth beside the nude female figure.

Afternoon on the Sea, Monhegan

Afternoon on the Sea, Monehegan by Rockwell Kent

Does this scene feel real or imagined?

In the summer of 1905, Kent went to the island of Monhegan, a rugged chunk of rock off the coast of Maine. While many artists only stayed on Monhegan during the summer, Kent lived there in the winter of 1906, finding work as a well digger, lobsterman, and carpenter. He eventually built a house and studio there, returning throughout his life. Kent painted scenes of the fisherman’s life in 1907 as one intimately familiar with the danger and beauty of working at sea.

The Marshes

The Marshes by Hermann Dudley Murphy

What emotions do colors convey?

When he taught painting on Cape Cod in 1899, Murphy urged his students to use poetic abstraction to “awaken an emotion” in their viewers. In this landscape painted that summer, he shows the power of this approach, emphasizing the tonal values and decorative qualities of the scene. This depiction of the flat, boggy landscape along Boston’s northern shore shows the rhythmic harmony of shadowy marshes, winding channels of water, and bands of gray suggesting banks of clouds and their reflections.

Song of the Sea (The Three Graces)

Song of the Sea (The Three Graces) by Arthur Frank Mathews

Which figures from ancient mythology would you like to encounter in the contemporary world?

This painting features goddesses from Greek mythology; each is associated with different qualities: Aglaia (elegance, brightness, and splendor); Thalia (youth, beauty, and good cheer); and Euphrosyne (mirth and joyfulness). In this scene, Mathews transports the goddesses from ancient Greece to California—the women are dressed not in classical Greek costume but kimono-type robes suggestive of the bohemian tastes of West Coast artistic life in 1909.

Flower Girl

Flower Girl by Nikolai Fechin

How do you document your travels?

In 1936 Fechin brought a small group of art students with him to Mexico. During the tour, which included stops in Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Oaxaca, Fechin took photographs and made drawings that may have served as the source for this painting. This portrait of a flower seller shows the artist’s interests in people and color. The background includes a trajinera, a small boat used to carry goods across canals, most often found in the famous canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City.

Lux Aeterna

Lux Aeterna by Gottardo Piazzoni

Is this painting luminous or ominous?

In his study of the artist’s life and work, Gene Hailey concluded, “In the narration of Piazzoni’s interesting life, the evaluators of his work have played upon the adjectives of beauty and truth, a symphony of heavenly music. Searching for a conclusion, the Lux Aeterna seems fitting. In this painting Piazzoni has epitomized the desire of his life; that of flooding the white-robed figure of truth and beauty, in the effulgence of eternal light.”

The Hill beyond the Marsh

The Hill beyond the Marsh by Arthur Wesley Dow

Where do you find patterns in nature?

Around 1900 Dow established a studio in Ipswich, Massachusetts, often teaching summer courses there. After an extended period of concentration on printmaking and teaching, in 1907 he began to paint. This early painting uses simple elements of the Ipswich landscape to create overall decorative patterns. Dow favored twilight and dawn as transitional times of day that simplified forms and harmonized colors in low-keyed luminescence.