Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach, CA



Afterglow in the Desert: The Art of Fernand Lungren


This comprehensive look at Fernand Lungren, (1857-1932) a little-known artist associated with California Impressionism, opens at Laguna Art Museum on January 21, 2001 and runs through March 25, 2001. Fernand Lungren's art reveals a passion for the people and places of the American West, from the Hopi pueblos of Arizona to the grand vistas of Death Valley and the remote peaks of the Sierras. Despite the beauty and grandeur of his canvases, there has been almost no critical assessment of his work, in large part because of the artist's own reluctance to enter the market and the inaccessibility of his paintings since his death in 1932. In the exploratory spirit of Lungren's art, this retrospective will facilitate the growing awareness of, and enthusiasm for, California Impressionism, plein air painting, and the iconography of the Southwest. (left: In the Abyss, The Grand Canyon, 1895-1897, oil on canvas. 60 1/4 x 40 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.659)

During his lifetime, Lungren was associated with some of the principal figures in early 20th Century American art - Kenyon Cox, Joseph Pennell, and James McNeill Whistler, to name a few. In many aspects, his career follows the model of such turn-of-the-century artists. After early training in Cincinnati and Toledo, he went to Philadelphia to study with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy, and spent time in the world's art capitals, New York, Paris, and London. (left: Poppies and Lupin, 1912, oil on canvas, 22 1/8 x 42 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.649)

Lungren began his professional career as an illustrator in New York City, working for Harper's, Scribner's, and other major publications during the 1870s and '80s (a period known as the "golden age of American illustration"). Although Lungren found success with his illustrations, it was as a landscape painter that he began to experiment with many of the formal elements now associated with early modernism. (left: Fifth Street at Hill: Looking East, Evening, , c. 1909, oil on canvas, 14 x 19 1/4 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.781)

In her catalogue essay Elizabeth A., Brown says of Lungren's desert canvases: "What I found most impressive were some of the desert landscapes. Many of them seemed highly consistent in composition -- a low-slung horizon, minimal details of sage brush, creosote, or other desert shrubs in the foreground, and perhaps a crenellated mesa in the distance. They also exhibited a remarkable palette. In contrast to the realism of Lungren's mountain lake pictures, for example, or the cityscapes (which turned out to be "early work"), these desert paintings abandoned local color i.e, the hues we know to be present. Many were painted in variations of cerulean, ultramarine, and other blues, others pictured the sky as pale yellow and the ground in tones of violet." (left: Desert Gorge: Calico, n. d. , oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.667)

In 1892, Lungren visited Colorado, Utah, and California for the first time, one of many artists hired by the Santa Fe Railroad to encourage tourism. Having been inspired by the deserts of Egypt, Lungren became entranced by the space, light, geography, and cultures he found in the American Southwest. He was soon recognized as one of the first major painters of this vast territory at a time when It was largely unknown to Eastern audiences. (left: From the Valley of the Shadow (Sierras), c. 1904-1905, oil on canvas, 25 x 45 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.655)

Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister hailed the "interpreting genius" of his desert scenes, earning Lungren a place next to Frederic Remington in their estimation. Lungren's sympathetic investigation of Pueblo Indian culture, culminating in his initiation into the Hopi priesthood, allowed him to establish an intimate relationship with his subjects and paint with the insight of a participant.

By 1906, Lungren settled in Santa Barbara, traveling regularly to Death Valley, the Sierras, the Grand Canyon, Arizona pueblos, and elsewhere in search of singular landscapes. The desert and canyon landscapes that make up the bulk of his oeuvre show his interest in the structure of the land and effects of light and climate. Many were painted with a extraordinary color palette, such as the supernal yellow skies and violet mountains he found at the beginning of sunset. (left: Surf After Storm, before 1915, oil on canvas, 18 x 36 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.633)

In the Foreword to the exhibition catalogue, Marla C. Berns, Director of the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, places Lungren in the forefront of Santa Barbara history: "Fernand Harvey Lungren (1857-1932) is Santa Barbara's most distinguished early 20th century artist. A premier painter of the American Southwest, he is best known for his images of the desert and his remarkable use of color to capture the grandeur and variety of the region's landscape" (right: Along the Shore, 1901, oil on canvas, 18 x 36 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.645)

Berns explains the body of work leading to the exhibition and catalogue: "In his later years, Lungren assembled a core group of paintings and works on paper meant to represent his life's work, which he bequeathed to the "people of Santa Barbara" in 1932. By the terms of his will, this substantial body of approximately 188 paintings and 131 drawings went to the Santa Barbara Teachers' College, which later became the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1964, after 32 years of uncertain care and exposure, this substantial collection found a home at the five-year-old University Art Galleries at UCSB, where it could be stored responsibly and handled professionally." The core of the original exhibition at UCSB included 61 works from the bequest. (left: Rockets, c. 1899-1901, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.702)

Jane Dini, who earned her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1998, wrote an essay for the full-color catalog accompanying the exhibition. Dini, who has done considerable research on Lungren's life and artistic career, has developed new insights into the artist's work and its context. She writes of Lungren's enchantment with the desert: "Lungren was enchanted with the entire Southwest, but the desert he would return to paint again and again was Death Valley. For over 20 years, the vista from Dante's View, a vantage point high above the desert floor, would become his signature view. In Lungren's striking panorama Death Valley: Dante's View..., he juxtaposed the impressive peaks with the low desert floor streaked with salt rivers. Here was the serene beauty of the desert coupled with the drama of geological creation. In 1911, from Dante's View, the artist wrote to his 'Beatrice': 'I think of you constantly, my sweet wife, and at night I look at Sirius, the bright star near the constellation of Orion, and tell myself that you too are looking at it.' From the romantic to the awesome, Death Valley inspired some of Lungren's most dramatic compositions." (left: Death Valley: Dante's View, c. 1908-1910, 26 1/4 x 60 1/4 inches, Fernand Lungren Bequest, 1964.652)

The Art of Fernand Lungren was organized by the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, and is accompanied by a 96-page catalogue (see cover, left) with essays by three specialists and 30 full-page color plates. This exhibition has been made possible through generous support from the William Gillespie Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Bohemian Club, a Laguna Art Museum council, and George Stern of George Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood.



Editor's note: In February, 2007 Barbara Hazeltine photographed scenes in Death Valley, CA. Many people are fascinated with viewing the artistic interpretation of scenes through painting or sculpture in proximity to realistic photographs of the scenes. These juxtapositions are educational for historic and other reasons, are enjoyable to see, and provide a window for further understanding the impression of nature created by the artist.


(above: Zabriskie Point No 1, 2007, photo © Barbara Hazeltine)


(above: Zabriskie Point No 2, 2007, photo © Barbara Hazeltine)


(above: Zabriskie Point No 3, 2007, photo © Barbara Hazeltine)


(above: The Artist's Drive & Artist's Palette No 1, 2007, photo © Barbara Hazeltine)


(above: The Artist's Drive & Artist's Palette No 2, 2007, photo © Barbara Hazeltine)


If readers are interested in photographing on-location scenes that relate to views depicted in works by historic artists click here for details.

rev. 3/23/07

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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