Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925 - 1945

Prologue and Introduction

by Kent Seavey



"Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925-1945" is the second part of a survey of artistic production from the artists colony on the Monterey peninsula initiated at the Museum in the fall of 1981. For those who were unable to view that exhibition, which covered the years between 1875 and 1925, this small selection of earlier paintings is included in the present showing to give the viewer some idea of the aesthetic antecedence and sources that were drawn upon by a majority of the artists on view.

The principle source of aesthetic inspiration that determined the course of painting on the Monterey peninsula and throughout California into the depression was the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. One of the largest artistic exercises to be held in the United States in the new century, it brought thousands of paintings from around the world as well as over forty-five hundred American works of art from Colonial times to the present (1915). French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism as well as the most recent work of the Italian Futurists was available to view. The reaction to the newer ideas about pictorial space were mixed, as referenced in art critic Anna Cora Winchell's remarks in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Many of them defy explanation as to how the results have been obtained; some look as though they had been splotched with pigment in the hope that the splotches would assume a form of verity, and with a good imagination the onlooker can do his own interpreting." On the other hand, a number of practicing artists like Gottardo Piazzoni, one of the show's directors, found the new work stimulating, "I strongly believe in any movement that makes for the advancement of art and the development of individuality. Especially am I interested in Futurism." Each of the artists represented in this small selection won awards at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, some going on to become important teachers as well as talents (as did many of the other painters in this exhibition).

The 1915 Fair in San Francisco lessened the distance and isolation of California from the larger world of art and sparked a sense of urgency in some of her artists while confirming for others their commitment to individuality of expression. Enough tension was maintained between the "moderns" and the more traditional painters to offer a variety of visual expression for the art viewer for at least the next two decades.



The 1915 fair in San Francisco triggered an awakening interest in California artists to the newer and non-traditional art of Europe. Both older and younger artists began to rebel against the existing teaching practices in bay area art schools. By 1917 Pedro J. Lemos had been replaced as director of the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco by Lee Randolph, a younger painter recently returned to the United States from an extended period of study and painting on the continent. The teaching staff he surrounded himself with were equally interested in the possibilities of European modernism. One of his instructors, Gottardo Piazzoni, traveled to Paris where he and others organized the first large exhibit of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism for a San Francisco showing in 1923. In the east bay a group of painters around Selden Gile formed the Society of Six whose manifesto, (written by William Clapp, Director of the Oakland Museum) proclaimed, "All great art is founded upon the use of visual abstractions to express beauty." Both August Gay and C. S. Price, emerging artists on the Monterey peninsula, were included in this experimental body. By 1925, the year that opens our survey exhibition, Beatrice Judd Ryan had established her Galerie Beaux Arts in San Francisco devoted to modern painting, Eugen Neuhaus had been appointed Chairman of the Department of Art and Drawing at U. C. Berkeley, and Galka Scheyer was lecturing on art at Stanford University and would bring the first collection of German Expressionism to California within a year. In 1926 the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera would be commissioned to execute a major work at the C.S.F.A.'s new campus on Chestnut Street in San Francisco.

By 1925 the Monterey peninsula was well known as a major artists' colony on the Pacific slope. A reputation that had reached Europe as well as the principal art centers of the United States. Almost one half of the painters represented in this exhibition had already established permanent residences in the area with concentrations in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the Carmel Highlands. The local art community was augmented each summer by an influx of visiting artists sketching and painting the magnificent scenery that was, in part, the basis for the colony's existence. Teachers and students from almost all the San Francisco bay area art schools congregated on the peninsula to continue study with their own instructors or to work with the area's established talents, especially E. Charlton Fortune and Armin Hansen. Like the two ocean currents that meet at Point Joe off Pebble Beach, in the late 1920's the more conservative elements of traditional American painting well represented on the peninsula had the opportunity to meet and mingle with new ideas about picture making that were being introduced and examined through the bay area's museums, art schools and galleries. ·

With the volume of creative output being produced on the Monterey peninsula as the decade progressed the necessity for adequate local exhibition space posed a problem that was ultimately resolved by the artists themselves. The great Del Monte Hotel with its art sales gallery, the first in the state to devote itself entirely to the work of California artists, had long been the mainstay for the showing of locally created images. Its efforts were augmented, in part, after 1922 with exhibitions in the Denny-Watrous Studio in Carmel.

The important annual state-wide competition that began in Santa Cruz in the early 1920's was an excellent vehicle for peninsula artists who regularly won key awards, and many, if not all of the established painters had access to the buying public through their own dealers in the major art centers of the country and abroad. However, it was in Carmel that the problem of space was directly addressed and a partial solution found in the establishment of the Carmel Art Association in the summer of 1927.

Organized on the lines of the successful Laguna Beach Art Association, the Carmel Art Association was artist owned and operated as a cooperative institution. Its first show was held in the fall of the year in a commercial building loaned for the occasion with forty-one artists represented. Despite its establishment on the cusp of an international economic depression, the Association would survive and flourish, with some peaks and valleys, and act as an important focal point for artists on the various government Art Projects in the difficult decade ahead. It would be unrealistic to characterize the initial stages of the Great Depression as thoroughly debilitating to the arts on the Monterey peninsula. It must be remembered that considerable wealth existed here at the time. The Carmel Art Association was able, through a series of fund raising events, including an exhibition in 1931 of the "Big Four" National Academacians on the peninsula (Paul Dougherty, Arthur Hill Gilbert, Armin Hansen and William Ritschel), to raise enough by 1934 to purchase and operate the gallery on Dolores Street in Carmel that still acts as their headquarters. Many painters who had suffered economically before the depression continued to do so, joined over time by others, mainly younger artists drawn by the area's reputation as an art colony with a mild climate. This is to say simply that a range of economic conditions prevailed. By 1933 the first of five federal relief programs, the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P.), appeared in Northern California. This came in part from the efforts of the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union to obtain government assistance for the arts. The program lasted from 1933 to 1934, followed in sequence by the State Emergency Relief Administration (S.E.R.A.), 1934-1935: Two projects were subsequently funded by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), the Federal Art Project (F.A.P.) 1935-1943, and the Treasury Relief Arts Program (T.R.A.P.), which lasted from 1935 to 1938. Another Treasury program for painting and sculpture existed between 1934 and 1943. The S.E.R.A. was the first program for artists to be extended to the Monterey peninsula. Nellie Montague, Curator of the Carmel Art Association, was the first local administrator of this program under another well remembered peninsulan, Joseph Danysh, who was a regional director. Burton Boundy followed Ms. Montague as local administrator, to be succeeded jn turn by Amelie Elkinton. It has been suggested that the combined governmental art programs of the depression produced over one million dollars worth of public art on the Monterey peninsula, only a portion of which is still in public view. Today this "art for the millions" is usually encountered by accident on some post office wall or found as decoration in public offices. For the most part, the larger works, the murals, with their visual statements about social conditions of the time and the American scene, are consigned to warehouses and dead storage where the principal function of their creation -- participation of the artist and his society in a common experience -- no longer obtains.

Mural painting per se was not a new form of expression to local artists, many of whom had been trained under Arthur Mathews at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco who was noted as the originator of the California decorative style. In his time he had been close to the international sources of the Arts and Crafts and L'Art Nouveau movements. Diego Rivera, a national model for social realism, had been a well known figure in California art circles since the mid 1920's and in 1931 executed two murals in San Francisco, one being "The Making of a Fresco" that still decorates the gallery wall at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Modernism, as it was understood and practiced or experimented with in California, suffered less perhaps from the disillusionment with European models experienced in the rest of the United States as a result of the depression. Our very physical location on the edge of the Pacific precluded, in part, that kind of turning inward found in so many regional expressions of the American scene painting that tended to dominate the Federal Arts Programs. The variety of experience represented by the artist tenant mix of the Monterey peninsula during the 1930's helped in this regard. Artists associated with the Monterey peninsula like Maxine Albro worked directly with Rivera, both in California and Mexico. Conversely, a San Francisco artist, Victor Arnautoff, who became a muralist because of his work with Rivera, painted the mural still in public view in the Pacific Grove Post Office.

All kinds of art was produced on the Monterey peninsula both in and out of the governmental projects, evidence of the creative vitality of the locale. In the area of prints, described by American artist, Rockwell Kent, as "multiple originals", all kinds were produced from dry point engravings to lithographs and wood and linoleum block prints. Often described as the real art of the people it was logical in a time when the artist and society were suffering mutually for the artist to extend his creative product to the largest audience possible at an affordable price. Although the full range of the printing process as fine art was well established on the peninsula, this black and white form blossomed during the 1930's. In spite of the collective nature associated with the art of the period, individual talents still flourished. California's last creative gesture before entering the Second World War was the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco bay which opened in 1939. Montereyans were included in the juries for selection and well represented in the exhibition itself.

Unlike its predecessor in 1915, the 1939 fair tended to qualify the commitment of government assistance to the arts over the preceding decade rather than opening the way to new kinds of seeing. In a sense it also marked the beginning of the end of federal involvement in the arts on the scale of the W.P.A. programs. Art continued to be produced on the Monterey peninsula despite the drawing off of some younger talents for the war effort. The Carmel Art Association continued as a center for social intercourse between artists of different aesthetic views, and a formal school of art was established on the peninsula in 1939 in the form of the Carmel Institute of Art. Initially operated by Paul Whitman with Armin Hansen, it was eventually taken over by John and Patricia Cunningham who taught an essentially School of Paris.

The war years themselves brought few dramatic changes to the varied aesthetic approaches of the Monterey peninsula artists' community. The radical changes that were soon to affect painting in California and the rest of the United States were in the wings waiting for the end of hostilities and yet another beginning for the California School of Fine Arts, now called the San Francisco Art Institute. A new director, Douglas MacAgy, would soon replace the "old style academic" Lee Randolph as Randolph had once replaced Pedro J. Lemos. The Diego Rivera mural in the art gallery would be covered over and a whole new era of non-objective painting to be called Abstract Expressionism would ensue. As for the Monterey peninsula, one of its own artists and California's first art historian perhaps best sums up our period of inquiry in a passage from his History and Ideal of American Art, written in 1931. "American art in its variety is a true reflection of the variety of its population and the traditions they have brought to bear upon it. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly true ... of our artists that they are showing a peculiar responsiveness to their own environment, whether they have been placed there by accident or by choice. Every artist drifts: he wanders, he exposes himself to all that life offers, until eventually he becomes a part of that particular combination of form and color and ideas that best serve his vision of the world we call art."


Foreword to the Catalogue

The present exhibition, "Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925-1945" has two major goals: to pick and display works of art that reflect the artistic trends and developments of the local art colony from 1925 to 1945; and to select works that depict a Monterey scene or personality.

To this end, Kent Seavey selected sixty-two paintings, drawings and graphics from collections from all over California and the United States. In all, fifty-one artists who were active during the period were chosen (though we were not able to find Monterey scenes from all).

The exhibition focuses on the changing art scene of the peninsula from the economic crash of the late 1920's through the great depression of the 1930's and into World War II. The exhibit features works by well known, as well as little known painters who lived and worked through this period of aesthetic transition. With the depression came the New Deal and the many art projects that both kept peninsula artists eating as well as producing paintings for public spaces. Regionalist images of the American scene came to the fore as well as influences from south of the border through contacts with the Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera, as can be seen in the work of Maxine Albro in our show. More traditional forms survived and prospered, as evidenced in the 1931 exhibit by the so called "Big Four", Armin Hansen, Paul Dougherty, Arthur Hill Gilbert and William Ritschel in support of the development of permanent headquarters for the Carmel Art Association. All through the period, the Monterey peninsula continued to be a catalyst for teacher and pupil with classes representing a number of San Francisco bay area universities being held during the summers. Many artists in the exhibit had homes on the peninsula while others maintained summer cottages. As we moved into World War II, traditional subject matter gave way to more experiments in subjective and abstract painting, opening the way in California for what was to become in post-war years the abstract expressionist school.

The selection and curating of the exhibition is a well researched tour de force reflecting the expertise of Mr. Kent Seavey as well as Bruce Ariss, Normi Burke, James Coran, Richard Criley, Betty Duveneck, Amalie Elkinton, Cynthia Groobey, Irene Lagorio, Betty Haag McGlynn, Dr. Walter Nelson-Rees, Jane Wilgress and Abbie Bosworth Williams. Many thanks to them as well as to the many lenders to the exhibition (page 40) and especially to the artists whose works grace our walls.

I would also like to express my appreciation to James Nelson Algar, Chairman of the Publications Committee of the Board of Trustees, for his many hours of work in preparing this catalog and to Anne Clothier for her tireless help.

Thomas J. Logan

About the author

Kent Seavey was Guest Curator for Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925 - 1945, on view at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art November 6 - December 31,1982. Barnes and Noble says of Mr. Seavey: "Kent Seavey... is the former curator of the California Historical Society and former director of the Carmel Museum of Art. He is now a historic-preservation consultant and a teacher of art and architectural history at Monterey Peninsula College." The same language appears on the back cover of Seavey's book titled Carmel: A History in Architecture, with limited view through Google Book Search.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above exhibition catalogue texts were reprinted in Resource Library on July 11, 2008, with permission of the Monterey Museum of Art. The permission was granted to TFAO on May 29, 2008. Mr. Logan's Foreword and Mr. Seavey's Prologue and Introduction pertain to Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925 - 1945, which was on view at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art November 6 - December 31,1982.

If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue from which they are excerpted, please contact the Monterey Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address: 831-372-5477;

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to E. Michael Whittington, Executive Director of the Monterey Museum of Art, and Stacey Wittig for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above texts.

Readers may also enjoy these articles and essays:

For California art history overall see California Art History, California Artists: 19th-21st Century, California Impressionism and California Regionalism and California School of Painters.

For further biographical information on artists mentioned in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Following are examples of representational artworks created by artists, or photographs of artists, referenced in the above article or essay. Images may not be specific to this article or essay and are likely not cited in it. Images were obtained via Wikimedia Commons, which believes the images to be freely available for presentation here.  Another source readers may find helpful is Google Images.


(above: William Ritschel, Monterey Coast, after 1911, oil on canvas, Dayton Art Institute.  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)


(above: Arthur Frank Mathews, The Grape (The Wine Maker), c. 1906, oil on canvas, De Young Museum. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Monterey Museum of Art in Resource Library.

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