Welcome to the William A. Karges Fine Art Blog

Welcome to the William A. Karges Fine Art Blog, where you'll be able to learn about Early California and Southwest Paintings and discover information about Museum Exhibitions, Current News, Events, and our gallery's new acquisitions of original paintings created between 1870 and 1940 by a wide variety of artists. We'll feature biographies, photographs, links to websites of interest to collectors, video tours, and detailed histories of some of California's most influential and intriguing artists. Visit our Gallery at Dolores & Sixth Ave in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California to view our collection of fine paintings in person.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Secret Life of Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel

The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
- Francis Bacon

The curse of the art historian is to be forever asking questions. Where? When? How? But every so often (and generally at the most frustrating moment), we find ourselves faced with an informational hollow, a query to which there are no search results. Such it is with the enigmatic painter whom the world has come to know as Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.

Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel

Records on the artist’s exhibition history, educational background, family, and ouvre are fairly extensive; information on her personal life, however, is not. We know that in 1904, Ms. Kavanaugh added the surname Wachtel – an understandable consequence of her marriage to fellow artist, Elmer Wachtel. Following her wedding, however, Marion chose another, somewhat more enigmatic name-change: she abandoned the fourth vowel in Kavanaugh, and it became the middle-name, Kavanagh. Scholarship on exactly what precipitated this latter change is sparse, though the move was not without precedent. Six years earlier, soon-to-be-renowned artist Granville Redmond changed his name from Grenville in a similarly befuddling move. Whether these subtle rebrandings affected the artists’ respective rises to prominence is unknown.

The events surrounding the meeting of Marion and Elmer are the matter of some debate, as well. The prevailing theory states that the two were introduced through renowned Dusseldorf-cum-Barbizon School painter, William Keith. By the turn of the century, Keith had long since established himself as a leading California landscape artist – so well known, in fact, that he was referred to as the “Dean of California painters.” It makes sense, then, that he was well acquainted with East Coast transplant and emerging Southern California landscapist, Elmer Wachtel.

Marion, for her part, had spent the last decade immersed in her painting. She studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Institute of Chicago, taught courses for her alma mater, and traveled the Santa Fe Railway on a commission to illustrate the quintessential American Southwest. By the turn of the century she was widely regarded as one of the nation’s premier watercolorists – renowned for her bold tonalism and technical precision.

"Indian Summer" - SOLD

In late 1903, as the story goes, Marion was in San Francisco to exhibit landscapes depicting an area surrounding the estate of wealthy patron and entrepreneur, Elwood Cooper. Her pieces were well received, positively reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, and garnered the artist a measure of positive attention in the Bay Area. It is here that the artist came to the attention of the aforementioned Keith – and here that the general consensus among historians diverges.

One story says that Marion was studying directly under Keith for some period of time in San Francisco. Lacking definite bibliographic evidence, some will venture no further than to say that the two knew each other in passing. Those that assert the more intimate relationship go on to say that it is Keith who referred Marion to Elmer, the latter residing in LA at the time. Still others posit that it was of her own volition that Marion traveled to Southern California where she encountered the charming Elmer.  

"Santa Paula" - SOLD

Whichever story is true, it so happened that in 1904 Marion wed Elmer, and the two began their artistic lives together in Southern California. The couple settled in the Arroyo Seco near Pasadena. For the next 25 years, they would travel the region, painting the landscape as they saw it – Marion in watercolor, Elmer in oil. Marion became famous for her immaculate, deliberate washes; her vivid descriptions of the California landscape. Together with Elmer, their work was highly sought after and exhibited around the country, from San Francisco to Chicago to New York.

Though Marion received critical acclaim in her own right, watercolor as a medium was at the time still viewed as subordinate to oil (it isn’t until the 1920s that watercolor gained wide acceptances as high art). It is an interesting question, then, why an artist such as Marion – so renowned for her technical prowess – never sought the accolades afforded the medium of oil.

Although the official record on the matter is scant, historians are nothing if not happy to speculate.

It has been proposed that Marion refused to paint in oil out of deference to her husband, Elmer. Perhaps presaging the tumultuous relationship of Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner in the mid-20th century, she was happy to avoid comparison and inevitable competition with her artist husband. This analysis gains credence through the events following Elmer’s death in 1929. For several years afterward, Marion was unable to bring herself to paint at all. When she finally picked up a brush in the early 1930s, she burst onto the scene with something the art community never expected: paintings in oil.

"Sierra Scene" - SOLD

In addition to a change in media, her palette brightened considerably. Whether this change was an homage to her late husband, or a personal expression that could only find voice after his death, remains a mystery.

Marion continued to paint and exhibit, both in watercolor and in oil, until her death in 1954. To this day, the truth behind her personal story remains largely obscured. Who was this enigmatic artist, really?

The work of Marion Kavanagh Wachtel is held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum, the Irvine Museum, the Orange County Museum, the Santa Fe Railway Co., and the LA County Museum of Natural History.

For more information on Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, including available canvases, please visit us online at www.kargesfineart.com, or email us at wganz@kargesfineart.com


Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Granville Redmond - Color and Silence" by Rob Pierce

    The year is 1918. A hand-cranked projector rolls, flickering black and white, as the bawdy owner of the Green Lantern grabs one of his girls and tosses her into a crowd of revelers. “If you smile and wink, they’ll buy a drink,” reads the title card. The actor plays the part with gesticulating aplomb. And, indeed, there’s a reason why this particular man is so well suited to the silent medium: He is completely unable to speak.

    The film is Charlie Chaplain’s A Dog’s Life, and the loathsome dance hall owner is none other than California’s Impressionist laureate, Granville Redmond. While short lived, the artist’s foray into silent film is notable, as it demonstrates the multiplicity that Redmond exhibited in his artistic career – moving freely between French Barbizon inspired Tonalism and the bright, high-key color of California Impressionism. The latter style would lead to Redmond’s status as one of the most coveted (and collected) of Early California painters. Today, the paintings of Granville Redmond are found in private collections, universities, and museums up and down the California coast and across the globe. Though he would reach the top echelons of the American art world, the path to Redmond’s uncommon success was marked by uncommon hardship.

    On March 9th, 1871, Charles and Elizabeth Redmond gave birth to healthy baby boy, whom they named Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond. Sadly – though perhaps fortuitously, from an art historical perspective – young Grenville contracted scarlet fever at the age of two, rendering him completely and irreparably deaf. As a result, Redmond lost the capacity for speech, a condition which would endure for his entire life. In 1874, the family moved to the Bay Area, and the boy was enrolled in the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, one of the nation’s most renowned institutions for the hearing impaired. Redmond excelled in his classes, both academically and socially, but it was in the arts that he truly shone.  

    Under the instruction of artist Theophilus D'Estrella, he developed a keen eye for light and color, and a particular love of the outdoors and the en plein air method, which was coming into fashion among the burgeoning California art scene. It’s difficult to say to what degree Redmond’s hearing impairment influenced his art. But whatever the cause, he found himself immediately attracted to the subtle gradations and quiet isolation of the Tonalist style. A significant and meaningful part of his oeuvre that would follow him all of his life.

Granville Redmond - Grazing - SOLD

   At the encouragement of his instructors from the California School, Redmond enrolled at the San Francisco School of Design at the age of 16. It was here that he would meet perhaps the most significant instructor of his early artistic career – Director of the School of Design, Arthur Mathews, recognized by many art historians as the single most important figure in Early California painting. Mathews was responsible for the first artistic movement that can accurately be described as Californian: the eventually-termed California Decorative Style. Still, had it not been for this invention, his contribution to the arts would have been indisputable simply for his tutelage of many young Northern Californian artists.

   Even before graduating from the Academy of Design, Redmond began to receive critical acclaim. He won the W. E. Brown Medal of Excellence and a scholarship to continue his studies in Paris, the young artist’s lifelong dream. In 1893, he crossed the Pacific and enrolled at the Académie Julian, one of France’s most prestigious art schools. Here, under the professorship of such luminaries as Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurenz, Redmond honed his craft. By now, he was focusing almost exclusively on exterior landscape compositions in the Tonalist style, and in 1895 his canvas, Matin d’Hiver, was accepted into the exclusive Paris Art Salon. 

    In 1898, Redmond returned to California and settled in Los Angeles. After years of study, he was finally ready to embark on his journey as a professional artist. Perhaps in response to his new state in life, Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond decided that a nom de pinceau was in order – and thus he dropped the foremost e in favor of an a, did away with his middle names altogether, and became simply Granville Redmond.

    Granville Redmond’s early professional career in Southern California is characterized by subtle Tonalist compositions, often landscapes and seascapes of Laguna Beach, Catalina Island, and San Pedro. 

     These early works exhibit quiet, almost solemn undertones – hinting at an artist who was at the same time both extremely sensitive and somehow conflicted. Additionally, Redmond completed a number of nocturnes during this time, tenebrous pastorals reminiscent of the work being produced in Northern California at the time. 

Granville Redmond - Moonlit Pond - SOLD

Granville Redmond - Night Sailing - SOLD

   It is in Los Angeles that Redmond would eventually meet Charlie Chaplain. The two would quickly become fast friends, trading techniques in pantomime and other non-verbal cues – one educated through a lifetime of silent observation, the other through a career on the silver screen. They got along so handsomely that not only did Chaplain invite Redmond to star in three of his feature films, but the actor also independently financed a studio for the artist on his film lot.

    In 1899, Granville married Carrie Ann Jean, herself a graduate from the Illinois School for the Deaf. Over the next several years, they would have three children together. By this time, Redmond was already garnering favorable reviews as a talented and thoughtful colorist in the LA art scene.

    But the artist was soon to explore a whole new method of composition, and in 1908 he packed up his family and moved north to Monterey, where his typically moody Tonalist landscapes began to change, becoming instead more expansive, idyllic, and colorful. 

Granville Redmond - California Landscape - SOLD

Two years later, the Redmond family moved again, this time to San Mateo, where Granville firmly rooted himself in the San Francisco art establishment. He took the critical world by storm with his sweeping visions of California landscapes, hillsides on fire with golden poppies and violet lupine.

Granville Redmond - California Poppies - SOLD

     The demand for his work exploded. For the next 25 years, Redmond traveled up and down the California coast – one of the few Early Californian artists to do so – capturing its quintessential light and color. His work matured, becoming more Impressionistic, even Pointillist, as he grew to become one of the West Coast’s foremost California Impressionists.

       He drew comparisons to France’s greatest masters – Monet, Matisse, Pisarro. And though collectors, artists, and patrons had an insatiable appetite for his vivid wildflower canvases, the artist never gave up his passion for his quiet, Tonalist compositions. For the rest of his life, Redmond would continue to paint his beloved, brooding nocturnes; subtle, grey pastorals; silent, solitary coastals – even as the demand for his Impressionistic landscapes continued to skyrocket.

Granville Redmond - Solitude - SOLD

Today, Granville Redmond is remembered as a master of both California Impressionism and California Tonalism. His work continues to be bought and sold around the world, publicly and privately, and every retrospective of seminal Californian art bears his name. His work is held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco’s de Young Museum, the Laguna Art Museum, Crocker Museum, Stanford University Museum, Oakland Museum, the Irvine Museum, the California School of the Deaf, Mills College – to name but a few.

Granville Redmond died on May 24, 1935 in Los Angeles. He was 63 years old.

For more information on Granville Redmond, including available canvases, please visit us online at kargesfineart.com, or email us at wganz@kargesfineart.com.