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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.