08 November 2011

California: Paradise Without People

If nothing else united them,  Spanish explorers from the 16th century, 19th century gold prospectors,  and modern real estate speculators all shared the dream of California as  a paradise without people. No matter that the state took its name from the myth of a land peopled by black Amazons ruled by Queen Califa. 

Recently, in Landscapeland we looked at California through an art historical lens.  Another way to view  the California landscape is through the eyes of its inhabitants, absent from these sublime images,  and their conflicting aims.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, for example,  was founded by real estate developers in 1903 and  promoted as a colony for artists and writers.  After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 Carmel and the entire Monterey Peninsula became the relocation destination for photographers, musicians, and theater people, too.

Industrialization in general scarcely  interested California artists  and the Southern Pacific Railroad in particular  was anathema to them, dramatically expressed in Frank Norris's best-selling novel The Octopus (1901) in a scene where a steam locomotive plows mercilessly through a flock of grazing sheep.   Businessmen promoted the state as agricultural cornucopia, which it was, through commercial art.   And "serious" artists like Granville Redmond chafed at demands  to produce fields of flowers.  You can see what Redmond was getting at if you compare his majestic California Poppy Fields with the recently auctioned Marsh Under Golden Skies

In  Our Italy (1891) essayist  Charles Dudley Warner was early to name some obvious similarities between the Golden State and the Mediterranean.  One can see his point in the work of local artists, including Arthur and Lucia Kleinhans Mathews.   Gottardo Piazzoni  's The Land  (at top)  evokes beginnings both Biblical and of the classical Greek and Roman varieties.
 When Leopold Hugo photographed the rock formation called the 'Gates of Night', cinematic was not yet an adjective and Hollywood was a sleepy village with a single trolley line.  Something about the swooping, jagged Pacific coastline was just waiting for the motion picture industry to arrive from the east coast.  California was ready for its close-up.
Landscapeland was posted here 0ctober 18, 2011.
1. Gottardo  Piazzoni - The Land, 1915,  Berkeley Art Collection, CA.
2.Armin Hansen - Carmel Countryside at Night, undated, private collection, California.
3. Guy Rose - Carmel Dunes, 1918, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
4, Granville Redmond - California Poppy Field, 1926, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 
5. Granville Redmond - Marsh Under Golden Skies, no date, Bonham's & Butterfield's, Los Angeles/
6. Lucia Kleinhans Mathews -  Landscape with Tree, 1908, Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco.
7. Leopold Hugo - Gates of Night, before 1906, San Diego Historical Society, La Jolla.
8. Anne M. Bremer (1868-1923)  - The Highlands - early 20th century, Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco.


AliceKiss said...

Beautiful!!!!Thank you!

Jane said...

A.K, you are welcome. I tried to pick artists whose works are under-appreciated outside California - with the exception of Granville Redmond.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Do you think that the empty landscapes speak to the sense of vastness and "eden-ness" that many people associated with California?

Jane said...

Oakland, you would know better than I, I htink My first impression (visiting the Napa Valley, actually) was that I had been parachuted into southern France!
Maybe it has something to do with the experience - or at least the awareness - of the harsh mountains to the east and the bland sameness of the midwest that intervene between the two oceans.