‘Commence again’

May 22, 2020 § 1 Comment

The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews

By HARVEY L. JONES

Arthur F. Mathews’ well-deserved reputation as a hard master was revealed in his frequently harsh criticism and caustic comments about the students’ work. Although they regarded him with fear and awe, the students in his drawing classes were noted for the high quality of their draftsmanship.

As it was in the Parisian art academies, Mathews met with his classes twice weekly for the purposes of instruction and review of the students’ accumulated work. He had little patience with the untalented and was known to ignore some of the students working at their easels, making neither comment nor criticism for days or weeks at a time, as a way of discouraging all but the most diligent and dedicated in the class. Those students who aspired to Mathews’ high standards were rewarded with his generous attention and encouragement.

Despite his dictatorial teaching methods, Mathews did not expect the students to imitate his own approaches or themes. Moreover, during his 16 years as director of the California School of Design in San Francisco, he always advised his best students to seek further study in Paris. Mathews was also very supportive of the efforts of women in the arts.

A large number of California’s best artists, both men and women, from the first half of the 20th century were his students. They include, among many others, his wife Lucia Kleinhas Mathews, Armin Hansen, Florence Lundborg, Francis McComas, Xavier Martinez, Anne Bremer, Gottardo Piazzoni, Ralph Stackpole, Giuseppe Cadenasso, Isabel Hunter, Granville Redmond, Joseph Raphael and Euphemia Charlton Fortune.

— Excerpted from The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews by Harvey L. Jones (Pomegranate 2006), published by the Oakland Museum.

James Guilford Swinnerton | Commence again, A.F.M. (circa 1892) from the Mathews Archives at the Oakland Museum

A studio by the park

February 17, 2020 § 1 Comment

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John Payne | The Park (1959)

JOHN PAYNE had no desire to settle in California until he visited San Francisco. He immediately fell under the city’s charms and uniqueness.

There was no doubt that in the 1950s it was the place to be. Lawrence Ferlinghetti had just opened City Lights bookstore in North Beach, and the free-spirited culture of the Beat generation appealed to the young painter. The hills, the Victorian houses and the liberal politics were irresistible. Best of all, his allergies disappeared like magic in the gray fog.

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FLW tiles in Taliesin red

December 22, 2019 § Leave a comment

FLW

Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red tile.

ARCHITECT AARON GREEN, who lived in an apartment overlooking San Francisco’s Lafayette Park for many years, helped Frank Lloyd Wright establish an office here in 1951 at 319 Grant Avenue.

Green’s mother-in-law, Jeannette Pauson Haber, lived near him at 2510 Jackson Street, on Alta Plaza Park, with her sister, Rose Pauson, who was a former client of Wright’s. In 1940 she had built the Pauson House in Arizona, which was destroyed by fire in 1943.

Rose was a painter, and Jeannette a ceramicist. When Wright decided to create red tiles, inscribed with his initials, to be affixed to a select number of his buildings, he asked Jeannette to fabricate them. Wright provided a drawing of what he wanted; Jeannette formed the tiles; Aaron Green inscribed the initials — FLLW — into each one; and Jeannette produced the “Taliesin red” glazed surface that Wright specified.

Among the Bay Area buildings that Wright designated as worthy of bearing the tiles were the V.C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane — his only building in San Francisco and a precursor to the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York — and the Marin County Civic Center, which was completed by Aaron Green after Wright’s death.

— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner, published by Yale University Press.

A very pretty show

December 13, 2019 § Leave a comment

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James Tissot | The Circle of the rue Royale (1866)

“ONE LEAVES THE Legion show with a deep sense of disappointment,” writes San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais in his review of the Tissot exhibition at the Legion of Honor, while acknowledging Tissot “was a skillful painter who left us intimate glimpses into the styles and customs of wealthy France and England in the 19th century.”

More to the point are Desmarais’ comments in his weekly newsletter:

“James Tissot: Fashion & Faith,” at the Legion of Honor, is the kind of exhibition we had once come to expect from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: uncritical, untethered to the issues of today, and very pretty to look at. Then things changed, we thought.

I chose not to go down that critical road in my review. I think the museums are still shaking off the decorative flourishes of the Buchanan/Wilsey years, and in a big institution that doesn’t happen overnight. I’m willing to cut the new team some slack as it works through the deep investments made in the backlog of long-planned projects. And “Tissot” is, after all, a very pretty show.

REVIEW: “A story more of love than of art

On the ramparts of high art

October 21, 2019 § Leave a comment

Artful

IN THE EARLY 1880s in San Francisco, Samuel Marsden Brookes had been hard at work, waiting patiently for better times. His paintings, of which he by now had a large number, were stacked all around the studio, with good prices affixed to them. Once Brookes put a price on a canvas, not even Satan himself could make him reduce it.

One portrayed a life-size peacock, posed on a balustrade before a palatial country house. The painting had been languishing in Brookes’ studio for quite some time, waiting for a buyer. The longer the bird remained on his hands, the higher Brookes jacked up the price. He had started at $750, a figure already pronounced much too high by his dealer. Out of sheer spite Brookes immediately raised it to $1,000. Thereafter, the price of the peacock had steadily escalated. From $1,000 it went to $1,200, then $1,500, then $1,700. By the time Timothy Hopkins, adopted son of the late Mark Hopkins, came to see the painting, the price had soared to $2,000. A few days later, when Timothy returned with Mark Hopkins’ widow for a second look, Brookes promptly raised the price to $2,500, announcing that, while he did not have any money he did have the picture, “and here it stays until I get my price.” In the face of such rapid developments, Mrs. Hopkins surrendered on the spot, adding two still lifes, one with apples, one with fish, for a total of $3,000.

The idea of the solitary artist brandishing his mahlstick on the ramparts of High Art, willing to die, yet prevailing in the end, was inspiring. However, it was merely the exception confirming the rule.

— From Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco by Birgitta Hjalmarson

Saving the murals

August 26, 2019 § Leave a comment

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IT’S BEING HAILED as a victory. The school board in San Francisco reversed course and voted merely to cover up — not paint over — a remarkable series of murals by noted artist Victor Arnautoff at George Washington High School. But the plan is still to make the frescoes disappear.

That’s a shame. A quickly scheduled, little noted public viewing of the controversial murals on a weekday afternoon nonetheless brought out scores of people eager to see for themselves what the fuss was about. It turned into an art party, with a gathering of many leading figures from the Bay Area art world. Most seemed to agree it was a silly idea to destroy — or even hide — the murals so that the young minds of high school students would not be subjected to the trauma of passing by Arnautoff’s intentionally provocative art.

Said one: “If they’re worried about the kids being traumatized, don’t let them read the front page of The New York Times.”

MORE: “The case for keeping the murals

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John Sloan meets Duke Ellington

August 5, 2019 § Leave a comment

FIRST PERSON | D. A. PENNEBAKER

I WANTED to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and its packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like John Sloan’s New York City paintings, and I wanted it to go with my Duke Ellington record, Daybreak Express.

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UPDATE: Pennebaker film archive looking for a home
RIP: D.A. Pennebaker dies at 94