Master of the poppyfields

September 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

A wall of poppy paintings by Granville Redmond.

ON MARCH 2, 1903, the California Legislature declared the golden poppy the state flower, prompting its proliferation on objects of all kinds, including paintings. That Granville Redmond started painting poppies in earnest just as the legislature made the flower’s status official was surely not coincidental.

The golden poppy, Eschscholzia californica, provided a distinctive, seasonal burst of color, enlivening yellow-green hills and meadows following winter rains. The poppy was more than a flower, however. It was a symbol of California itself, its golden hue emblematic of the state’s history of mining, its importance as an orange grower, its perennial sunshine, and its amber hillsides in summer. It appealed to locals and tourists alike.

In Redmond’s day, great profusions of poppies thrived throughout the state, but were especially notable in the San Gabriel Valley, where Redmond often worked. In 1904, Redmond started to focus on poppies, and he became incredibly skilled at doing so. Soon no other artist in California could match his aptitude for painting the flower in its natural environment. Like his colleagues, Redmond would come to depict poppies and other wildflowers in combination, pairing them most frequently with lupine, which provided a perfect, blue-purple complement to the poppy’s orange-yellow hue.

In many of his paintings, Redmond maintained what he considered to be a self-respecting balance between color and quiet, with poppies animating landscapes that were subtly hued. The poppies and lupine nestled within the otherwise tonal expanse provide orchestrated bursts of seasonal color — often just enough to leave the viewer longing for more. Redmond himself remained personally inclined toward quieter paintings, preferring, as he told an art critic for the Los Angeles Times, to paint pictures of “solitude and silence.” And yet, he confessed: “Alas, people will not buy them. They all seem to want poppies.”

MORE: “Granville Redmond’s quieter side

— Excerpted from Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette, by Scott Shields and Mildred Albronda.

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