Percy Gray

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Henry Percy Gray (1869-1952) was an American painter. Gray was born into a San Francisco family endowed with a broad literary and artistic background. He studied under Arthur Frank Mathews at the San Francisco School of Design and later under William Merritt Chase. While he had some early Impressionistic tendencies, his primary expression was under the Tonalism Mathews had brought back from Paris. He is known for his extraction of beauty from the Northern California landscape.

Early years[edit]

Alexander Gray, Percy's father, was born in England, but found his way to a successful insurance business in San Francisco. As the byproduct of a childhood illness, Percy realized he had talents in art. From 1886 to 1888 he attended the California School of Design, then led by Mathews. From there he went on to become a newspaper illustrator, obtaining a job with the New York Journal. In New York he also studied at the Art Students League. He was dispatched from New York to cover the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but decided to remain in his native city where he would then take up his painting career.

As a painter in San Francisco[edit]

Gray's first pieces, headland seascapes, were exhibited in 1907; soon thereafter he addressed in watercolor eucalyptus groves and fields of California wildflowers. These subjects would become signatures of his work. Originally Gray's works were oils; however, he eventually developed an allergy to oil paints, and therefore switched to using watercolors as his primary medium. [1]

From early on the critics marvelled at his ability to infuse realistic depictions of nature with a mystical and poetic quality. He was clearly applying the precepts of his mentor William Merritt Chase in exaggeration of light and color.

From 1912 to 1923 Gray lived in Burlingame, California about twenty miles south of San Francisco, while keeping his studio in the city itself. At the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition he won a bronze medal for his watercolor Out of the Desert, Oregon.

Later years[edit]

Having been a bachelor for 53 years, Gray surprised his friends by marrying. He and his bride moved to the Sherman Quarters on the grounds of the Larkin Adobe in Monterey, where seascapes and cypress dominated his later works. In 1939 the Grays sold their adobe and moved to San Francisco. Restless for the out of doors, Gray and his wife moved to San Anselmo at the base of Mount Tamalpais in 1941. After ten years in Marin County, his wife died and he returned to San Francisco. Gray died on October 10, 1952 from a heart attack.