California Scene Painting

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California Scene Painting is a form of American regionalist art centered on the landscapes, places, and people of California. It flourished from the mid 1920s to the mid 1960s.


During the first two decades of the 20th century, California painting was dominated by a local variant of Impressionism.[1] By the 1920s, this movement had lost steam as painters came under the influence of modernist genres like Cubism and emerging forms of Realism such as the Ashcan School.[1] Starting in the mid 1920s, California artists developed a new regionalist form that became known as California scene painting — a term that originated with Los Angeles art critic Arthur Miller.[1][2] [3] The period from the 1930s to the 1960s is now known as the golden age of California scene painting. Although admired by critics on both coasts, California scene painting did not sell very well in its own day.[1]

California scene painters worked in watercolor and oil, depicting the state's landscapes, people, and scenes of everyday life.[3][4] Varying widely in style and subject, California scene paintings show the influence of a range of precursor styles, notably Impressionism (particularly its local variant, California Impressionism), Cubism, and Realism.[5] There is a tendency to romanticize: California is presented as the home of spectacular mountain and coastal scenery, pastoral agricultural valleys, and dynamic cities and highways.[1][2][6]

Notable California scene painters include Emil Kosa Jr., Millard Sheets, Milford Zornes, Phil Dike, Rex Brandt, Phil Paradise, Elsie Palmer Payne, Elsie Lower Pomeroy, Barse Miller, Paul Sample, Dong Kingman, and Charles Payzant.[3][4][2] One group — including Sheets, Dike, Brandt, Miller, Zornes, and Kosa, Jr. — worked in large-scale watercolors.[1]

A 2014 exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of Art included many of the best-known California scene painters.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f McClelland, Gordon T. "The Golden Age of California Scene Painting". AFAnews, Jan. 29, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "California Scene Paintings from 1930 to 1960 on View at Pasadena Museum of California Art". Huffpost, April 15, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c "California Scene Paintings". Hilbert Museum of California Art.
  4. ^ a b "California Scene Paintings: 1920s–1970s". Irvine Museum website, 2014.
  5. ^ Brown, Michael D. Views from Asian California, 1920–1965, 1992.
  6. ^ Stern, Jean, and Molly Siple. California Light: A Century of Landscapes, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • McClelland, Gordon T., and Austin D. McClelland (2013). California Scene Painting (ISBN 9781616581084)