Vibrant Coast (Dana Point) signed 'Wm Wendt' (lower right) oil on canvas 24 x 36in overall: 34 x 46in Painted circa 1903
Exhibited Irvine, The Irvine Museum, Selections from the Irvine Museum, traveling exhibition 2010-2011.
Literature Jean Stern, Selections from the Irvine Museum, Irvine, 1992, 2009, illustrated p. 45. Will South, In Nature's Temple, The Life and Art of William Wendt, Irvine, 2008, illustrated in color, p. 110.
Wendt is one of the most renowned California painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries and was given the moniker of "Dean of Southern California" in recognition of his artistic prowess and his expertise in the field of art history. He was the co-founder of the California Art Club in 1911, and held several other positions, including the presidency, within the organization for almost a decade. The club emphasized the appreciation for plein-air painting to reflect the incomparable natural wilderness of California landscapes, of which Wendt continued for the majority of his artistic métier.
Considered an impressionist due to a feathery hand, his attention to light, and his hallmark palette of rustic greens and browns, Wendt effectively captured the essence of California's backcountry. The works produced during the epitome of Wendt's career defined the style of California impressionism, however his early work was more attuned to the regionalist style of the Midwest, and primarily rendered the farmland surrounding Chicago. His earlier works have been termed tranquil and lyrical while his later works evolved to show bold and broad brushstrokes with greens and browns.
Born in Bentzen, Germany in 1865, Wendt emigrated to the United States at fifteen, settling in Chicago to study at the School of the Art Institute. He excelled in technical abilities and developed a passion for painting the rural pastures of the Midwest. Between 1894 and 1906, Wendt and fellow artist Gardener Symons visited the wilderness of Southern California several times and traversed the expansive hinterlands of California. Wendt was so captivated with the state, that he and his new bride, sculptress Julia Bracken, moved to Los Angeles. Eventually the couple relocated to Laguna Beach and remained in the picturesque beach town until their passing.
The "Laguna period" exhibits the most recognizable and emblematic of the artist's repertoire. In the painting Vibrant Coast (Dana Point), Wendt captures the vibrancy of the Pacific tides breaking upon the rocky shoreline of Dana Point near his home in Laguna Beach, California. Similar to the Existentialists influential ideas of the sublime in nature on the development of the Hudson River School painters, Wendt was caught by a drive to show the goodness and bounty of nature in the California landscape. In William H. Gerdts', Images of The Land of Sunshine: California Impressionism, he discusses Wendt's work as differing from many of his fellow artists in that he moved away from site-specific works towards a more generalized view of landscape which could more fully develop his ideas of communicating the meaning of landscape.
Wendt was adventurous in his works and was unabashed to experiment with uncommon compositional elements. Dividing the composition diagonally, he increased the dynamism and implied movement of the undulating waves. Employing an asymmetrical composition was typical of the French Impressionists, as they experimented with aesthetic qualities popularized from Japanese art prints during the 19th century. Wendt was clearly influenced by the energetic qualities of nontraditional compositions, exemplified by the use of a high horizon line. Vibrant Coast (Dana Point) reflects the aesthetics from such works as Claude Monet's 1882, Cliff Walk Pourville, and those of Japanese master illustrator Hokusai. Rather than replicating reality, Wendt communicated his perception of color and explored the emotional meaning of color. The artist used an entire spectrum of color and conveyed the tonal variance of blue hues in the Pacific Ocean. Small vessels with brick colored sails dot the sea and contrast with the spectrum of brilliant blues, however, the rolling cerulean waves crashing into the rocky shore are the focus of the artwork. Albeit painted in the early 20th century, Wendt successfully conveys the wildness and untamed qualities of the California coast.
The work of William Wendt can be found in museums all over the United States including: The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The San Diego Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Irvine Museum.
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