William Wendt (American, 1865-1946) Old Coast Road 30 x 36in overall: 35 1/2 x 41in (Painted circa 1916)

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Lot 34
William Wendt
(American, 1865-1946)
Old Coast Road 30 x 36in overall: 35 1/2 x 41in

Sold for US$ 1,565,000 inc. premium
William Wendt (American, 1865-1946)
Old Coast Road
signed 'William Wendt' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 36in
overall: 35 1/2 x 41in
Painted circa 1916


  • Provenance
    Collection of the artist.
    The Jahraus Family, Laguna Beach, California, acquired directly from the artist.

    Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Laguna Legacy,
    April 3 – May 25, 1981.
    Laguna Beach, Laguna Art Museum, California Light, traveling exhibition June 22, 1990 - March 15, 1991.
    Laguna Beach, Laguna Art Museum, In Nature's Temple, The Life and Art of William Wendt, November 9, 2008 – February 8, 2009.

    N. Dustin Wall Moure, William Wendt: 1865 – 1946, Laguna Art Museum, 1977. p. 24 illus.
    R. Westphal, Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, Irvine, 1983, illustrated in color on the dust jacket cover and p. 175.
    P. Trenton and W. Gerdts, California Light, 1900-1930, San Francisco, 1992, p. 72, pl. 62.
    W.J. Walker, Documents on the Life and Art of William Wendt, California's Painter Laureate of the Paysage moralise, Big Pine, 1992, p. 174, no. 486.
    W. South and J. Stern, In Nature's Temple, The Life and Art of William Wendt, Irvine, 2008, p. 35, illlus. full page color.

    William Wendt's desire to obtain a second home and studio brought him to Laguna Beach, California, where he had been sketching and painting. It was an idyllic and pristine location for his artistic theme: nature unhindered by the urban advance. As he explored the various areas for a site to build his new home, one of the attractive locations was around Old Coast Road near Moss Point, later designated as the Villa Rockledge area. As Wendt rounded the curve on Old Coast Road, in 1916, he was struck by the isolation of the area, a few scattered homes and trees near the cove at the water's edge. What certainly captured his attention was the crimson colored setting sun just before its descent below the horizon, leaving streaks of color on the blue water. Above, the teal blue sky was blanketed by this crimson color. The beauty and subtlety of this impressive scene that nature had painted left him with a strong desire to record it. The painting that evolved is Wendt's Old Coast Road.

    Interestingly, an early black and white photograph dated 1916 survives which almost duplicates the painting, including the white colonial style Ibbetson House and car seen prominently in the mid-ground. Though, from the slightly raised knoll to the right, Wendt's perspective shows more of the road's curves and focuses more on the land near the ocean.

    The intriguing story of the painting's provenance can be related here. In 1913, Joe Jahraus founded the Laguna Beach Lumber Company, which was the only outlet for artists' supplies locally. As a result the Jahraus family had daily contact with most of the renowned plein-air artists of the area, like Joseph Kleitsch and Edgar Payne, who occasionally traded a finished artwork in return for painting supplies and construction materials to build their early artist home/studios. William Wendt was probably aware of this arrangement and took advantage of the opportunity to trade a painting for some construction materials. What would be more appropriate than Old Coast Road, where his new home/studio would be situated in 1918. The painting would remain with the Jahraus family over four generations.

    By means of archival correspondence, we know that Wendt's home address was 2420 South Coast Boulevard, which would have been slightly across the road from the Ibbetson House whose address was 2419. Wendt's wife, the renowned sculptress Julia Bracken Wendt, finally left their former Los Angeles residence and studio to join him at the Laguna home and studio for the balance of their lives.

    With a remarkable provenance and exhibition record, Old Coast Road is a gem to treasure. It has long been the representative icon of early California plein-air painting since adorning Ruth Westphal's cover of The Southland book. This concise survey and its companion volume, The North, became the catalyst of what was soon to become the meteoric rise in the market for early California paintings.

    We are grateful to Patricia Trenton Ph.D., Eric Jessen and Lindy J. Narver, the archivist/librarian at the Laguna Art Museum, for their assistance with this essay.
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