July 2, 2011 – September 25, 2011
Image: William F. Jackson “Soda Springs”, 22 x 36 inches, signed and dated ’85 at lower right, oil on canvas. Collection of Kathy and Roger Carter
William F. Jackson came to California as a thirteen year old in 1863, crossing the plains in a covered wagon. His family settled in Sacramento, but young Will’s talent for art led to his enrollment in the California School of Design in San Francisco, where he won a silver medal for draftsmanship in 1875. Upon graduation, he launched into a career as an easel painter, painting both portraits and landscapes. In the 1880s and after, he went on sketching tours in the Sierra Nevada near Soda Springs and Donner Lake. In 1885, he was considered to be the best art authority in Sacramento, and Margaret Crocker asked him to be the first curator of her new museum, the E.B. Crocker Art Gallery. Jackson offered to take the position for one year, because his ambitions were to establish himself as an important exhibiting artist, not a museum employee. At the end of the year, he tried to resign, but was talked into staying on one more year. Forty-nine years later, he was still on the job. He became director of the museum-based art school, the Sacramento School of Design, while continuing on as a landscape painter of solid reputation. In the early twentieth century, Jackson brightened his palette and became renowned for his transcriptions of California springtime scenery, replete with vivid orange poppies. The San Francisco Call noted that “Jackson has claimed the state flower to be his very own and has proceeded to make good that claim by his absolute mastery of the subject.” (January 22, 1911).
The Landscape Sketches of Grace Carpenter Hudson
Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865–1937) is nationally known for her unique sympathetic depictions of the local Pomo Indians. Grace considered her detailed oil portraits her professional work and kept a painting diary with numbers assigned to each painting. Her numbered Pomo portraits still bring handsome prices in today’s art market. There is, however, another body of work that Grace produced but did not sign, market or document during her lifetime. These are the landscape sketches Grace drew and painted starting as a young teen and continuing throughout her life. These small works, primarily in watercolor and oil, seem to be almost exclusively executed outside from direct observation following the French “en plein air” example. When Grace Carpenter entered the San Francisco School of Design, producing a landscape work entirely outside was the new approach being taught due to the influence of French Barbizon Painting. Artists working in this new quicker method used a looser brushstroke and minimized detail as opposed to previous, precise studio pieces worked up from on-site studies. From the Barbizon influence a new American style developed called Tonalism, which incorporated plein air painting, a muted palette based on plant, earth, and grayed atmospheric colors, and an emphasis on landscape images that were either devoid of human habitation or feature figures in dramatic isolation. These early artistic influences stayed with Grace Hudson throughout her career. Unlike many other artists, such as William F. Jackson, she was not very influenced by the new Impressionists’ use of bold color.
The Landscape Sketches of Grace Carpenter Hudson explored Grace’s landscape paintings and drawings in the Museum’s collections. The earliest oil painting dated from 1880. The watercolors were also early and documented local trips in the 1880s. The several drawings probably dated from the 1890s when Grace was creating illustrations for articles on Mendocino County. The predominant media was oil on cardboard or canvas. Of these, ones that contained meadows, hills, or river views, were used as studies for nature backgrounds in her Pomo portraits. The finished backgrounds retained the same loose rendition and muted palette of the landscape sketches, which by contrast directed our attention to the highly detailed and more colorful subject of the portrait. In other works she chose quiet, simple compositions: a rustic well, ferns by a pool, a path in the woods, or a solitary tree — all intimate meditative moments in nature.
After her death, many of the paintings were signed with an estate signature and sold over the years by her heirs, Mark and Melissa Carpenter. However, in an effort to relate the landscapes to Grace’s Native American works, the Carpenters went a step beyond propriety and had small Pomo artifacts and even individual figures added to many of the works by Grace’s artist friend, Gene Warfield of Healdsburg. Most of the watercolors were signed, titled, and dated by Grace but little is known concerning the oils. The descriptive titles that many of these landscapes have today have come from collectors, galleries, or occasionally Museum staff.
Marvin Schenck, Curator Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House