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Philip H. Greene Donates California Watercolors, 1930–60

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2007
Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

The Hood is delighted to have received from Hanover resident Philip H. Greene a gift of thirteen paintings that represent the vitality of the “California-style” watercolorists. This informal but closely knit group of artists was most active from the late 1920s through the 1950s, primarily in southern California. They received national recognition for capturing in watercolor the distinctive character of their western environs in a manner that was dynamic and expressive, yet representational. The thirteen works Mr. Greene has donated to the Hood represent the core of a much larger collection of California watercolors that he formed over more than forty years with his late wife, Marjorie B. Greene, who, like him, was a California native.

The Greene collection features works by the most prominent California watercolorists, including Millard Sheets, Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, Dong Kingman, Emil Kosa Jr., Barse Miller, and Noel Quinn. Many of them had close ties with the California Water Color Society, which was founded in 1921 and mounted local and traveling exhibitions that raised the group’s profile nationally. Although several in the group also painted in oils, they took apparent delight in exploiting watercolor’s inherent fluidity and transparency—qualities that ideally suited their interest in spontaneous, bold effects and in capturing their suninfused atmosphere. A strong local tradition of watercolor instruction also encouraged appreciation of the medium. Whereas watercolor traditionally played at best a minor role in the art curriculum of long-established East Coast art schools, it formed an important part of the instruction at Los Angeles’s Chouinard School of Art, where many in the group received their training and later taught.

Like the majority of their Depressionera peers, the California-style watercolorists aspired to work in an economical, contemporary style but rejected nonrepresentational abstraction, which carried the perception of being elitest and divorced from the exigencies of everyday life. Just as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton celebrated the quotidian rural traditions of the Midwest, the California watercolorists sought to render vigorous, yet accessible, images of daily life in their own region. They portrayed California’s dramatic coastline, agricultural and fishing traditions, public amusements, and bustling cities, as well as the ill effects of the Great Depression.

The Hood will present an exhibition of the Greene collection in the museum’s Harrington Gallery in the fall of 2008. Two watercolors from the Greene collection are featured in this fall’s exhibition American Works on Paper to 1950: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art.

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