California Dreaming: Plein-Air Painting from San Francisco to San Diego

This exhibition presented a selection of early 20th-century paintings largely from the SBMA permanent collection that celebrate the specific topography and climactic effects associated with California.  By the end of the nineteenth century, landscape painting had become the primary vehicle for depicting national identity in American art.  California provided breathtaking scenery of newly integrated lands for painters working “en plein air,” or outdoors.  Adapting certain strategies of French Impressionism, the artists created a style that has become the hallmark of what is commonly termed California Plein-Air Painting or California Impressionism.  This regional style was created by a group of cosmopolitan painters, whose mobility was facilitated by the new railroad lines to the West Coast.  They were in search of artistic inspiration, both from nature, and from exposure to the art of the past and present.  While technically varied, all of the artists in the exhibition were devoted to the indigenous landscape and sought to reproduce faithfully the effects of light and atmosphere that so specifically characterize the natural paradise we aptly call the Golden State.

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