Thursday, June 2, 2011

Millard Sheets: California Watercolorist

Some of my favorite artists to appraise are those California artists who worked in and around Santa Barbara. Millard Sheets (1907-1989) who was born in Pomona, California and became one of the most prolific artists on the West Coast.

"Padua Olive Hills Drive" 1940 (Image Courtesy: Otis Art Institute)
Millard Sheets grew up on a ranch and developed a love for horses and the rustic life of Southern California. Sheets gained his art degree at the Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles (1925-29). As a young artist during the 1920s, he became familiar with the work of the American scene painters, Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, who were part of a movement called American Regionalism. Wood and Benton were interested in painting American life. Sheets decided to focus on his native Los Angeles area.

As an art appraiser in Santa Barbara, I often come upon collectors of the California Watercolor school. Millard Sheets, Milford Zornes, Rex Brandt, Phil Dyke, George Post and others developed the California Watercolor style of painting. These artists used watercolor instead of oil to paint on-site and outdoors.

Depicting daily life of everyday people, laborers, and immigrants, Sheets captured the struggles and tribulations of Californians during the 1920s. The California Watercolorists found watercolor and paper a more versatile and easy medium to transport than oil. Up until the 1920s, watercolor had been seen simply as a sketching tool for artists, not a medium in itself. Sheets and his colleagues changed this.

Upon completing his schooling, Sheets decided to travel to Europe, where he became exposed to the modernist movements of the 1930s. Millard Sheets returned to California and began teaching at Chouinard. He also taught at Scripps College and Otis Art Institute, where he became an influential member of the art community. He was a member of the California Art Club; American Watercolor Society; Bohemian Club; National Academy.

During the Great Depression he began painting under the WPA as part of the team of muralist painters. Sheets painted more than 100 murals  and mosaics in and around Claremont, Pomona, and greater Los Angeles. While some have been destroyed many still remain.

With his signature style, his works depict the landscapes of Pomona, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and throughout California. Sheets eventually moved north to the Mendocino coast and painted throughout the Bay Area.

As an art appraiser, Millard Sheets paintings are among the most sought-after and valuable of the California Watercolorists. His unique aesthetic and prolific output place him as one of California's much beloved artists.


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog ~ thanks for posting such useful content./Nice article and great photos. Very nicely done!


  2. I have a lithograph by Millard Sheets purchased in 1932. I don't know the title, but it shows a sort of tenement building with laundry hanging on it and two small boats in the foreground. On the back it says, "Purchased in 1932 from the artist who printed it from the stones himself in Paris." Any idea what it's worth? Thank you.

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