Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Early Painters of the Borrego Desert

This week, I've decide to highlight an article by Ann Japenga, who discovered a painting for $99 by desert artist Edith Purer. Our contributing writer and desert art expert is a former Los Angeles Times reporter whose work has appeared in many publications including Sierra, Utne, The New York Times.

Japenga says her introduction to desert art came when she bought her first smoketree painting at Carl Bray’s roadside gallery in Indian Wells some 15 years ago. Though she fretted over whether to drop $100 on the painting, she wound up with a far better deal than she could have guessed. The canvas was her doorway into the rich, bohemian world of the early desert artists.
She now writes the go-to online magazine on Desert Art: http://www.californiadesertart.com/

"Early Painters of the Borrego Desert" by Ann Japenga
(This article first appeared in The Sand Paper, the newsletter of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association.)

Around 1930 a young botanist from Chicago came to the Borrego desert to dig in the sand and collect native plants. At some point hunting for tansy-mustard and tidy-tips wasn’t enough for her, so she took out her easel and began painting the dunes and smoke trees.

Last month I picked up one of her 1930s Borrego paintings on eBay for $99. When I hung the painting on my bedroom wall, it immediately connected me to Edith Purer herself (she became California’s first woman ecologist), as well as to the plants, topography and mood of Anza-Borrego. I live in Palm Springs, but the last thing I see at night is the Borrego desert.

(Painting of the Borrego desert, circa 1930s, by botanist and ecologist Edith Purer)

That’s the beauty of the early desert paintings: Their ability to connect you to landscape and history. Though desert paintings are soaring in popularity with collectors, you can still scour thrift shops and online sales and pick up lesser-known artists for less than $100.

The early California artists, also known as plein-air painters (plein air means “in the open”), are the original conservationists. The paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, for instance, showed the world what was worth saving in Yosemite. In the Coachella Valley where I live, the early artists preserved in paint fields of verbena and cholla that are gone forever due to development.

In Borrego, you are lucky to have many of the original landscapes intact. In many cases, you can still locate the precise arroyo a painter captured, or stand in the exact spot the artist stood.

After landing an original Edith Purer, I started to wonder what other painters may have worked in Borrego. The only name I knew of was the irrepressible stagecoach painter Marjorie Reed, but there had to be more. After all, many now-famous painters captured the deserts just over the hill in the Coachella Valley—Jimmy Swinnerton, Paul Grimm, John Hilton.

North Shore art collector Allan Seymour told me the Palm Springs artists for the most part did not travel to Borrego. “The toe of the Santa Rosas made it a much longer journey for Palm Springs, LA or Laguna painters to journey all the way to Anza-Borrego,” he said. “This made the area a San Diego painters’ Mecca.”

Fortunately for Borrego history, San Diego was a hotbed of landscape painting in the early decades of the 20th century; and the most famous artists—Alfred Mitchell, Maurice Braun and Charles Fries—fell in love with the Borrego desert. At the time Edith Purer was scouting the dunes, Charles Fries was sketching at Coyote Wells while dodging falling boulders, coiled rattlesnakes and gem smugglers.

Alfred Mitchell brought carloads of his lady art students over from San Diego; some became avid Borrego painters themselves. William Bartko, who died in Borrego Springs, was out painting the favorite plant of the painters—smoketrees. While the coastal painters worshipped the eucalyptus, the desert painters could not get enough of the scrubby, shape-shifting smoketree.

Another San Diego painter who frequented Borrego, Charles Reiffel was compared to Cezanne and Van Gogh for the boldness of his imagination.

Maurice Braun, most revered of the San Diego artists, was heavily influenced by the School of Theosophy at Point Loma (known as Lomaland). With the mystical tenets of Theosophy guiding them, Braun, Alfred Mitchell and other Theosophists ventured over the hill to the desert. Amy Difley Brown, one of those who attended the Theosophy school, often camped in the desert with her granddaughter, Lynne Salmon, in a little teardrop trailer. Salmon, who lives in La Mesa, told me one of their most memorable campouts was going to visit Brown’s friend, Marjorie Reed, at Campbell Ranch.

What I’ve told you here is just an overview—and hopefully a temptation. There is plenty more to be discovered about the Borrego painters. A good place to start is The Journal of San Diego History (many editions are available online) and the website www.AskArt.com that compiles information about thousands of famous and obscure artists.

For more articles by Ann Japenga: see: http://www.californiadesertart.com/?page_id=7

Thursday, October 21, 2010

California Modernist - Channing Peake

Many of California's great artists came through Santa Barbara at one point or another. As an art appraiser, I get to see many of theses paintings in local collections. Santa Barbara served as an artist colony of the Eucalyptus School and later appealed to many California modernists. Inspired by Santa Barbara's landscape, architecture, and history -- artists flocked to the small Central Coast community. One of the town's important artists, albeit lesser known, was Channing Peake who was a muralist, painter, and draftsman.

Channing Peake "Man on a Horse" (Askart.com)
Channing Peake (1910 – 1989) was born in Marshall, Colorado but as a young boy he and his family moved to northern California. After completing high school, Peake began attending art school at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. For two years he studied at the Santa Barbara School of Art and then traveled to New York at the Art Students League under Rico Lebrun, a colleague he would come to work with for many years. He also befriended the great Diego Rivera and traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, and Europe with the famous muralist. Under the WPA Federal Art Project, he became a muralist and in 1928 helped paint murals in Santa Barbara's El Paseo Restaurant, along with fellow artists Edward Borein, Joe DeYoung, and Will James.

Peake ultimately settled in Santa Barbara where he became a founding member of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He collaborated with artist, Howard Warshaw on the Don Quixote mural at Santa Barbara City Library. In 1984 Peake completed a mural which is planned to be on display in 2011 at the Santa Barbara Airport's new terminal.

His work has been exhibited at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Carnegie Institute, the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the M. De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Pasadena Art Museum, the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon, the San Diego Museum of Art, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Seattle Museum of Art.

For further reading, check out a recent article in Santa Barbara Magazine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

ART FIND - Rembrandt or Wullbrandt?

(Published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine/ Fall 2010)

Doing art appraisals in California, I have a particular interest in local artists and how their art markets.  So when Carpinteria locals, Debra and Paul Aresco, submitted this painting by California landscape painter John Wullbrandt, I was eager to discover its worth.

The question is: Does this painting have any value in today's art market? I always tell my appraisal clients to remember that value is based on many factors. While family history or nostalgia seems to count for a lot, it’s not what substantiates value. An official art appraisal is based on market comparables and takes into account the artist, as well as condition, size, authenticity, provenance, and the current economy. An appraiser also has to consider the popularity of an artist’s style -- and whether the artwork is being sold at a gallery or auction.

All of us hope to stumble upon a masterpiece in our local thrift store. When our collector walked into the Catholic Thrift Store a few years ago she immediately recognized this painting by John Wullbrandt. She didn’t know if it was valuable, but remembered him painting it while they were in school together at Carpinteria High School in the 1970s. So she decided to buy it -- for $3!

What I discovered is that John Wullbrandt is a contemporary artist born in Santa Barbara, California. He is a self-taught painter known for his realistic landscapes and trompe l’oeil paintings. Wullbrandt spent many years establishing a career in Hawaii and returned to Santa Barbara to paint from his art studio on a local ranch. This painting, “Still Life with Pears” is an early work by Wullbrandt and has a likeness to Cezanne’s work. Utilizing cubist forms, muted colors, and flattened perspective -- Wullbrandt was experimenting with modernist techniques.

While Wullbrandt has no auction records, a number of galleries in California and Hawaii sell his work. “Still Life with Pears” is a large painting, which is in good condition. An early work of this quality would be highly sought after by collectors. While this $3 thrift store find may be a Wullbrandt rather than a Rembrandt, it’s a treasure indeed! In a gallery, this painting would be estimated to sell between $10,000-$12,000.
Alissa J. Anderson is an art appraiser for Anderson Shea Art Appraisals in Santa Barbara, CA. She specializes in appraisals for insurance purposes, resale value, estate tax, and charitable donation. She is a member of the Appraisers Association of America (USPAP-compliant), qualified to appraise American and European paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Anderson also works as an art writer and independent curator. (www.andersonshea-artappraisals.com)

©2010 Alissa J. Anderson, Santa Barbara, California. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Art Find of the Month - Francis De Erdely

When I asked readers to submit artworks for this month’s ART FIND Art Appraisal of the Month, I got a piece by one of my favorites. As a American art appraiser, people often ask me who my favorite artist is. . . and this month’s entry happens to be my California artist of choice.

I have a long list of favorites, but Los Angeles mid-century artist Francis De Erdely is always at the my top of my list. In fact, I wrote my M.A. thesis on his social realist figurative work done in Los Angeles during the 1940s and 1950s.

Our Utah reader inherited this De Erdely painting entitled, “Lavandera” from her grandmother. She also discovered a Christmas card from the artist himself, indicating her grandmother bought the painting directly from Francis De Erdely in 1957. What this means, is that aside from her family, the public has ever seen this remarkable example of De Erdely’s work!

Francis De Erdely (1904 - 1959) was born in Hungary as Ferenc Erdelyi. De The artist fled Europe during the 1930s, as Fascism was gaining power. After a brief stint in New York City and Chicago, De Erdely finally made his way to Southern California. Here, he became one of mid-century California’s most influential modern painters and teachers.

De Erdely was a classically trained artist committed to painting the figure. Having traveled throughout Spain, De Erdely became influenced by the sinuous, elongated bodies of El Greco. De Erdely almost always painted the figure, a genre not often associated with modernism. Interestingly, his portraits were painted not out of nostalgia for the past, but as a reflection of the human condition on the West Coast.

With a likeness to Thomas Hart Benton’s powerful everyday Americans, De Erdely created some of the most striking figurative paintings in American art -- and his work remains poignant today. De Erdely has been included in more than twenty books about Los Angeles painters of the mid-century but there is no major monograph of his work.

De Erdely was known for his paintings of the modern figure as a way of addressing issues of race, immigration, labor, and social inequality in Los Angeles. The painting “Lavandera” demonstrates De Erdely’s ability to depict the simple yet graceful power of an everyday laundry lady. The cubist qualities represent De Erdely’s interest in a modernist aesthetic. The artist paints the woman’s face with severe angles that seem to mirror that of her laundry bucket. With a quiet power, the painting represents the complexity of one woman’s struggles and positions her as symbol as every woman.

From the photograph provided, the painting appears to be in good condition. A growing demand exists for Francis De Erdely’s work. The painting's style, technique, and brushwork are representative of his Los Angeles period, making it desirable to California modernist art collectors. The painting is well-executed and has a strong subject and composition, placing my art appraisal in the middle of the art market for De Erdely.

In the current art market, at auction this painting would be estimated to sell between $2,500-$3,500. A treasure indeed. . .

©2010 Alissa J. Anderson, Santa Barbara, California. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Art as Investment

When advising my appraisal clients who want to buy art as an investment, I often stress the risks involved. The first rule is always to buy art you love. Buying art that you have an emotional connection to - is the safest way to invest in art. This is the single, most important element of collecting because if a painting loses its market value, there is still a personal attachment to it.

Building an art collection from a investment standpoint can be very lucrative, but one must also take into account the risks. As we saw in the pre-2008 economic bubble -- art investment was as mercurial and volatile as stocks.

Economists like William Goetzmann, David Kusin, and Michael Moses have conducted studies to evaluate the financial gain of collectors who bought art as their main investment. These economists compared the gain of stocks versus that of art. By analyzing works of art that sold more than once at auction in  2005, Goetzmann suggests the rate of return for art exceeded the rate of inflation. (2)

Moses suggests collectors buy lower-priced art, with more room for growth, rather than million-dollar masterpieces. Contemporary art is risky because of its reliance on ever-changing trends. Kusin suggests American and English furniture as a solid investment. Goetzmann says prewar and postwar art is a good investment because the genre swings both upward and downward in value with great magnitude. It is risky but has great potential for profit. As an art appraiser, I happen to love California art and see it as an undervalued market. Living in Santa Barbara, I see alot of great paintings by West Coast artists selling for much less than their East Coast contemporaries.

One must keep in mind, the cost of selling (or flipping) artworks is high. It is important to have an art appraisal done before selling artworks. This way collectors can be certain they know the fair market value of a painting, before going to a gallery or auction house.

If an art collector decides to sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take a commission.  Auctions also take commission and are often volitile marketplaces. Art is not a liquid asset. Unlike a stock, that reflects the value determined by a large group of people, art is determined by individual taste. The selling price of a piece at auction is determined by the mood or taste of one or two, individual bidders --- rather than thousands of shareholders.

In her article “Art as an Investment,” Wendy Cromwell discusses the difference between traditional collectors and those who use art as investment. She says, “Individual collectors are driven by passion, . . . informed about auction history, and they consider provenance and condition as important variables in determining what to pay for a work of art, whether privately or at auction.” Collectors are usually well versed in the artists they collect. They do not base decisions on simple speculation or profits, but typically take into account a variety of factors when acquiring art.

Many art investment funds believe in diversifying their collection in a similar format as a stock portfolio. This model has worked for funds like the British Rail Pension Fund who made a profit of almost 12% in 2005 by slowly selling off work from a variety of genres. (3) Other investment groups, such as the Fine Art Fund, followed the same model. Many hedge funds and private individuals have used their art collections as collateral for a loan from companies like Art Capital Group Inc.

Investment funds often try to collect iconic works by famous collectors, rather than building a cohesive collection based on style, movement, or genre.  But, as Cromwell suggests, the provenance of a thoughtful collector’s vision often adds value to its marketability. A random selection of paintings that is sitting in a vault might be viewed by future buyers as arbitrary, as commodities rather than unique pieces.

Although appraisers like myself research auction records through a database like the Mei/Moses Index, finding adequate data for art appraisals can be difficult. Moses says, “The S&P 500 and the Dow 30 are broad measures of how those markets are doing. We need the same thing for art.” While auction records post sales prices, galleries do not report such data, meaning the art market is much less documented than the stock market.

Art collecting can be highly rewarding both financially and personally. As an art appraiser I meet collectors everyday, who love the art they bought, inherited, or found. It seems that the traditional model of art collecting still functions best. Collectors should buy what they love and do their research  if they're looking to use it as an investment. Art can be a portion of an investment portfolio but more importantly, enjoyed.

(1) Landon Thomas Jr. and Carol Vogel. “A New Prince of Wall Street Uses His Riches to Buy Up Art.” The New York Times, March 3, 2005

(2) Jori Finkel. “Painting by Numbers.” Art and Auction, April 2004. Pp. 77 - 83

(3) Wendy Cromwell. “Art as an Investment.” Art on Paper, March/April 2005

Thursday, May 20, 2010


(Once a month our appraiser, Alissa J. Anderson, does an online art appraisal for our readers. Submit your art!)

For this month's Art Appraisal of the Month I was thrilled to see a James Swinnerton (
1875 - 1974) painting submitted. As an art appraiser for Anderson Shea Art Appraisals in Santa Barbara, I often appraise Western and California paintings -- and there is just something about the desert that has long-inspired artists. In fact, the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s most important work came only after she abandoned New York for New Mexico –never to return from the desert. 

James (Jimmy) Swinnerton is certainly one of those painters who found their happiness in this vast,  arid, and bewildering desert. For many artists, like Conrad Buff, Maynard Dixon, Clyde Forsythe, Fernand Lungren, Robert Rishell -- the desert inspired artistic enlightenment. The abundant beauty that existed in the quiet of the desert became their muse.

James (Jimmy) Swinnerton was born in Eureka, California in 1875. Swinnerton was raised in Santa Clara and studied art at the San Francisco School of Design. As a young artist he became an illustrator for the San Francisco Examiner. While he briefly worked in New York, Swinnerton returned to Palo Alto, California. In the 1920s, he began traveling throughout the Southwest -- painting desert scenes in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. He made frequent trips to the Navajo country, painting the Colorado River, dramatic desert buttes, and iconic big skies. He loved the four great North American deserts including the Great Basin, Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan -- but also painted in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and throughout the West.

Artist like James Swinnerton made it his mission to explore America’s deserts through art. Just as the Hudson River School discovered spirituality in the Hudson River Valley and the California impressionist painters were inspired by the landscapes of the Pacific Coast, some artists found beauty in the desert.

Using a variety of techniques and styles, these painters explore the unseen virtues of the desert. Swinnerton's contemporary, Conrad Buff (1886 - 1975), a modernist, often painted Zion National Park, transforming desert buttes into geometrical, cubist forms. With a bold use of color and loose, sweeping brushstrokes – Buff’s purple rocks and pink cliffs depict the desert in a way not typically seen. Clyde Forsythe’s New Mexcio painting capture the minimalist shapes and earthen tones of parched land, cliff, and sky. Maynard Dixon’s depicitons of Tehachapi people and cattle are dwarfed by the ominous, thunderous sky and rolling hills.

This month's art appraisal is a oil sketch by James Swinnerton, entitled "Smoke Tree, Palm Springs." Before beginning a painting, Swinnerton would complete a sketch in oil, in order to layout his composition. His finished works utilize ad photo-realist technique, whereas his sketches are much less detailed. In "Smoke Tree, Palm Springs," Swinnerton juxtaposes the striking irony of the desert, depicting a parched tree swallowed by arid, rocky landscapes. Paintings like this are imbued with a certain loneliness and isolation, something inherent to the desert. The desert is a vast, hot, and often inhospitable place -- but subtle beauty as well.

Like the 19th century Romantic painters interested in the humbling power of nature over man, Swinnerton's desert scenes rarely depict people . His paintings capture the expansive, alluring, and often mysterious qualities of a seemingly dry wasteland. He depicts the magnificence of monumental desert bluffs, quintessential desert skies, dramatic shadows cast upon an endless landscape, and the decorative radiance of simple sand and brush.
In as a California art appraiser, I've found that collectors of Swinnerton’s paintings prefer his highly detailed desert landscapes -- but the skill of Swinnerton’s work still makes this oil sketch of some value

While the canvas appears to have some dirt and dust, "Smoke Tree, Palm Springs" is in good condition. A competitive demand exists for James Swinnerton's paintings and this artwork is well painted, composed, and executed – placing my appraisal of the painting in the mid-range of Swinnerton’s market.

The Fair Market Value* of this painting would be estimated between $2,000-$3,000. A treasure indeed!

Please submit your painting, drawing, or sculpture for next month’s ART FIND appraisal. To be considered, mail a photo and brief description to: artsappraiser@gmail.com.

*©2010 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Milford Zornes, California Style

As the Guest Curator of the Wildling Art Museum’s current exhibition, "Milford Zornes: An American Artist,” I was excited to take a break from my usual stint as an art appraiser and delve into the remarkable career of one of California’s most notable artists, Milford Zornes.With the assistance of scholar Gordon McClelland, the exhibition consists of Zornes’ paintings borrowed from private collections throughout the country.

An innovator of the California Style of watercolor painting, Milford Zornes gained international acclaim for his expansive brushstrokes, vividly colored and abstract representations of the American landscape. In appraising art throughout California, I often come upon Zornes work. He was a  prolific artist, having lived to age of 100 and working for nearly 80 years. He was known to paint an entire painting in a few hours.

James Milford Zornes (1908-2008) was born in Camargo, Oklahoma. With the onset of the Great Depression, the Zornes family moved to Southern California, where Milford would ultimately settle as an artist and teacher. At a young age, Zornes pursued a career in journalism and moved to Santa Barbara County where he enrolled in Allan Hancock College (known as Santa Maria Junior College). Upon moving back to the Los Angeles area, he abandoned writing and pursued an art career.

While attending Scripps College in Claremont, Zornes became a pupil of Millard Sheets. Working alongside Sheets as well as Rex Brandt, George Post, Phil Dyke, other of California artists of the time -- Zornes began depicting regional Los Angeles. No longer able to afford the expense of oil paints during the Depression, the versatility and cost of watercolors enabled Zornes and his fellow artists to transport their materials to paint outside. “Arguably, watercolor was the most important medium sustained by American painters struggling with the new demands and untried possibilities of Modernism in the first half of the 20th century,” said Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times. The quick drying qualities of the medium required artists to use expedient, expressionist brushstrokes.

Zornes excelled in the medium and was soon commissioned to paint for the WPA's Federal Arts Project, and began to gain artistic prominence. Just as the Regionalist and American Scene styles of painting championed scenes of the everyday people, Zornes’ early works depicted cityscapes and life in Depression-era America. With the U.S. joining WWII, Zornes enrolled in the U.S. Army as a War Artist and traveled to China, Burma, and India -- where he began depicting exotic landscapes.

Upon returning to Claremont, California after the war, Zornes began teaching art. In his continued efforts to master watercolor, Zornes experimented with a looser, abstract style. With the movement of Post-War modern art gaining momentum, Zornes explored line, form, and color rather than purely representation scenes. “I think in terms of big abstract concern and I think of detail as an embellishment. I keep constantly in mind that while embellishment is important, still when you begin this process of embellishment, you can also begin the process of deterioration” said Zornes in "Milford Zornes: An American Artist" by McClelland.

Still, he never gave up representational painting. Instead of attempting to capture purely realistic landscapes, Zornes attempted to highlight the striking colors and shapes of an alternative American scene. In paintings such as “Zion in the Summer,” Zornes subtlety hints at form in order to capture the essence of a scene. With a few simple strokes, Zornes imbues a simple seascape with nuance, atmosphere, and vibrance.

Zornes worked for nearly 100 years documenting the beauty and evolution of California’s landscape as well as that of South America, Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska, and Europe. Zornes was also an influential teacher, helping instruct young artists at schools such as UCSB, Pomona College, Otis Art Institute, and Riverside Art Center.

Zornes’ work captures the surreal beauty of the American landscape. Still, his paintings are very much about the process of painting. The current exhibition at the Wildling Art Museum attempts to chronicle Zornes' achievement as an artist, exhibiting nearly 30 artworks done between the years of 1955-1985. The artist, not only, developed alternative methods of interpreting the natural world, but captured the American landscape with a distinctive voice and poignancy unique to few artists.

©2010 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents or images in this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.) IMAGE: Courtesy of Wildling Art Museum

Friday, February 26, 2010

Art in The Home

The art we choose to put in our homes lives with us, inspires us, comforts us, and challenges us. As an art appraiser, I am constantly discovering the diversity of the art people choose to put in their homes. Some art collectors choose a cohesive collecting theme surrounding a particular style, genre, or subject. A recent art appraisal in Santa Barbara brought me to a collector fascinated by trees. Every artwork in his home, including photographs, paintings, and sculptures -- depicted the beauty of trees. Other art collectors compile works based on their personal or family ties to the artists, or because the pieces had been inherited from generation to generation. In each case, art collectors are intensely passionate and enthusiastic about the art with which they choose to live.

As an appraiser in Santa Barbara, many of the collections I encounter are that of Western and California art. The artists Lockwood DeForest, Douglass Parshall, Ray Strong, and Millard Sheets are among the artists I see over and over. What interests me about California art from this period that artists from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were interested in capturing the American landscape while also innovating modernist thought, aesthetics, and visual narratives. While paintings by some of my favorite California artists Belle Baranceanu, James Swinnerton, Milford Zornes, and Francis De Erdely cannot be classified as specifically modern -- their work has a modernist sensibility. Whether it composition, color, or style, these paintings and drawings explore notions of modernity unique to life in California and the West.

Early 20th century California landscape painting began as an offshoot of the European plein-air Impressionist style. Celebrating the natural, picturesque beauty of the American landscape, these artists had a recognizable style and palette. Beginning in the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression, many artists began exploring different styles and media. No longer able to afford oil paint, artists like Milford Zornes, Hubert Buel, and Millard Sheets began using watercolors. The quick-drying quality of the medium required the artists to use quick, expressionist brushstrokes. Such a practice evolved into an entire movement of art in the United States. Implementing bolder colors and styles, the artists developed alternative methods of interpreting the natural world.

After the Great Depression many artists explored the American landscape from an alternative, modern approach. Milford Zornes’ Desert Rainstorm (now on exhibit at the Wildling Art Museum) represents a shift in artistic pursuits. Instead of attempting to capture pure realism, his paintings emphasize the striking form, color, and shape of an alternative American landscape. Almost entirely abstract, the flatness and simplicity is achieved by breaking down objects into their most basic shape and color.

Influenced by the movement of modern art happening in Europe, many artists began implementing a visual dialog connected to Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism. They were more interested exploring line and form, rebelling against the pastel palette of the California Impressionist tradition.

As an art appraiser, I am constantly investigating the ingredients of a truly great painting. For each collector, that is different. For some it is a tree and for others it is a single painting that captures the unworldly beauty of the American landscape, but is also the process of painting and its ability to transcend the natural world.

©2010 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents or images in this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Friday, January 22, 2010


(Once a month our appraiser, Alissa J. Anderson, does an online art appraisal for one of our readers. Submit your art.)

When we asked readers for submissions for this month’s ART FIND art appraisal of the month, we got some interesting artworks. As an art appraiser in Santa Barbara, I have special interest in appraising California art of the mid-century. So when I was asked to help appraise this 1949 painting by California landscape painter Robert Rishell, here's what I found….

Our reader acquired this Rishell painting, “Birds on the Horizon” from a California friend who was traveling through Texas 15 years ago. He traded the painting to her as payment for a project, and told her it was similar one his father had owned in San Anselmo, California.

Robert Clifford Rishell was an artist born in Oakland, California in 1917 and spent much of his career in the Bay Area. As a young artist, he won a scholarship to the California College of Arts and Crafts. Rishell studied technique and color, and his early paintings consisted of meticulously painted still-lifes. While at art school, Rishell became a pupil of Mexican muralist Xavier Martinez, someone whose work would profoundly influence Rishell throughout his life.

Robert Rishell became an important California artist. He helped organize the first showing of the Society of Western Artists at the California Garden and Home Exposition. Robert Rishell was also instrumental in founding the Oakland Art Museum in the Bay Area.His paintings are held in a number of private and public collections, including the University of Chicago, Oakland Public Library World Trade Center, SF; Oakland Museum; Bank of California, Oakland; Palm Springs Desert Museum; UC Berkeley.

In his 20s, Robert Rishell began traveling beyond California to paint the landscapes of Texas, Utah, and New Mexico. While exploring the deserts of the Southwest, the allure of the nature entranced Rishell. Like many artists of the period such as James Swinnerton, Lockwood DeForest, and Peter Ellenshaw, Rishell became fascinated by the magnificence of monumental sweeping big skies, desert bluffs, and dramatic shadows.

It was while traveling in 1949, I suspect Robert Rishell may have painted, “Birds on the Horizon.” This painting of wild marshlands has an illusive quality present in many of Rishell’s artworks. Rishell’s subjects often focuse on the exotic dichotomies of the natural world, a place where parched landscapes can coexist with thriving beauty. For Rishell, the simplicity of an elegant bird, a simple slice of sky, or an unadorned brush conveyed something simultaneously aloof, yet strikingly beautiful.

In my art appraisal, I found that collectors of Rishell’s paintings tend to pay higher amounts for his well-known California and Western desert landscapes -- but the scarcity of Rishell’s work still makes “Birds on the Horizon” of a high appraised value.

While the painting appears to need cleaning, the painting is in good condition. A competitive demand exists for Robert Rishell’s paintings and the painting’s quality, technique, and brushwork. This artwork is well painted, composed, and executed – making my appraisal of it in the mid-range of the market for Rishell’s work.

At auction this painting would be appraised to sell between $3,000-$4,000. A treasure indeed!

Please submit your painting, drawing, or sculpture for next month’s ART FIND appraisal. To be considered, mail a photo and brief description to: artsappraiser@gmail.com

©2010 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)