California Art Club

California Art Club

The California Art Club (CAC), founded in 1909, is one of the oldest and most active arts organizations in William Wendt (1865–1946), Edgar Payne (1883–1947) and Franz Bischoff (1864–1929).[2] As the members of the first generation of California Plein-Air Painters aged and died, the membership was filled by a handful of younger professional painters, along with amateur painters and commercial artists.

Today its membership consists of representational artists and sculptors, but it is broadly inclusive and includes many women painters as well as painters and sculptors who emigrated to the United States from Europe and Asia. The CAC hosts an annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of California Art each year along with a number of other smaller public and special museum exhibitions.[3] Headquartered in one of the large bungalows that was part of the historic Vista del Arroyo Hotel in Pasadena, the California Art Club has a number of chapters throughout California.[4]

Origins of the CAC

The history of the California Art Club is intertwined with that of the Painters Club of Los Angeles, which was founded in March 1906 by a group of California's early professional artists in order to arrange exhibitions and further the fine arts in the Southland. After several years and a number of successful exhibitions it became apparent to the members that the scope of the organization, which was open only to male painters, was too limited and a consensus arose to dissolve the organization in order to form one that was wider in scope.[5]

The CAC and California Impressionism

In 1909, the California Art Club was founded in the painter and ceramicist Franz Bischoff's South Pasadena Studio. Among its founding members were Bischoff, American Impressionism which was a very broad movement that was loosely bound to the French style. Most American and California Impressionists adopted the painterly brush work, brighter palette and colored shadows of French Impressionism and the elementary practice of sketching outdoors, directly from nature or en plein air.

From its first exhibitions, the California Art Club became identified with Impressionism. In 1913, in the national magazine Arts Journal, the writer E.C. Maxwell wrote that "From a dozen different writers upon subjects pertaining to the development and trend of art in the west, the word has gone forth to the world that California, that land of golden light and purple shadows, is destined in the course of the next few years to give us a new school of landscape painting...Conditions seem right for a renaissance of art in California...If this art epoch of golden prophecy does not come to pass, it will not be the fault of the California Art Club." The activities of the California Art Club were chronicled in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, the Herald Examiner and the Pasadena Star News. The art columnist for the Times, Antony Anderson was a founding member of the club and he was lavish in his praise of its exhibitions and its leaders, men like William Wendt, Benjamin Chambers Brown and Jack Wilkinson Smith.

While the painters of the early California Art Club did not adhere to a stylistic code of any kind, they were all representational artists who worked from life, whether it was out doors, from nature or in the studio from models. The California Art Club was part of a broadly representational movement that held sway in California long after more modern styles of painting became popular elsewhere. In 1919, the painter Helena Dunlap formed a breakaway group of painters that favored a greater degree of experimentation than what they felt the CAC was comfortable with. During the 1910s and the "Roaring 20s" when the American economy bounded back from the post-World War I recession, the California Art Club grew in membership and prestige, but it lacked a permanent location, a headquarters. That changed in 1926, when the wealthy heiress and art patron Aline Barnsdall gave her home Hollyhock House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, to the CAC to use as its headquarters as a fifteen-year loan and the club moved into the eight acre property atop Hollywood the following year. The new home allowed the CAC to do lectures and host posh black tie receptions that helped to cultivate patronage and give the artists greater prestige. However, the great stock market crash of 1929 was the first blow to the club as it meant a decline in patronage. Then, as the Great Depression deepened, the club and its membership gradually declined. This decline was somewhat inevitable as the founding members of the CAC aged, moved away or passed away. The first of the major painters of the CAC, Franz Bischoff died in 1929. Its long serving leader William Wendt and Edgar Payne were living in Laguna Beach and had become active in the Laguna Beach Art Association which was founded in 1919. Gradually, during the 1930s, proponents of more modern movements also began to gain a foothold and younger patrons began to purchase their works instead of those of the California Impressionists. The final blow in the decline of the California Art Club was the loss of its headquarters when the lease on the Hollyhock House expired in 1942.


The war years were a slow time for all arts organizations. With millions of men in uniform and the United States facing what were seen as existential threats in Europe and Asia, there was less interest in exhibitions of art. Some of the younger artists were involved in the war efforts and the founders of the California Art Club and its best known names had reached old age. By the conclusion of World War II, most of the original en plein air painters who had been active in the 1920s and 1930s were no longer active in running the club's affairs. Generally, the leadership of the organization passed to lesser painters, men and women who had been students of the older generation of en plein air painters. The CAC exhibits, which had been in museums and in the Hollyhock House, were held in less prestigious venues and patronage became a secondary concern. Victor Matson was President of the California Art Club in 1961 and 1962. He was a landscape painter and an able organizer who had been active in many of the Southland art organizations. By the late 1960s and 1970s, the ranks of the California Art Club consisted primarily of amateur artists, but there was still a small group of professional painters that were active.

Revival of the CAC

By the early 1990s, Peter Seitz Adams and his friends, also traditional painters, saw the need for an organization that could help to bring order to the reemerging traditional art movement in California. The core group of artists who became members of the reorganized California Art Club primarily consisted of students of Theodore Lukits or the Russian landscape and figurative painter Sergei Bongart (1918–1985). The first wave of painters to join the CAC included Tim Solliday.

Gold Medal Exhibition

The Gold Medal Exhibition is held at the Pasadena Museum of California Art each spring. Previous locations include the Pasadena Museum of History and the Luckman Arts Center at California State University, Los Angeles. Works are juried into the exhibition, and each year a single Gold Medal is awarded in Painting and Sculpture, voted on by the artist members of the organization.

Special exhibitions

In 1996, the California Art Club organized the California Wetlands Exhibition at the Pacific Asia Museum in the fall of 1998 and traveled to the Carnegie Art Museum in the winter of 1998 and 1999, then concluded at the Muckenthaller Cultural Center in Fullerton, California, in the Spring of 1999.[8] Later in 1999, the California Art Club began a relationship with the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu with the exhibition entitled, "On Location in Malibu".

CAC organization


The California Art Club membership is broad, with more than 3,000 members in a number of categories of membership. Signature Members are the most established painters who have been approved for membership by their peers from the ranks of Artist Members. Artist Members are juried into the organization from new applicants and the ranks of the Painting Patron Members. There is a category for out of state artist members, enabling the group the benefit of having the work of some of America's best traditional painters. There is also a large membership of Patron Members and also a Collector's Circle, which requires a donation to the organization.


  • Pasadena Museum of California Art – Annual Gold Medal Exhibition
  • CAC Gallery at the Old Mill, El Molino Veijo, San Marino, California
  • Marston's Restaurant, Pasadena – temporary exhibitions
  • The Historic Blinn House, Pasadena – temporary exhibitions

Notable historic members

Notable current members

See also


  1. ^ See California Art Club web site for report on centennial Activities.
  2. ^ These artists are referenced on the CAC history portion of the California Art Club web site as well as in Eden Hughes, Artists in California biographical dictionary.
  3. ^ News of this annual event is on the CAC web site and in the color catalogs listed as reference.
  4. ^ See chapter list below and on CAC web site under "Chapters" heading.
  5. ^ See CAC web site, "History of the CAC"
  6. ^ The catalog for the Treasure of the Sierra Nevada exhibition was written by Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum.
  7. ^ See catalog listed below, East Coast Ideals, West Coast Concepts.
  8. ^ This exhibition was curated by Jeffrey Morseburg and the CAC's Peter Adams.


  • Morseburg, Jeffrey, The Return of the California Impressionists, Art of California, Unpublished Manuscript
  • Trenton, Patricia & Gerdts, William, California Light: 1900–1930, Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Exhibition Catalog, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1992
  • Morseburg, Jeffrey, Theodore Lukits: The Jonathan Art Foundation Collection, Johnathan Club, Los Angeles, 2010
  • Morseburg, Jeffrey, Theodore Lukits: An American Orientalist, Exhibition Catalog, Forward by David Kamansky, Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, California, 1998
  • Adams, Peter & Adams Elaine, East Coast Ideals, West Coast Concepts, Carnegie Museum, Oxnard, California Introduction by Suzanne Bellah, Exhibition Catalog, 1997
  • Stern, Jean, Treasures of the Sierra Nevada, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Exhibition Catalog, 1998
  • Susan Landauer, Ph.D., "The California Art Club, A History", American Art Review, March 1996, p. 44–51

External links

  • Official website
  • Springville Museum of Art, Site of CAC Special Exhibitions
  • Haggin Museum, Stockton, California, Venue for CAC Special Exhibitions
  • ExhibitionsOn Location in MalibuWeisman Museum, Pepperdine, Venue for Special
  • Web site Devoted to the Life and Art of Thedore Lukits, CAC Life Member
  • Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Collection of Plein-Air Pastels including CAC Members Living and Deceased
  • Pacific Asia Museum Web Site, Venue for CAC Special Exhibitions
  • American Legacy Representative for several CAC signature members
  • The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Venue for Special Exhibitions
  • National Academy of Design, New York, Allied Organization