California Watercolor Pioneer

“French Flats, Angeles National Forest, California” (watercolor, 15 3/4 x 21 1/8 in.) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company

Considered one of the most important California Scene Painters (a group of American regionalists who flourished from the 1920s to 1960s), Rex Brandt (1914-2000) created joyful plein air paintings that perfectly conveyed the feel of mid-century Southern California. Though he dabbled in gouache and oil, as well as printmaking and etching, he preferred watercolor for its portability and the speed at which he could work. Drawing from a variety of influences, he incorporated the bold colors of Latino murals and the spontaneity of Japanese landscapes in his watercolors.

“Cottonwood Mountains, California” (watercolor, 10 3/4 x 29 in.) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company

Of painting outdoors, he said, “Have you ever noticed, you sit down alongside a stable, and the first thing you get is this awful smell. You’re painting this barn, but what you smell will change the colors you use in the barn. And then maybe the next thing you do is hear a horse whinnying, and it beguiles you. And that changes what you feel about the scene. Sight, sound, smell — all the senses — will do those things. It’s natural but it means keeping your perceptive pores open.”

“Newport Harbor, Corona del Mar, California” (watercolor, 13 x 28 3/4 in.) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company

After World War II, he and Phil Dike formed the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting in Corona Del Mar. From 1947 to 1952, he also taught watercolor painting and composition classes at Chouinard Art Institute. Through these classes and his 11 instructional books, Brandt educated and inspired a generation of professional watercolor artists.

“Corvina Fishermen at Salton Sea, California” (watercolor, 12 3/4 x 20 1/4 in.) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company

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