NWS: The First 100 Years


Lee Blair (1911-1993)
Barnsdall Park – Los Angeles, n.d.
The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University
Gift of the Hilbert Collection

The Hilbert Museum of California Art describes California Scene Paintings this way:

“California Scene Paintings capture the regional spirit of the Golden State by illustrating epic landscapes and expressive genre scenes that depict narratives of people’s everyday lives. The genre, which arose in the early 1900s, went through a golden age in the 1930s, when it documented the catalysts of cultural change of the time: the aftermath of the Great Depression, the industrial development of the state in the years leading up to World War II, and the growth of Hollywood, which lured many outstanding artists to California to work in the fields of motion pictures and animation.

Rex Brandt (1914-2000)
Newport Jetty, c.1950
Watercolor 21.5 x 26.5
The Hilbert Collection
Milford Zornes (1908-2008)
The Canyon – Wall Street, 1935
Watercolor 22 x 15
The Hilbert Collection

“Born out of a larger national movement called American Regionalism or the American Scene style, California Scene painters sought to create representational art based on what they saw and felt. Their movement developed with changes in the American way of life, and documented the expansion of the agricultural, railway, automotive, military, entertainment and tourist industries. Because California has always been a beacon and melting pot of diverse cultures and peoples, the California Scene movement almost from its beginning has included many works both created by and depicting Latino Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans, among others.

Phil Dike (1906-1990)
Road to Santa Barbara – Road to Rincon, 1978
Watercolor 29 x 21
The Hilbert Collection
Rex Brandt (1914-2000)
Surf’s Up on a Golden Day, c.1968
Watercolor 24 x 20
The Hilbert Collection

“Indeed, the California Scene movement is a visual journey through California history: the transformation of California from a wild, untamed Western landscape of rolling hills and vast empty coastlines into an urban industrial panorama, dotted with skyscrapers and New Deal mural projects, and finally into its modern economy based on entertainment, agriculture, international trade, Silicon Valley industries and tourism. California Scene painting, spanning the 20th century, has always been about depicting and embracing new developments in culture and lifestyle. Today, it affirms an emotional connection between the California landscape and its inhabitants, as it tells the stories of everyday people in a changing world.”

George Gibson (1904-2001)
Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, c.1960
Watercolor 25 x 18.5
The Hilbert Collection
Millard Owens Sheets (1907-1989)
San Dimas Train Station, 1933
Watercolor 15.5 x 22.5
The Hilbert Collection

“It was this ‘Scene Painter’ group that originally formed the California Watercolor Society in 1920 with a goal of arranging high quality exhibitions of watercolors to help further the appreciation and understanding of work done in this medium,” says past National Watercolor Society (NWS) president Ken Goldman.

Windmill – Figures on a California Ranch Near Coastline, 1950s
Watercolor 22 x 31
The Hilbert Collection

“From the late 1960’s through the 1970’s, the California Watercolor Society grew larger and because it was becoming nationally known, in 1967 the name was changed to the California National Watercolor Society,” Goldman continues. “In 1975, as membership increased nationally and internationally, the board of directors voted to shorten the society’s name to National Watercolor Society.”

Barse Miller (1904-1973)
Lighthouse Abstract, n.d.
Watercolor 24 x 32
The Hilbert Collection
Phil Paradise (1913-1986)
Homeward – Cattle Among the Trees, n.d.
Watercolor 13.75 x 20.75
The Hilbert Collection

This November, as a final culmination of their 100-year anniversary celebrations, the National Watercolor Society is collaborating with the Hilbert Museum of California Art to create an exhibition featuring paintings from current NWS members in conjunction with masterworks by early California artists from the Hilbert Collection.

George James (1932-2016)
Quay #1, 1993
Watercolor 22 x 30
The Hilbert Collection

NWS members’ paintings will be selected by past NWS presidents Gerald Brommer and Ken Goldman and will feature up to 95 artworks displayed in close proximity to famous 20th century “California Scene Painters.” Find out how to enter here.


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