Irvine Museum Leaves an Impression
What happens outdoors in California during the autumn months? Hidden among a series of tall corporate buildings is the Irvine Museum, where California impressionists visually answer this loaded question in the museum’s current exhibition, “Autumn’s Glory, Winter’s Grace.” A small yet superb collection of paintings, the exhibition is comprised mostly of representations of California landscapes at selected times of the day, showcasing the climate, vegetation and topography viewers will recognize as uniquely Californian.
The Irvine Museum, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, is oddly located on the ground floor of the Airport Tower building located on the corner of Campus Drive and Von Karman Avenue, just a short bike ride or long walk from campus. Because it is so small, the museum only displays one exhibition at a time.
“It’s small enough that it’s comfortable; you don’t get exhausted trying to see it all,” said Judy Thompson, Director of Media at the museum.
Impressionism, a style that originated in Paris, France in the 19th century, favors radiant colors and loose brushstrokes over fine-detail somber tones.
“If you were a serious artist, you always went to Paris to study; that is where Americans went to study impressionism,” Thompson explained.
American artists brought the style of impressionism back to the east coast with them, and as some of these artists began moving to California, the distinct style of California impressionism was born. California lent itself well to the impressionist style due to the accessibility of a varied set of landscapes located short distances away from one another — an artist could easily travel to the ocean, desert and mountains, all within a day.
From vast deserts to snow-capped mountains, from billowy cumulous clouds to characteristic palm trees, California is an impressionist’s dream come true.
The first reactions to impressionist style were overwhelmingly negative. As Thompson explained, impressionism differed greatly from what people were used to, as it did not treat paintings like photographs. The viewer of an impressionist work could not fully see and understand each of its aspects just by staring at it at close proximity. Only by taking several steps back from a painting could a viewer fully appreciate it.
This is evident in Maurice Braun’s “Yosemite Falls from the Valley.” Up close, the work appears to depict a set of tall trees in front of a steep flat cliff. Standing back, a waterfall can be seen pouring down the flat mass of rock.
Paul Grimm’s “Storm” and Mischa Askenazy’s “Sunset Boulevard” each illustrate elements unique to California. In “Storm,” a pair of snowy mountains emerge behind an assemblage of windblown palm trees in the foreground, demonstrating the wide range of California’s climates and weather patterns. Askenazy’s painting, on the other hand, is the only in the exhibition that depicts a rainy scene — reflecting the rarity of rain in Southern California.
Although many of the areas painted by California impressionists are now occupied by buildings, the paintings on display at the Irvine Museum’s “Autumn’s Glory, Winter’s Grace” remain, depicting California’s beautiful scenery.
The exhibition will be on display until Jan. 17, and is sure to delight its many visitors in a business district where great art is most needed.
Address: 18881 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 100, Irvine, CA 92612