During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, California artists produced a unique style that combined several distinctive aspects of American and European art. This style—known as California Impressionism or California plein air painting, after the French term for “in the open air”—focused on capturing the special light and color of the state’s landscape and helped to define modern landscape painting.
Impressionism was initially embraced by a small group of radical artists working in France during the late 1860s. Their work was greeted with scorn and criticism by the Royal Academy and the public. By the time Impressionism was introduced in the United States around 1885- 90, much of the hostility had dissipated and the style was favorably received. Many of America’s leading artists studied Impressionism in Paris and brought it back to the United States, invigorating progressive American art.
California’s majestic landscape was the inspiration for artists who came to the burgeoning turn-of-the-century art colonies in Carmel and Laguna Beach. They created a profusion of light-filled paintings that captured its sublime but fragile beauty, in a Post- Impressionist manner that established a new, distinctive modern style. Just as earlier French artists had captured the colors and light of rural France, this indigenous West Coast school of artists dedicated itself to portraying the brilliant and convincing effects of natural light on the local landscape in a fresh American voice.