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Colin Campbell Cooper, California State Building, San Diego Exposition, 1916. Oil on canvas. SBMA, Gift of the Family of the Artist.
California Dreaming:
Plein-Air Painting from San Francisco to San Diego

December 15, 2012 – June 23, 2013

This exhibition presents a selection of early modern paintings that celebrate the topography of California. By the end of the 19th century, landscape painting had become the primary vehicle for depicting national identity in American art. California provided breathtaking scenery of newly integrated lands for painters working “en plein air,” or outdoors. This was an approach employed by cutting-edge artists in Europe, particularly in France, which artists in America then adapted to create a style that has become the hallmark of what is commonly termed Californian Plein-Air Painting or California Impressionism. In Northern California, an atmospheric, poetic and decorative style called Tonalism was established by the artistic community of San Francisco. Southern California was a mecca for young, modernist artists influenced by French Impressionism, a movement preoccupied with capturing the immediate effects of light and color under ever-changing climactic conditions. The regional style of California Plein-Air Painting was created by a group of cosmopolitan painters, whose mobility was facilitated by the new railroad lines to the West Coast. While technically varied, all of the artists represented here were utterly devoted to depicting the natural paradise we aptly call the Golden State.

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Related Programming


Family 1st Thursday
5:30 – 7:30 pm
Bring the whole family and enjoy 1st Thursday together in SBMA's Family Resource Center located across from the Museum Café on the Lower Level. Museum Teaching Artists will assist families in creating special exhibition-based art projects. Afterwards, enjoy selected galleries until 8pm.

January 3
California Dreaming: Plein-Air Painting from San Francisco to San Diego
Oil Pastel Seascapes
Render rocky coastlines and crashing waves in expressive lines and bold colors to create a modernist seascape inspired by Clarence Hinkle's Coast Line, Laguna.


Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel, Eucalyptus Trees, n.d. Watercolor. SBMA, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. Avery McCarthy.

Adult Studio Class
The Inspired Landscape
Saturday, January 12, 9 am – 3 pm
The California Dreaming exhibition serves as the inspiration for our full-day workshop. Paint under the influence of artists who have explored and visually responded to our beautiful and diverse native landscape. Participants complete two projects, a richly layered watercolor, and an acrylic piece on canvas that evoke mood and an emotional response to beauty. Instructors demonstrate how to "unpack" a landscape by cropping a scene, planning an aesthetically-pleasing composition, determining perspective, and successfully layering color.

Ridley-Tree Education Center


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