California Art Research

My liberal arts minor in college has been one reason for the continued happiness in my lifetime as it provided me with a very strong interest in the arts and art history.  My wife is my other reason.  My first stop after grad school in 1961  was to visit the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. While roaming thru the museum I came across a small but beautiful impressionist painting by Henri Fanton Latour.  It was at that moment that I decided  to become  an art collector.  Due to my lack of riches I  realized I needed  to  make a fortune.  I accepted a position with IBM and within 6 months I  understood how to organize a business.  My next step was to go into sales as I had read in business week in  that this was the quickest way to the top.  Six months later I moved to San Francisco and entered the  real estate  business.  During  the next 30 months I purchased six income properties with no money down as there were few buyers and many sellers and real estate was incredibly low priced. Sellers were still psychologically damaged from the Great Depression.   $35,000. for a spacious two unit building with views in Pacific Heights.

Joseph Strong (1852-1900)

Second Artillery, National Guard Company
Del Monte Hotel, Monterey, July 4th, 1880

In 1965 the real estate market crashed due to S&Ls barely making loans.  So I went to work in sales for an Engineering Management Consulting firm in San Francisco for two years that I eventually acquired and continued acquiring similar companies in Silicon Valley until I sold our  company in 1982 and my wife Jeanne and I became  full time art collectors.  We started  collecting in 1974.  There was so much art available at  low prices we comfortably collected thru every period finally deciding to focus on post war by the late 1980s. 


My following notes provide a quick read of early art history in California.  Squeezing in fifty years of art history into  several pages means I left 99.9 percent of the history out but it highlights enough important information to make an impact of the importance of what was happening in San Francisco and California.  The Bay Area was a hotbed of  art exhibitions beginning in 1910 and for  next sixty years providing important  exhibitions like New York. In 1946 San Francisco is noted as the second most important art center in the United States, surpassing even Paris. Many of  our California painters were as talented as the  New York School but the price differential is staggering as the real money and intellectual  understanding of art was in New York.  The New York School painters could afford massive studios with support staffs  as the critics, dealers and auction houses fanned the market. And the San Francisco dealers  starved.  On the West coast, collectors were as rare as the dodo bird.  Prices finally began to accelerate and new collector base  entered into the art arena  in the early 1980s.


I made it a point to meet with almost every artist in the movement and view their entire inventories.  Jeanne kept  an eye on our small retail space to sell our ever growing inventory and I  ventured  daily into the estates of artists from  the 1870s through the post war period.  I followed every lead.  One day in 1977 I saw a small ad by an antique gallery at Fishermans Wharf.  When I walked in the owner was in a cold sweat and I felt he was being foreclosed on a note by his banker.   I said I want to buy something very good.  He said I have a surprise for you  in the back room that  I have been saving for a rainy day.  I walked out with four museum boxes containing 250 large original ink on vellum mint condition drawings by Paul Filhon, Napoleon’s Chief  Naval architect of the working drawings of Napoleons  fleet.  We arranged the donation of these works to the Palace of the Legion of honor five years later.


I’m now in my 80’s but art and has kept me active.  We are  selling  most of our collection now but are continuing to acquire  the next masterpieces from subsequent  movements whatever they may be.  We only look at the quality of the art.  Several of the most important paintings we have purchased over the past fifty years have been unsigned artworks that we had no idea who the artist was. 




1910 Kandinsky is generally credited for creating the first purely Abstract artwork. Watercolor and India ink. (Wassily Kandinsky is generally regarded as the pioneer of abstract art. However, a Swedish woman artist and mystic, Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) might claim that title. 


1910 Picasso exhibits Cubist work titled Girl with Mandolin


1911   Albert  Barnes, an American Industrialist reconnected with his high school classmate  and artist William Glackens and in January 1912, just after turning 40 years old, Barnes sent him to Paris with $20,000 to buy paintings. Glackens returned with 33 works of art.   This collection eventually becomes the Barnes Foundation that spreads  a positive influence for many California artists and museums almost thirty years later. The Barnes foundation (museum) has 69 Cezannes in its collection.  More than  every museum in France combined.


1911-1913 While studying art in Paris, Americans Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Morgan Russell developed Synchronism and in 1915 his brother Willard Huntington Wright published one of the first and most comprehensive surveys of advanced art to appear in the United States. Secretly co-authored by Stanton, Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning reviews the major art movements of the previous century from Manet to Cubism, praises the work of Cezanne (still largely unknown in the United States), and predicts a time, soon to come, when an Abstract art of pure color will supplant Realism. Synchronism itself, the subject of a lengthy, adulatory chapter, is presented as that desired end-point, the culmination of the Modernist struggle, surpassing the work of "lesser Moderns" like Kandinsky and the Futurists; at no time does the author acknowledge his own brother as one of the two originators of that school of art. Acknowledging that he would never be able to secure a living in New York, Macdonald-Wright returns to California in 1918. In 1920, with Stieglitzʼs support, he organized the first exhibition of Modern art in Los Angeles, "The Exhibition of American Modernists" at the Los Angeles County Museum of History,Science and art, showing his own large-scale Abstract Synchronies. 



1913 The New York Armory Show which includes Marcel Duchamp's  Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2  is purchased by Frederick C. Torrey, a San Francisco art dealer living in the Oakland hills.


1915 Panama Pacific International exposition is held in San Francisco. Exhibiting the largest display in America of modernist paintings of the Impressionists. Post Impressionists, Cubists and Futurists is viewed by the public and every living artist in the Bay Area in 1915 and again in 1916 at the Post Exposition  exhibition.  ThIS  was a catalyst for the beginning of modernism on the West coast. 


1916   Oakland Art Gallery opens in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium  under the auspices of the Oakland Public Museum. Later evolves into the Oakland Art Museum during the mid 1960s. 


1917 The SOCIETY OF SIX was a group of artists who painted outdoors, socialized, and exhibited together in 1917. They included Seldon Gile, William Clapp, Bernard Von Eichman, August Gay, Maurice Logan and Louis Siegriest. They were somewhat isolated from the artistic mainstream of the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and painted in a more avant-garde styles than most of their peers, especially after being inspired by modern trends represented in the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915. 


1918  William Clapp who had fallen under the influence of Monet and other modernist painters in Paris in 1904 is appointed as the director of the Oakland Art Gallery Museum. 

1919  Willard Huntington Wright, music critic and art editor for the San Francisco Bulletin and brother of Stanton MacDonald Wright addresses the San Francisco artist colony, discusses Synchronism and the aesthetic and scientific background of his brotherʼs art. 


1923 Groundbreaking begins for the construction of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.


Stanton MacDonald Wright heads up the Art Students League in Los Angeles 

First exhibition of the Group of Independent (modern) Artists is held in Los Angeles. 


1926  European Representative to the Oakland Art Gallery. Galka Sheyer arranges the Blue Four exhibitions , which includes Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Klee opens at the Oakland Art Gallery (Museum) and travels to Stanford University. 


1926 Worth Ryder is appointed to the faculty at the University of California challenging conservative Art Department head Eugen Neuhaus. 


1926  Albert Barnes introduces  Annita Delano,  Artist and Art Professor at the University of California  (now U.C.L.A.) to Henri Matisse and  she travels to France .  Delano working closely with her friend Galka Sheyer brings several exhibitions of the Blue Four to the Southern Branch of the University of California. Matisse brings Delano to his artist supplies store and provides her with knowledge  of paint he uses for his artwork which  she brings  back to her art studio for her future artwork.


1927 Galerie Beaux Arts (Beatrice Judd Ryan) in San Francisco exhibits original designs by Diego Rivera of his frescoes on the walls of the Ministry of Education in Mexico City.


1927 The Argus (an art journal on modern art) publishes its first Journal of American and California Art criticism. 


1927 Stanton MacDonald Wright and Morgan Russell exhibit at the Oakland Art Gallery (Museum).


1927 The East-West Gallery opens in San Francisco showing works by Andrew Dasburg, Nordfelt, Bakos, Raymond Jonson and other modernist Santa Fe artists. 


1927 The Modern Gallery opens in San Francisco with an exhibition works by modernist San Francisco artists. 


1928   Modern Masters from the Carnegie 26th International Exhibition shown at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. 


1929 Glenn Wessels of the University of California Berkeley Art Department studies with Hans Hoffman in Munich.    Other Berkeley art professors soon follow his lead.


1929 Wassily Kandinsky exhibits at the Oakland Art Gallery and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.


Rockwell Kent exhibits at the Oakland Art gallery


1930 Hans Hofmann is recruited to teach at the University of California Berkeley marking the beginning of the ‘Berkeley School artists’. 


1930 Henri Matisse visits Lucien Labaudt (gallery) in San Francisco. 


1930 Dadaist compositions by Kurt Schwitters and Lazlo Molholy Nagy exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery in Oakland, CA. 


1931 Blue Four Exhibition includes Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Klee opens at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco later traveling to the Oakland Art Gallery. 


1931 Yasuo Kuniyoshi exhibits in the 53rd Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco of “Child Frightened by Water” which causes mixed controversy by the Conservatives. 


Hans Hofmann exhibits at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. 


1933 Alexander Archipenko joins the Faculty at Mills College in Oakland. 


1933 ABSTRACTIONS, an exhibition of European and American artists of the Ultra Modern movement opens at the Oakland Art Gallery 


1934 The POST SURREALISM movement including Lorser Feitelson, Harold Lehman, Helen Lundeberg and Knud Merrild begins in Southern California. 


1935 Wassily Kandinsky exhibits at the Oakland Art Gallery.


1935 - 1945 Dr. Grace MCann Morley, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art mounts monumental and important exhibitions over the next ten years. Morley along with the importation of other important art figures in America bring instantaneous potential of knowledge and possible culture to San Francisco and its surrounding communities. Some of the exhibitions are the following: 








ABSTRACT AND SURREALIST ART IN THE UNITED STATES Annual Exhibition organized at the Art Institute of Chicago. 53rd annual exhibition 


1936 Yves Tanguay and Henry Matisse exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art. 


1936 LYONEL FEININGER brought to America to teach at Mills College in Oakland, 


1937  The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany,
While Adolph Hitler was suppressing this art, his generals were busy stealing and storing it in their private collections.


1938 A chapter of the conservative Society for Sanity in Art is formed in San Francisco. Unable to accept the Modern Movement they evolve into the Society of Western Painters. 


1938  American Abstract Artists exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. 


1940 The Bauhaus Exhibition travels to Mills Collage in Oakland. 


1940  Fernando Leger teaches and exhibits at Mills College.

1941  Douglas MacAgy is hired as an Assistant Curator (Later becomes full curator) by Grace McCann Morley at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He married Jermayne Nobel, PhD. in 1941, a Harvard and Western Reserve University educated and brilliant art museum specialist and professor he worked with at the Cleveland Museum. Jermayne Nobel MacAgy worked at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco for 14 years. Over the span of that time she held positions ranging from curator to acting director. Throughout her career at the Legion of Honor she established a reputation for her exhibitions that were presented in a new and dramatic style, as well as her focus on the museum's educational outreach. 


1941 Arshile Gorky exhibits in San Francisco. 


1941 James McCray who had received a Barnes Foundation grant in 1937 until midyear 1939 spends considerable time in Paris studying with the French modernist masters is now appointed to the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts to introduce a new spirit of Modernism into its conservative program. 


McCray arranges the appointment of Douglas MacAgy, a colleague at his at the Barnes Foundation and currently curator at the San Francisco Museum to the Board of Directors of CSFA and becomes Director of CSFA in 1946.   MacAgy replaced most of the faculty with artists Clyfford Still, Hassel Smith, Clay Spohn, Edward Corbett, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and lecturers Man Ray and Salvador Dali who not only experimented with radical ideas but encouraged their students to do the same.


1942 Salvador Dali exhibits at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. 


1943 Clyfford Still exhibits at the San Francisco Museum of Art.  


1944 Abstract and Surrealist Art in America is shown at the San Francisco Museum of Art. A 36 page catalog is published. Artists include William (Willem) de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Ray Eames, Jackson Pollock, Walter Quirt, Ad Reinhardt, a selection of works by "American Artists in Exile," and more. 


1944 Jackson Pollock exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art.


1944 Marcel Duchamp and Jaques Villon exhibit at the California School of Fine Arts. 


1944 Grace McCann Morley shows California artist Daniel Harris’s Surrealism Artwork in exhibition of approximately 50  of his artworks  at the San Francisco Museum of Art. 


1944 Lucien Labaudt Gallery is founded in San Francisco. 


1945 James McCray wins the Anne Bremer award for an abstract painting on panel, entitled “Reticulation.” (Now in the prestigious Gerald Buck Collection). At that time, Alfred Frankenstein, the noted critic, wrote of his work, “McCray has produced the most original and interesting new development in painting that has manifested itself on this coast in my time.” 


1947 Abstract & Surrealist American Art. 58th Annual Exhibition of Painting & Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago . Includes California artists John Baxter, Elmer Bischoff, Edward Corbett, Claire Falkenstein, Elwood Graham, Lea Rinne Hamilton, George Harris, Robert Howard, Adeline Kent, Robert McChesney, James McCray, Knud Merrild, Felix Ruvolo, Clyfford Still and Howard Warshaw. 


1947 Mark Rothko teaches summer School at the California School of Fine Arts. 


1947 San Francisco recognized as an important Art Center, second only to New York, surpassing even Paris.


1948 Felix Landau opens Fraymart Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles.  Re-opens on La Cieniga in 1951 . 


1948. Vesuvio Cafe established on Columbus Avenue  in San Francisco by Henri Lenoir, an art lover who opens his establishment to poets, writers and artists to exhibit their work. There were many other cafes and establishments in North Beach,  each devoted to allowing artists to  show their artwork. The Black Cat Cafe,  Co-Existence  Bagel Shop, The  Place,  Coffee Gallery to mention a few.  


1949 Metart Gallery is organized with Clyfford Stillʼs advice on Bush Street near Grant Ave in San Francisco by Jeremy Anderson, Ernest Briggs, W. Cohanz, Edward Dugmore, Jorge Goya, William Huberich, Jack Jefferson, Kio Kiozumi, Zoe Longfield, Frann Spencer Reynolds, and Horst Trave. Each of the twelve artists was given a one month solo exhibition. 


1950 Metartʼs final exhibition June 14 to July 17, 1950. A Clyfford Still exhibition.
Ad Reinhart teaches Summer School at the California School of Fine Arts.

Max Beckman teaches at Mills College.

David Park abandons Abstract Expressionism and begins his Figurative paintings. Collage and Assemblage Movement also begins in California. 


1950 Dynaton (The Possible) exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art includes Gordon Onslow Ford, Wolfgang Paalen, Lee Mullican (and Jacqueline Johnson) per Gordon Onslow Ford.  I spent one full day a month for two years working closely with Gordon and his biographer at his compound in Inverness, CA.  on  a yet to be unpublished biography  of his life.   Gordon provided me with my understanding of Surrealism per Gordon as he is one of the original Breton appointed surrealists  when he lived in France during the 1930s. 


FELIX LANDAU GALLERY opens in Los Angeles showing work by Egon Schiele, Gustave Klimt. presented Francis Baconʼs first show in Los Angeles. 


KING UBU GALLERY founded by poet Robert Duncan and artists Harry Jacobus and Jess opens

1953  Paul Mills is appointed director of the Oakland Museum. His vision made it possible for the museum to  acquire major California art, artists estates and the construction of  new Oakland Museum facility to  provide Oakland with a major showcase  of great early California artwork.  I met Paul and his wife in 1960 when I dated  a young woman at San Jose State University who asked me to drive her to San Francisco to have dinner with her parents.  We stopped first at Brett Harte Boardwalk, a development that her relative Paul Mills and his wife were developing for the Dowds near Jack London Square.  

1954  SYNDELL GALLERY opens in Los Angeles founded by Walter Hopps, Ben Bartosh, Michael Scoles and Craig Kauffman. The gallery was maintained by James Newman who lived in the back of the building.   Jim eventually relocated to San Francisco and founded the Dilexi Gallery. 


1954 The SIX GALLERY co-founded by artist Wally Hedrick opens in San Francisco. Alan Ginsberg reads “Howl” in the gallery October 7, 1955. Gallery closes in 1957. 


1955 ACTION (full title: “Concert Hall Workshop presents ʻActionʼ, Painting on the West Coast), an exhibition that opened May 18, 1955 in the Merry-Go-Round building at the Santa Monica Pier, is organized by Walter Hopps and Ben Bartosh with works by Richard Brodney, William Theo Brown, Relf Case, Edward Corbett, Jay DeFeo, Roy DeForest, Madeline Dimond, James Budd Dixon Sonia Getchoff, James Kelly, Fred Martin, Deborah Remington, Hassel Smith, and Paul Wonner from Northern California. Gilbert Henderson and Craig Kauffman from Southern California. (Currently referred to as Action 1) 


1956 ACTION II the Merry-Go-Round Exhibition is held in the Now Gallery in Santa Monica. It is a scaled down version of ʻActionʼ , the original exhibition of 1955, and includes the original and additional artists. 


1957 FERUS GALLERY founded by Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz opens on La Cieniga Boulevard in Los Angeles exhibiting many Northern California and Southern California artists.    Reopens with Hopps and Irving Blum as its Director and prospers. 


1957 Paul Mills organizes Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting exhibition at the Oakland Museum later traveling to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. 


1958 A Rockefeller Foundation Grant funds traveling exhibitions of The Art Bank of the San Francisco Art Association. The purpose of The Art Bank was to make available the creative work of West Coast Artists to the widest possible audience.  By 1960 over 90 percent of the artists exhibiting in the San Francisco Art Association painted in a modernist style. 


1958 DILEXI GALLERY co-founded by James Newman and Bob Alexander opens in San Francisco on Broadway above the Jazz Workshop.  Alexander leaves the gallery eight months later. Gallery closes in 1970.  


I was fortunate to have visited this gallery during the 1960s as I had moved to San Francisco a year after college graduation in 1961 to invest in real estate.   I could purchase property  virtually  no money down.   In the early 1960s home owners were still scarred by he 1929 depression and the World War that followed it and just wanted out of their property.  A real estate crash followed in 1965 with S&L  financing  near impossible.  I saw the handwriting on the wall just prior to the crash and went to work for an Engineering Management consulting firm  that I eventually acquired  and began the acquisition  of similar companies for the next dozen years.


1958 SPATSA GALLERY founded by artist Dimitri Grachis opens in San Francisco in a garage off Union and Fillmore Street in Cow Hollow. Closes in 1961. 


1960 GARBANZO WORKS FOUNDRY, the first artist run foundry in the country is founded in Berkeley by the trio of Peter Voulkos, Harold Paris, Don Haskin.  The second year they are joined by Julius Schmidt and thirty to forty others.


1961 California School of Fine Arts is renamed the San Francisco Art Institute. 1963 The Art bank publishes its last catalog, 


 1962/63  An art world with collectors as rare as the dodo bird and still suffering withdrawal pains from Abstract Expressionism  is being replaced by Andy Warhol and  a Pop Art movement that began in Great Britain the in the 1950s  accelerating  into the early 1960s. Warhol exhibits 32 paintings of Campbell Soup cans at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.  Irving Blum,  director and stock holder of Ferus buys the  entire collection  for $1,000. to keep the collection together.  Twenty years later he makes a fifteen million dollar plus profit by selling them to MOMA New York.  Value today.  Two Hundred million plus.  I consider him the smartest man in the room.

Additional Articles Written by David J. Carlson
The Art Bank