Society of Six: California Colorists / Edition 1

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Six plein-air painters in Oakland, California, joined together in 1917 to form an association that lasted nearly fifteen years. The Society of Six—Selden Connor Gile, Maurice Logan, William H. Clapp, August F. Gay, Bernard von Eichman, and Louis Siegriest—created a color-centered modernist idiom that shocked establishment tastes but remains the most advanced painting of its era in Northern California. Nancy Boas's well-informed and sumptuously illustrated chronicle recognizes the importance of these six painters in the history of American Post-Impressionism. The Six found themselves in the position of an avant garde not because they set out to reject conventionality, but because they aspired to create their own indigenous modernism. While the artists were considered outsiders in their time, their work is now recognized as part of the vital and uring lineage of American art. Depression hardship ed the Six's ascancy, but their painterliness, use of color, and deep alliance with the land and the light became a beacon for postwar Northern California modern painters such as Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud. Combining biography and critical analysis, Nancy Boas offers a fitting tribute to the lives and exhilarating painting of the Society of Six.

Author Biography: Nancy Boas is Adjunct Curator of American Paintings, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Charles Eldredge is Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art, Kress Foundation Department of Art History, University of Kansas.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This oversize, attractive study examines the lives and oeuvres of six plein-air painters who worked in northern California early in this century and who called themselves the Society of Six or the Oakland SixSelden Gile, August Gay, Louis Siegriest, Maurice Logan, Bernard von Eichman and William Clapp. Tracing their development as a group under the influences of the impressionists, the San Francisco art scene and each other, freelance writer Boas provides an unpretentious and comprehensive look at these undervalued painters and, indirectly, a portrait of the emergence of California culture. Each of the artists is amply represented with selections from their extant paintings, reproduced large and, cruciallyas it was their distinguishing characteristicin full color. With affection and sensitivity, Boas details how their fates devolved through the Depression and mid-century while the group dissolved, careers floundered and friendships waned. Much commentary taken from the artists' own letters, and from interviews and reviews, is included. The narrative of these men's lives proves interesting alone, but Boas manages a fine balance of biography and critical analysis as she assesses the group's accomplishments within their own day and from history's perspective. Finally, the informal, life-loving spirit of the paintings themselves rules this book, and, often inspiring in its beauty, makes for an enriching experience. First serial to Horizon magazine, The Californians magazine and San Francisco magazine. (August)
Library Journal
Painters Selden Gile, August Gay, Louis Siegriest, Maurice Logan, Bernard VonEichman, and William Clapp formed the Society of Six in 1917 in northern California, where they worked and exhibited together into the 1920s. All were outdoor painters whose canvases were freely brushed, vividly colored, and influenced by both the California landscape and the European Impressionism that they saw for the first time during their active years. Boas's careful account embeds the group's work in its biographical and historical contexts and provides over 100 excellent color reproductions. An important addition to our knowledge of American art, with more than regional significance. Kathryn W. Finkelstein, M.Ln., Cincinnati
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520210554
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 12.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Boas is Adjunct Curator of American Paintings, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Charles Eldredge is Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art, Kress Foundation Department of Art History, University of Kansas.

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Read an Excerpt

Society of Six

By Nancy Boas

University of California Press

Copyright © 1997 Nancy Boas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520210554


Gile was standing at the stove cooking a big roast beef full of garlic smelling up the room and taking a drink every now and then of his home brew Gay was sitting off in the corner with his cup of wine, and we were all crowded in as usual, jammed in because the whole room was filled with stacks of camases, some wet ones that get on your clothes: then in came Mr. Clapp with his ho, ho, ho and a neat little pack of his day's paintings under his arm. Sooner or later von Eichman would come crashing in with some wild story or other. Logan came in later because he ate dinner at home. Being the youngest, I was mighty glad to be included. I always came with a new painting or two, which we'd prop up on the floor and all take a crack at. It was a fairly large room full of paintings standing on the floor against the walls and tacked up. Every once in a while someone would pick one up and comment about it. Then there was always some argument going on about painters we'd run into during the day.

Well, this particular night we all crowded around the table, ready to dig in because we always liked Gile's cooking, and Mr. Clapp was talking about this bunch of painters up in Canada be used to know who were now calling themselves the Group of Seven and were starting toshow together. And Gile said why don't we have a group, why don't the six of us have a group and show together?
—Louis Siegriest

Selden Gile, Louis Siegriest, Bernard yon Eichman, August Gay, William H. Clapp, and Maurice Logan were plein-air painters who worked in northern California during the teens and twenties. They were a group of hearty, flank individuals whose rough-hewn quality also characterized their work, both in their choice of earthy, unpretentious subject matter and in their spontaneous, vigorous application of paint. They were undervalued in their day by the genteel art establishment of the San Francisco Bay Area and forgotten for many years when abstraction eclipsed earlier styles. Yet today their painting stands as some of the most modern and lasting produced in the West at that time. Within the lengthy stretch of pretty, picturesque, or Europeanized painting that characterized California art, their work is a bright flash of modern impulse and expression that remains fresh today. The Six's boldness,

unfettered exploration, chance taking, and crudeness, disdained at the time, foretold the new directions that California art would take a generation later. These unruly outsiders on the margin of their local art establishment had found a way to join the vital kernel of Impressionism to California's landscape tradition.

The Six called themselves Impressionists, but their exposure to the French Impressionist movement came late and all at once at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. (William Clapp is an exception to generalizations about the group's early years. He participated actively in the international art scene before arriving in California in 1917.) They had been preserved in a virtual time warp by their isolation, and for that reason their encounter with the by then historic French Impressionist movement acted as a visual catalyst, providing the formal means they had been looking for to vent their exuberant landscape ideas. Now they discovered how to use color to create a sense of light and to make a stroke of paint suggest the thing painted. They invested plein-air practice with a hearty American flavor, and their forays into the landscape were like their forays into painting—hikes taken by the sons of pioneers, not the sedate outings of city dwellers.

Full of naive self-confidence in their own rough style, the Six were innocent of theory, dogma, and establishment ambitions. They painted for themselves and worked regardless of who noticed them. in their heyday, from 1918 to 1929, their painting shared the spirit of other modernist American artists, who a decade earlier had started to explore color and form while searching for an American idiom. Even before the Armory Show of 1913, artists such as Marsden Hartley and John Marin had begun to forge a new American landscape art using Post-Impressionist color. But the Bay Area artists differed from their American peers in the East by virtue of their isolation in still-rural Oakland, a community lacking even the degree of culture to which San Francisco pretended. Without the vital nourishment of an art capital, they were sustained by the strength of their friendship and their vision alone.

They founded no school that endured beyond them, but their painterliness and their use of color are parts of an identifiable tradition that includes work of later Bay Area figurative expressionists. Although the Six did not leave a direct legacy, their spirit connects them with the modern painters of northern California after World War II—a spirit of deep alliance to the light and the land.

In order to appreciate fully the accomplishment of the Six in bringing color and California landscape together, it is necessary to understand the special case of California's artistic history, one that has just begun to be fully documented. Therefore the story of the Society of Six begins with a short overview of the special circumstances that shaped California's art.

The Society of Six

California Colorists

Selden Gile. Sausalito, 1918 (detail: we page 36).


Excerpted from Society of Six by Nancy Boas Copyright © 1997 by Nancy Boas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 6
Introduction 9
1 The Background 13
Within the Closed Circle 13
A City's Evolution 15
Devastation and Reconstruction 18
2 Beginnings 25
Selden Connor Gile 26
August Francois Gay 31
Maurice Logan 34
Louis Bassi Siegriest 37
Bernard von Eichman 42
William Henry Clapp 45
3 At the Fair 53
The Meaning of the Fair 54
The Art at the Fair 58
After the Fair 66
A New World 68
4 Coming Together, 1917-1923 73
The Chow House 73
The Six at Work 79
New Painting Ideas 80
The Six Separately 84
The Manifesto 95
5 The Exhibition Years, 1923-1928 101
Modernism in the Bay Area 101
William Clapp at the Oakland Art Gallery 103
The Society's Six Annual Shows 112
6 Color Ascendant, 1919-1929 121
Bernard von Eichman 121
Louis Siegriest 124
Maurice Logan 127
Selden Gile 129
William Clapp 132
August Gay in Monterey 134
7 The Depression Years, 1930-1939 143
The Context 143
Selden Gile and the Group's Dispersal 146
Maurice Logan 150
Louis Siegriest 152
Bernard von Eichman 154
William Clapp 157
August Gay 161
The Golden Gate International Exposition 165
8 The Forties and Beyond 169
Selden Gile 169
Maurice Logan 170
Louis Siegriest 175
Conclusion 185
Notes 196
List of Illustrations 203
Bibliography 207
Exhibition History and Reviews 210
Chronologies 219
Index 221
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