Laguna Beach California
Laguna Beach, California has long been referred to as the Riviera of the Pacific. With deep canyons, miles of beaches, coves, tide pools, and eucalyptus trees, the city is noted for dramatic topography and old-fashioned ambiance.
Similar canyon-ringed communities are few and sought after. Picture Malibu adjoining Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County, or Monte Carlo on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Laguna residents are fiercely vigilant in efforts to maintain their bucolic community. They campaign against building bigger and grander homes, and protest developers striving to widen the historic Laguna Canyon Road. (Please see photo mural page for description of massive demonstrations against a huge housing project.)
Laguna, "La Cañada de Las Lagunas," or "The Canyon of the Small Lakes," is the second oldest city (after San Clemente) in Southern Orange County. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Irvine, Crystal Cove, Laguna Niguel and Dana Point, it ranges from sea level to 1,007 feet.
In 1910, Laguna Beach, California had 300 residents, including artists, writers and musicians. The few buildings included a general store/post office, hotel and board and batten cottages.
By 1917, nearly 40 artists lived here including William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, William Griffith, Anna Hills and Edgar Payne.
By the 1920's, several more painters from across the country and Europe had moved here. Among these immigrant/artists was Joseph Kleitsch, known for his brightly colored, energetic works. These artists painted the Southern California landscapes to pay homage to the beauty and spirituality of the land. Their works called California Impressionism, later known as "Plein Air," painting in the outdoors, were derived in part from their French predecessors.
Nancy Moure, wrote in California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media: "Ironically, it was the ostensibly art-poor southern part of the state that produced the earliest, most consistent, and greatest number of 'Impressionist' paintings. ...But the Impressionist style proved eminently legitimate for representing Southern California landscape. Since 1915, many pages have been written about how appropriate Impressionism’s bright colors are for transcribing the various atmospheric conditions of the region, how its broken brushwork captures the shimmering light as well as the glare of the sunshine, and how its positive attitude matches that of the area's inhabitants."
Moure added in an interview in 2002, "Southern California was a great place to paint in the early 20th century. It was a short distance from the ocean to the fields to the mountains. A lot of the California landscape was dessert," which was why many paintings were completed during poppy growing season.
Laguna Art Museum
The city of Laguna developed in part by accommodating the needs of its artists. In 1918, the city gifted them with a one-room building, nestled in a eucalyptus grove. They opened their first art show there on July 27 with more than 2,000 in attendance; later that summer, they formed the Laguna Beach Art Association.
Years later, Frank Cuprien explained, "In 1918, we fixed up the ramshackle old building. First we drove the bats out of the building and built a skylight in the roof. We whitewashed the walls and oiled the old floors. We had a sewing bee, with all the ladies of the town present, and covered the walls with burlap."
William Griffith also said, "Those were happy days. The art gallery was the center of all social activities, and numerous were the parties, lectures and contests...there were no sidewalks or graded streets in our village and at the nightly gatherings everyone came carrying a lantern. There was a spirit of fellowship in the whole community, and when William Wendt returned from a year in Europe the whole village turned out to welcome him home."
In 1929, the Art Association opened a gallery on Coast Road (North Coast Highway) and Cliff Drive. That gallery was soon renamed Laguna Art Museum (LAM). Today, as the longest continually running museum in California, it is still in the same location. LAM is known for its significant collection of California Impressionism.
In 1993, philanthropist/environmentalist Joan Irvine Smith opened the nearby Irvine Museum. She dedicated the museum to the preservation and display of California art of the Impressionist Period (1890 - 1930). The museum's mission statement explains, "This beautiful and important regional variant of American Impressionism has come to be associated with California and its remarkable landscape."
In 2002 and '03, the Irvine Museum exhibited 58 California Impressionist works by artists from Laguna Beach and other Southland areas. Included in this show were vibrant works by Joseph Kleitsch. The exhibition opened at the Mona Bismarck Foundation Museum, Paris, the International Cultural Centre, Krakow, Poland, and at the Centro Cultural del Conde Duque, Madrid. All had record-breaking crowds.
The French newspaper, "Le Figaro" reported: "They painted poppy fields, deserted dirt roads, the coast without buildings or groomed beaches, but instead with simple fishing boats…The light in California is unique, a bit like the light on the Mediterranean coast. In this young State, artists found a wide diversity of virgin landscapes, from coastal beaches to snow-capped mountains."
Giant Art Festival
In the summer months, Laguna Beach, California becomes a giant art festival, with the Laguna Beach Art Festivals, particularly with the Festival of Arts, Pageant of the Masters, Sawdust Festival and Art A Fair.
There is the award winning Laguna Playhouse, and the Laguna Art Museum with groundbreaking exhibitions. The nearby Laguna College of Art and Design graduates many who pursue the visual and graphic arts. There are numerous art galleries and several world famous hotels and resorts including the Hotel Laguna, Surf & Sand and the Montage Resort.
They display old masters to French and California Impressionism, to modern and often-edgy contemporary art. Some galleries exhibit works by contemporary California Impressionists; John Cosby, whose paintings grace this page, works in this genre.
He explains, "My family went to Laguna Beach, California when I was young. My grandmother also taught me to paint here. The houses have character and so do the people. In an area that seems hell bent on extinguishing individuality, it is a sanctuary. The natural beauty is very inspiring and even though I have painted in every place you can stand, as the light changes so does the scene. My love of food, art, music, sun and people can be fully indulged in Laguna."
(See Laguna Gardens page for more description of Laguna Beach amenities.)Back to top