NIGHT AND DAY: THE PAINTINGS OF LOCKWOOD DE FOREST
Co-curated by Christine Giles and Frank Goss, this exhibition includes 60-65 oil paintings by Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) ranging in date from 1874-1918. Organized into two themes the exhibition includes 40 American and Western landscapes paintings, 20 daylight Palm Springs area desert paintings and three or four larger studio paintings. The paintings will be loaned from the artist’s estate, private collections and the Sullivan Goss Gallery. (See Lenders to the exhibition listed below) This will be the first Museum venue of a traveling exhibition of the artist’s nocturne paintings and will coincide with the publication of a major monograph entitled: Collecting Moonlight: the Night Paintings of Lockwood de Forest. A brochure and checklist will by produced by Palm Springs Art Museum to accompany this exhibition. Essays will be provided by Joseph Goldyne and Frank Goss along with contributions by museum curatorial staff.
Born in New York, de Forest began his formal art training in 1870 with his mentor and distant cousin the famous Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). Other art instructors included the Italian painter Hermann Corrodi (1844-1905) and James Hart (1828-1901), a second generation Hudson River School painter. In 1872 de Forest had his first exhibition at the prestigious National Academy and continued to exhibit annually becoming an associate member and later a full member. He occupied a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building in New York for eleven years exposing him to some of American’s most important artists of the period including Church, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Winslow Homer (1836-1910) and William Merrit Chase (1849-1916). In 1875 de Forest took an extended trip to Syria, Greece and Egypt. Intrigued by the desert light and subtle forms, he embarked on an extended four month painting tour along the Nile River and later made two other extended trips to the Middle East in 1978 and 1979. Fascinated by the study of East Indian design, he began an association with Louis Comfort Tiffany developing a line of decorative furniture and interiors which were marketed by their design firm Allied Artists. Between 1900 and 1913, de Forest made frequent trips west wintering in Santa Barbara and began to devote himself increasingly to landscape painting. In 1915 he moved from New York to Santa Barbara where he remained until his death in 1932.
While de Forest’s painting style is rooted in a 19th century aesthetic derived from the influence of Hudson River and Barbizon Schools, his plein air paintings convey a striking modernist sensibility in their emphasis on color and mood and the simplification of forms. Working directly on site, they convey a spontaneity and intimacy not seen in his larger studio paintings. The “atmospheric” quality of his paintings is manifest in his soft painterly application, the use of muted color harmonies and the reduction of forms. In his choice of subjects, de Forest avoided the monumental features of the land preferring to render the more subtle characteristics of an area. These preferences along with the lack of narrative or figurative elements lead critics to view his work as “paintings about nothing.” Viewed from a contemporary perspective, however, de Forest’s preference for simplified, often ambiguous forms, anticipates the later development of abstract minimalism that appeals to a contemporary audience today.
De Forest’s interest in “night paintings” began early in his career with over 400 documented. Fascinated with the light of the moon, de Forest spent countless hours venturing to remote areas to capture the subtle tonal variations of the moonlit landscape. His affection for desert landscapes began during his 1875 travels in the Middle East. Stating in a letter he wrote that he “liked the landscape better than anything I have ever seen,” and, “I long to have a quiet year or so in my studio to produce my idea of desert.” While his early “idea of desert” paintings focused on the Middle East, during 1904 through 1918 de Forest made at least ten documented desert painting tours to the Palm Springs area.