Clipper Ships and Peaceful Harbors: California Artists and the Marine Paintings Tradition

Alfred Harrison, Northpoint Gallery

Tuesday, January 14, 2014Mini-exhibit: 7:30pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
“San Francisco Bay” by William A. Coulter

“San Francisco Bay” by William A. Coulter, dated 1884, oil on canvas, Schow Collection

“ ‘War Hawk’ Taking Pilot” by Gideon Jacques Denny

“ ‘War Hawk’ Taking Pilot” by Gideon Jacques Denny, dated 1880, oil on canvas, Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco

Alfred Harrison’s lecture will begin with a quick overview of the marine paintings tradition, starting in 17th century Holland and continuing into 19th century England and America. He will consider the works of Willem Van de Velde, J.M.W. Turner, Fitz Henry Lane and James Butterworth in order to launch a discussion of the excellent marine painters of 19th century San Francisco — Gideon Jacques Denny, W.A. Coulter, James Hamilton, Joseph Lee, Charles Dormon Robinson and several others. Mr. Harrison’s comparisons of California marine paintings to those by celebrated Eastern artists will demonstrate the importance of this art movement that created works of great beauty from the romantic world of 19th century shipping.

Mr. Harrison will analyze the different artists’ styles, and describe the paintings’ subject matter, including identification of the kinds of ships portrayed — such as clipper ships, three-masted schooners and pilot boats. He will also discuss the nautical maneuvers depicted, for example, “backing and filling” which allowed square-masted ships to tack against the wind as they sailed out through the Golden Gate.

January’s speaker also looks to the shoreline. He will discuss shoreline facilities, including such forgotten features of San Francisco Bay as the Long Bridge, depicted in a painting by W.A. Coulter. In the late 19th century, Long Bridge connected Potrero Hill to Hunters Point. The bridge itself became a weekend excursion destination because of the restaurants, saloons, rowing clubs and other activities that were built on it. Mr. Harrison will show paintings depicting the Cliff House before Sutro Gardens existed and oystering in the South Bay near the present-day airport.

Alfred Harrison, during college, shared in the invention of “The Kennedy Game.” After graduating from Harvard, he became an assistant editor at the Atlantic Monthly and then studied English literature at the University of California, Berkeley. During a decade as a private collector and researcher, Mr. Harrison compiled art reporting and criticism from the Boston Evening Transcript (1871–1874) and the New York Evening Post (1866–1869 and 1874–1876). He became president of the North Point Gallery in 1985. His career researching and educating about California’s heritage in painting is reflected in many publications, curated shows and lectures. The topic of his presentation to the Forum in November 2005 was “From Winterthur to Yosemite: Collecting across the Generations.”

Alfred Harrison’s books include Meadows and Mountains: The Art of William F. Jackson (2009); Pastoral California: The Art of Thaddeus and Ludmilla Welch (2007); L.P. Latimer: California Watercolor Painter (2005); and William Keith: The Saint Mary’s College Collection * (1988). Publication is pending for *John Ross Key, American Painter. He is currently working on a history of 19th century California paintings.

Mr. Harrison contributed “The Art of William Keith” to The Comprehensive Keith: The Hundred Year History of the Saint Mary’s College Collection of Works by William Keith (2011); “A Nineteenth-Century Man: Deakin and the San Francisco Art Scene” to Edwin Deakin, California Painter of the Picturesque (2008); “Fertile Ground: California Landscape Painting from 1870 to 1930” — as well as catalogue entries — to California Impressions: Landscapes from the Wendy Willrich Collection (2006); and “Percy Gray: An Evolution of an Artist” to The Legacy of Percy Gray (1999).

The Magazine Antiques has provided a national audience for Mr. Harrison’s research and demonstrates the breadth of his work on California paintings: “California Stories, Paintings of Daily Life by Golden State Artists” (November/December 2013); “California Plein Air Painters Past and Present” (May/June 2012); “Juan B. Wandesforde” (November/December 2010); “Finding Beauty, Creating Harmony, The Art of William F. Jackson” (November 2009); “Frederic Edwin Church’s Our Banner in the Sky: an Update on an American Icon” (November 2008); “L.P. Latimer: California Watercolor Painter” (April 2005); “John Ross Key’s World’s Fair Paintings” (March 2004); “Thaddeus Welch, California Landscape Painter” (November 2003); “Luminist Paintings in California” (November 2001); “George Inness and the San Francisco Art World in the 1890s” (November 2000); “Albert Bierstadt Paintings in the Haggin Museum” (November 1999); and “Bierstadt’s Bombardment of Ft. Sumter Reattributed” (February 1986).

Our speaker’s contributions to Antiques & Fine Art — “California’s William Keith, Celebration and Neglect” (Autumn/Winter 2011) and “The Excitement Continues, The Recent Butterfield and Butterfield Sale of Early California Art Paints a Picture of Continued Growth” (June 1989) — describe the revival of interest in California paintings that he helped generate. Mr. Harrison’s presentation to the Forum will try to convince our local museums — the de Young Museum as well as the Oakland Museum — to exhibit examples of California marine paintings in their galleries.

7:30pm mini-exhibit

Coastal and water images


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.