Organized in celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the Laguna Beach Art Association
November 9, 2008 - February 8, 2009

307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Contact:  Christina Limson, 949.494.8971, ext. 208
949.494.8971, extension 200 for general Museum information; Fax 949.494.1530
Web site,
Hours, Daily, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; first Thursdays of the month are free, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.

In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt is the first full-scale retrospective on the art of William Wendt. In 1912, William Wendt was elected an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design, the same year that he built a studio-home in Laguna Beach.  In many ways, Wendt represented the essential nature of California Impressionism both stylistically and ideologically. No other California impressionist so consistently essayed the sweeping, romantic grand landscape view as Wendt; and no other painter so strongly equated his work with the ideology of nature as creation, and nature as a spiritual path. Dapper, distinguished, and much admired by his many followers, Wendt functioned as a very visible example of what an artist should aspire to. His career summarized the idealism that was the foundation of California art in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
California Impressionism–a hybrid style of painting that retained clarity of forms overlaid with the brilliant French Impressionist palette—was once critically unquestioned and regionally preeminent. It nearly disappeared in the maze of 1950s California hard-edge painting and abstract expressionism, 1960s pop and funk art, and the deluge of kinetic and performance art forms of the 1970s. However, to fully engage and understand the evolution of American painting, we need to understand the nuances of this hybrid approach to image making. California was, of all the states, perceived as the real land of opportunity and reinvention and was destined to become the nation’s most populace and economically powerful member. And, to understand California Impressionism, we need to fully examine its central practitioner, William Wendt.

The resurgence of interest in California's early painters over the past two-plus decades has resulted in a number of academically rigorous studies. The Oakland Museum of California Art’s landmark exhibition and catalogue, Impressionism: The California View (1981), was perhaps the first attempt to contextualize California art within the spectrum of American studies. The exhibition was followed by William H. Gerdts’ seminal book American Impressionism (1984) that recognized Wendt and other American artists previously consigned to “regional” as opposed to “American” status. A torrent of regional studies of American art followed in its wake, the majority of these dealing with some aspect of California art history. One of these was a compendium of documents on Wendt’s life privately published in 1992 that, although useful, is limited in interpretive scope and compromised by a narrow methodology.

To date, the most referred to work on Wendt is Laguna Art Museum’s 1977 catalogue written by noted scholar, Nancy Moure, for an exhibition of that same year. While this was a careful and focused study of Wendt, it came before (indeed, helped to instigate) the era of intense scholarship noted above. Given Wendt’s enormous contribution, the time has come to build on Moure’s early work. Until an exhaustive study of Wendt exists, a major piece of California art history, and thus American art history, remains missing.

The most obvious reason no detailed monographic study of Wendt has been undertaken in recent years is the daunting lack of primary research material. Wendt, who died in Laguna Beach on December 29, 1946, left no diary; no scrapbook; and few letters. He left no children, and thus no prospects for family oral histories. The challenge now is to reconstruct Wendt’s biography, taking advantage of the recent relevant scholarship in the field as a whole and to reassess his art in the same light.
Organized by Laguna Art Museum, the exhibition features sixty paintings by William Wendt and is guest curated by Dr. Will South, chief curator at the Dayton Art Institute. The exhibition will be accompanied by a 320-page color book featuring an essay by the curator. Dr. South’s many publications include Guy Rose: American Impressionist (1995); California Impressionism (1998); Color Myth, and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism (2001); and In and Out of California: Travels of American Impressionists (2002).

Exhibition Programming:

Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Dr. Will South, Chief Curator of The Dayton Art Institute, gives a curatorial walk-through of the exhibition

Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Jean Stern, Executive Director of the Irvine Museum, presents William Wendt and the Southern California Art Community, 1906-1946

Sunday, January 18, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Janet Blake, Curator of Collections, presents The Life of William Wendt: An Artist with a Reverence for the Land

Also on view:

Young Artists Society Gallery
In a Parallel Universe: Art from Creekside High School

Recent Acquisitions: The Permanent Collection

Laguna Beach Anniversary Celebration
California Art from the permanent collections of Laguna Art Museum and the Festival of Arts

About Laguna Art Museum
Laguna Art Museum is well known for breaking new ground in the study of American art and popular culture from a West Coast perspective. The eclectic mix of artists featured reflect the Museum’s unique exhibition schedule which presents a blending of historical, contemporary, and popular culture exhibitions throughout the year.  Laguna Art Museum’s exhibitions, which travel nationally and internationally, are accompanied by publications exemplifying the scholarship of the Museum’s staff and associates and are valuable reference works on the history of art and culture in the United States.

Upcoming Exhibitions & Events at Laguna Art Museum
In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt | November 9, 2008 – February 8, 2009
Auction 100 | Preview February 21-27, 2009 | Event February 28, 2009
Roger Kuntz: The Shadow Between Representation and Abstraction | March 15 – May 24, 2009

Museum Information
Laguna Art Museum is located at 307 Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are admitted free. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's days.

Monday through Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
First Thursday of the month: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Media Contact
If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Christina Limson, Communications Manager at (949) 494-8971 x208 or at

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