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WILLIAM LEES JUDSON

January 14 - March 11, 2006 at Torrance Art Museum, South Bay

by Kathy Zimmerer




"At Sunset," oil on
canvas, 25 x 30".





"Sands of Catalina," oil
on canvas, 20 x 30".





"The Oaks," pencil and water-
color on paper, 16 1/2 x 21 1/2.






"The Bridge (Arroyo Seco),"
oil on canvas, 15 x 25".
William Lees Judson was a pioneering California Impressionist artist of many talents.  With his three sons, he founded the Judson Stained Glass Studios in 1897, which are still in operation in Los Angeles.  He was founding Dean of the USC College of Fine Arts, and an important mentor to many local artists; he also served as the president of the Arroyo Craftsman Guild.  Born in England, Judson was trained in Paris at the Academie Julien under leading French academics, including Adolphe Bouguereau.  He was a Civil War veteran, and came to California in 1893 from Chicago to improve his health in the mild climate.  

He was one of the originators of the Arts and Crafts movement in Pasadena, and as a painter he immersed himself in the beauty of the California landscape, producing many shimmering canvases of favorite Plein Air haunts, including the Arroyo Seco, the local missions, Laguna, San Pedro, Santa Catalina and La Jolla.  He even located the first campus of the USC College of Fine Arts out on the Arroyo Seco at Garvanza (now Highland Park) because of the burgeoning art community attracted by the landscape.  He reportedly lost many of his paintings in a fire at the USC campus in 1910, but recovered and continued to paint steadily.  For all his local influence, a century later it is a rare treat to view his luminous paintings of the California landscape in a small but rich exhibition culled from the collection of his great-grandson, H. Douglas Judson.

Earlier paintings by Judson in London reflect the influence of the French academy, and are tighter and more traditional.  But like many of his Impressionist colleagues, his stroke became looser and his colors lightened and brightened when he moved to the West Coast.  An admirer of Manet, Judson developed a pale palette that renders the unique light of California in transparent veils of color.  In “Sands of Catalina,” the shifting dunes seem to dissolve into the sky, with the opalescent pale blue ocean tying the two together.  In his broadly conceived “A View of Laguna Beach with Torrey Pines,” the trees mark a faint horizon that again becomes part of the whole in layers of delicate color including pink, purple, blue and green.

As a California Impressionist, Judson‘s paintings do not display the underlying solidity of forms found in contemporary William Wendt’s dynamic paintings of the Arroyo Seco, or Edgar Alwin Payne’s dramatic paintings of the high Sierras or the sea.   Rather he focused on the Impressionistic rendition of light. While always recognizable as landscapes, his work increasingly veered towards abstraction, as in his watercolor, “The Oaks,” where trees and leaves seem to melt into a blur of golden light.  Early evening is deftly captured in “At Sunset,” in which a luminous sky framed by grass and trees reflects the brilliant afterglow of the setting sun.  

As a poetic celebration of the natural beauty of the California landscape Judson’s “The Bridge (Arroyo Seco)” is loosely rendered but effective, the wild scenery of the Arroyo is knit together in a harmonic convergence of light and color.  Created by an artist who revered the landscape, this painting serves as an eloquent symbol of what California has lost to rampant development and urban sprawl.