Nicholas Brewer (American, 1857-1949). Oil on canvas titled "Aliso Canyon, California," depicting a dramatic scene of Aliso Canyon, 1921. Signed along the lower right; further signed, titled, and dated along the verso.
With three books and a copy of a newspaper article regarding Nicholas Brewer: "The Art of Nicholas Richard Brewer" from the Gallery of The Woman's College Library at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, April 7th to 21st, 1932; Nicholas Brewer's autobiography "Trails of a Paintbrush," Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1938; and Julie L'Enfant "Nicholas R. Brewer: His Art and Family," Inver Grove Heights: Afton Press, 2018; Newspaper article titled "Art Institute Buys Picture from Brewer" The Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, May 1, 1922.
Born in a log cabin in Minnesota in 1857, Nicholas BrewerÃs work typifies his frontier spirit and love for the American landscape. He grew up on a farm, where his days were defined by hard work, but he still found the time to draw and paint in between chores. At the age of 18, he moved to St. Paul. He received some art training there from Henry Koempel, a local painter and decorator, and ended up marrying KoempelÃs daughter. He eked out a living for his swiftly growing family through portrait commissions and teaching.
In 1885, Brewer first traveled to New York, determined to make it as a serious artist. He received a small amount of training there; however, he remained primarily self-taught. He began receiving some success in New York, and continued spending winters there for much of his career. His work was included in several exhibitions, and he was inducted into the illustrious Salmagundi Club. In his later career, he traveled the United States, giving traveling lectures and exhibitions, as well as taking portrait commissions wherever he went. During one productive visit to Washington D.C., Brewer even painted a portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The main reason for his travels, though, was his love of the American landscape. Although Brewer was never able to fully make a living by landscape painting, it remained his true passion. His agrarian upbringing left him with a sense of reverence for the earth, and he delighted in experimenting with colors and textures to best capture the mood of a landscape. He paid particular heed to the flora he passed by, from the solemn Minnesota prairie grasses to southern blue bonnets to the tiny patches of scrub grass clinging to vertiginous California cliffs. His paintings rarely depict specific places; Brewer instead preferred to paint landscapes that he felt represented an ideal, more the spirit than the actuality of a location. Nevertheless, his travels provided him with a rich backdrop upon which to base his works.
In 1921, Brewer made a trip to California to paint. While there, he befriended a number of fellow artists working there, whom he found delightfully open and welcoming. Among these were Jack Smith (1873-1949), best known for his landscapes and seascapes of the American west. Smith invited Brewer to come stay with him in Laguna Beach, where they spent several weeks painting what Brewer calls in his autobiography Ã¬the marvelous coast with its rocky cliffs.Ã® During this trip, they made several trips to Aliso Canyon in the San Joaquin Hills. It is clear that Brewer was impressed by the grandiosity of the canyon. His choice of vantage point for this painting--positioned at the bottom of the canyon, looking up--emphasizes the tremendous size of the canyon. Positioning the viewer within the landscape in such a tangible way enables the viewer to experience the wonder Brewer must have felt being dwarfed by this geological landmark. The grove of trees in the lower left of the composition provide scale, further reinforcing how small a visitor to the land must feel.
The influence of BrewerÃs new friend and fellow artist William Wendt (1865-1946) is evident in the way Brewer captures the form of the land. Wendt is best known for his preoccupation with the land itself, through its geographic features and topography. This attitude is noticeable in BrewerÃs handling of the canyon. The texture and outcrops in the rocky walls of the canyon are highlighted with sun and shade, and emphasized with pastel-colored patches of wildflowers. The thick impasto used on these flowered areas further accentuates the bouldered surface of the canyon walls. The creek flows along the base of the canyon, so subtly rendered it is barely noticeable save for the area of reflecting sunlight just downstream from the trees. The creek itself primarily serves as a border for the canyon, once again drawing attention to the topography by providing contrast to the curves and caves along the bottom of the cliff wall.
In 1922, Aliso Canyon, California was exhibited at the Decatur Institute of Civic Arts in Decatur, Illinois, as part of a Brewer solo exhibition. The Institute then purchased the painting for its permanent collection. A contemporary newspaper article in The Decatur Herald discussing the sale provided a glowing review of the piece: Ã¬The Aliso Canyon [Aliso Canyon, California] is looked upon as the best painting in the collection shown by Mr. Brewer and he was frankly rather loath to sell it. [...] It was painted by Mr. Brewer when he was in California last summer and carries in it not only the distance and coloring but seemingly also the very atmosphere of that land of sunshine.Ã® It was later included in Ã¬The Art of Nicholas Richard Brewer,Ã® an exhibition put on by the Gallery of the WomanÃs College Library at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, from April 7 to 21, 1932.
Unframed; height: 34 in x width: 44 1/4 in. Framed; height: 40 in x width: 49 3/4 in.
The painting is in good condition. There are no losses. Craquelure to the surface throughout, most visible in the sky. When inspected under UV, there are no visible areas of inpainting or restoration. There are several areas of discoloration to the verso. A layer of wax has been applied along the verso to support the canvas. The frame is in good condition overall with many hairline cracks to the gilding.
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