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January 15, 2008

Bischoff of California Impressionism

Donald Pittenger writes:

Last month I wrote an introductory post about a group of plein air painters known as the California Impressionists. Previously, I wrote about Arthur Mathews, one of the group.

In the first article linked above, I tried to avoid including images from the best of the California Impressionists because I wanted to save that ammo for better uses, namely feature posts. So today, I offer Franz Bischoff, an artist who made his mark in two fields: ceramic decoration and easel painting. There doesn't seem to be a lot of biographical information about Bischoff on the Internet, but here is an item about him on the Irvine Museum's site. (By the way, the Irvine Museum is small, but has an outstanding collection of California Impressionist paintings.)

Bischoff (1864-1929) was born in Bomen, Austria and studied applied design, watercolor and ceramic decoration in Vienna before emigrating to the United States in 1885. He began his career as a china decorator in New York City, continuing in this field while relocating in Pittsburgh, Fostoria, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan (1892). By the turn of the century he had gained fame in this line of work, at one point operating two schools.

Bischoff's first encounter with California was in 1900. He was so smitten that, in 1906, he closed his business and moved his family to the Los Angeles area where he pursued a new career as a painter. Success in painting came as rapidly as it had in ceramic decoration, though he did maintain a small hand in the latter field. His California stay was interrupted in 1912 for an extended visit to Europe where he studied the art of Old Masters and French Impressionists.


Franz Bischoff in his Dearborn studio, around 1900

Example of Bischoff vase

Carmel Coast
The reproduction of this painting I have in a book is less red-looking. Thr lightest surfaces on the big rocky areas are yellow. There are a few patches of tinted Indian Red in the foreground, the same color appearing in the clouds. Since it looks better, I assume the book version is more true to the original than the image I grabbed off the web.

Clounds Drifting Over the Mountains

Cypress Point

Picking Flowers
Bischoff didn't limit himself to flowers and landscapes. Here he adds humans to a country scene.

The Yellow Dress
Another painting featuring people; landscape is almost entirely missing.

More posts on major California Impressionist painters will appear from time to time. But Bischoff, because he painted ceramics, plein air landscapes and human fugures, gets my vote as being the most versatile of the lot.



posted by Donald at January 15, 2008


That's a lot of beautiful work, tks. I blush to admit I wasn't aware of him, though another Bischoff (Elmer, an Ab-Ex-ish semi-realist from the '50s and on) is a favorite. Ok for me to rhapsodize about how, although this stuff can be seen and enjoyed as leading to Modernism, you can also just enjoy it for the stylize, patterned, gorgeous stuff that it is in its own right?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 16, 2008 6:38 PM

There's nothing wrong with "chocolate box" if it's good enough. And even bad chocolate box is better than "I fart in your general direction" art.

Posted by: dearieme on January 17, 2008 7:32 AM

Obviously he was smitten by the California landscape, as are most people who visit. California has everything--mountians, desert, ocean and magnificent coastline, the lush Central Valley, the great redwoods, etc. Its a landscape painter's dream.

Bischoff paints like many of his contemporary California impressionists--his work is not quite literal, but a stylized version of what he sees, and its all the stronger for it. You can see other examples of this kind of stylized landscape painting in the work of Hanson Puthuff, Edgar Payne, Granville Redmond, and others. Its different from the ultra-literal realism of today--looser, more simple and colorful. He was obviously a great designer too.

I would quibble a bit with your last statement that he was the most versatile artist in the area--lots of artists that you see who adopted landscape, or figure, or portraiture, etc. as their primary mode of work were far more versatile than the great bulk of their work shows. Its just that when you start to sell paintings for a living to collectors, they want to see a consistent style, and many painters get locked into doing one type of work.

Sargent is great example of this. He made so much money doing portraiture that he basically retired in his forties and spent the rest of his life traveling around, painting landscapes, genre scenes, sketches of his friends, and even did a great deal of mural work for the Boston Public Library. If he weren't so successful, and had to keep cranking out the portraits, we wouldn't have seen the half of what he could do. Many other talented painters (and other artists) are not so lucky.

Posted by: BTM on January 18, 2008 1:12 AM

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