Tuesday, October 30, 2012

California History – Natural Beauty Preserved in Art

Around 1900, people stepping off ships near Los Angeles were in luck they arrived in springtime.  They could see, forty miles north, fields of California poppies shimmering orange in the sunshine, on a gentle slope rising above Pasadena and just below mountains.  The poppy fields of Altadena were developed into homes after World War II, when the population surged.  Before that, California impressionist painter Benjamin Brown captured the grass and flowers in Poppies Near Pasadena. 

Paradise Found: The Beauty and Grandeur of California, a recent exhibit at the Irvine Museum, is a reminder of a region with few people, lots of sun, and pastoral hills and rugged seashores.   Benjamin Brown painted this untitled landscape as well as the one above. 

Benjamin Brown and other California impressionists were supported by Eva Scott Fenyes (1849 – 1930), who spent winters in her home on Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row.  Recognizing that artists need money to continue to create their art, Eva and her husband, Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, not only hired models, gave supplies to artists, and allowed the occasional artist to live on their estate, they added a studio onto their mansion for the artists to use.  Here’s a photo of their Pasadena home, a 1906 Beaux Arts mansion.  On the right is the studio, with an arched glass ceiling to let in natural light.

Pasadena millionaires sought invitations to Eva’s salons, held in the studio.  To introduce California impressionist painters to the wealthy, Eva provided the party – she hired actors to perform plays, as well as musicians and lecturers.  

Eva’s mansion, part of the Pasadena Museum of History, has been renovated and will reopen on Dec. 7, 2012.  Fully furnished, it also houses Eva’s art collection, including stunning portraits of family members and landscapes depicting a Far West paradise.

“Past and Present with Pamela” is a blog celebrating the arts, history, and places.  View the recent series of posts about the historic, seaside Hotel del Coronado, the location of the #1 comedy of all time (view a film clip), playground of movie stars and heads of state, and why the stories of ghost sightings would not go away and what the hotel is doing about it.  Pamela Tartaglio, 2013 Past President of Women Writing the West, is writing a novel set in the 1890s in “the world’s greatest gold camp,” Cripple Creek, Colorado, and she volunteers at the Pasadena Museum of History.  She does have one leg in this century --for a very short published story set in the present, see


Mary E. Trimble said...

Nice post, Pam, with beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Susan J Tweit said...

Thank you for the interesting post, Pam! My great-grandmother was a California painter--her studio was in the Berkeley hills. She would probably have known Eva Scott Feynes. Small world! (I hope you're having or had a great time in Italy....)

Irene Bennett Brown said...

Beautiful art and the mansion intrigues. Hope to visit the museum one day.

M.M. Justus said...

I grew up in Orange County, not all that far from Irvine, when it was still a ranch (we went there on school field trips) and not a city. It was a beautiful place.