All of the big names were here. These artists, whose paintings now garner unimaginable sums at auction, worked “en plein air,” away from their studios, capturing the changing colors in the great outdoors.
It was a time of innocence and exploration in California’s desert wilds. Some painters were driven to escape the ravages of tuberculosis, and others, like Lockwood de Forest, who made 10 documented visits in the very beginning of the 20th century, were drawn by the extraordinary landscape made glorious by an indescribable yellow light.
But De Forest, Maynard Dixon, Conrad Buff, Clyde Forsythe, Milford Zornes and other “California Impressionists” weren’t the only ones; there was a cadre of more permanent desert dwellers. The desert proved a haven, a place to work where one could survive and make a living at fine art. As a result, the desert’s thriving artist community in the early 20th century rivaled that of Taos, Santa Fe or Carmel.
John Hilton, R.Brownell McGrew, Fred Penney, Karl Albert, Carl Bray, and Jimmy Swinnerton became local stars known beyond the valley. Painstaking representations of the unusual landscape and its adapted plants were contrasted with loose, interpretive styles; the subject scenery was conducive to both.