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The Vanishing Landscape

October 12 through January 25, 2003


The Irvine Museum is showing a remarkable exhibition that depicts areas of California that, in effect, no longer exist. The Vanishing Landscape comprises a selection of paintings by leading California Impressionists that show various familiar parts of California as they appeared prior to development. It is a unique look at our communities in vistas that no longer exist, truly a show of vanishing landscapes.

One of these extraordinary views of California is In Laguna Canyon, by William A. Griffith (1866-1940) painted in 1928. It was painted in a rocky, dry streambed, looking towards a green canyon. This is now Laguna Canyon Road, looking south towards "Big Bend." Interestingly, off to the right, the viewer can see part of the old stage coach road that was still in use at the time. (left: William A. Griffith (1866-1940), In Laguna Canyon, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, Gift of Mrs. Josephine N. Milnor)

In 1915, William Lees Judson (1842-1928) produced several paintings of Laguna Beach. One of these, entitled Laguna Hills, shows the Pacific Coast Highway as an unpaved dirt road, winding its way north towards the little village of Laguna Beach. In addition, Judson painted four exquisite watercolors of the area: Bluebird Canyon, Temple Hill, Aliso Creek and Sleepy Hollow. All of the locales have changed greatly since Judson painted them.

William Wendt (1865-1946) lived the greatest part of his life in Laguna Beach and painted much of surrounding Orange County. His Santa Ana River looks down into the gorge of Santa Ana. Canyon and shows a part of the winding river flanked by sandbars and thick trees. The view of this painting is now the 91 Freeway, one of the most congested highways in southern California.

Edgar Payne (1883-1947) painted Canyon Mission Viejo sometime about 1917. At present, the view of the painting contains thousands of homes, a shopping center, and the small winding path in the middle distance is now probably the San Diego Freeway.

The museum will also display many works that show parts of the region local to the Museum that have not changed much over the years. The viewer can see from Arthur G. Rider's (1886-1975) Ortega Highway, painted between 1928 and 1930, that the road still looks very similar today and parts of it retain a feeling of undeveloped wilderness. One of the most interesting paintings in the exhibition is Corona Del Mar (also called Newport Harbor) by Phil Dike 1906-1990). This charming view, painted about 1932, shows the Balboa Peninsula crowded with small beach houses, which today have been replaced by multi-million dollar homes. It also gives visitors to the exhibition a glimpse of the open grazing lands of the old Irvine Ranch, hills that are now covered with houses as well.


Resource Library editor's note:

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

This article was originally published in 2002.

Rev. 8/27/09

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