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Theodore Wores: Man of Purpose and Vision

June 6, 2003 - February 15, 2004


Paintings in this exhibition highlight work from the Triton Museum of Art's permanent collection as well as from the collection of Fred Levin, cousin of former Triton Museum Board members Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson. The Shensons were greatly responsible for the revival of California artist Theodore Wores' (1859 - 1939) critical reputation in the art world. The paintings were given to the City of Santa Clara with the stipulation that they remain in the care of the Triton Museum of Art. (right: Theodore Wores, My Summer House, Saratoga, 1928, oil on canvas. From the collection of the City of Santa Clara in care of the Triton Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Theodore Wores. SC.68.2.01)

This exhibition builds on the 2000 and 2001 Museum exhibits, Theodore Wores: Works from the California and Japan Years and Theodore Wores: the Spanish Years, respectively, by drawing on work produced in California, Hawaii, Japan, Spain and Germany. Wores first gained critical acclaim when he painted San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 1880s. He was among the first artists to venture into this "unknown" world. Throughout his career, he has been surrounded by other esteemed artists such as Frank Duveneck, William Merritt Chase, Joseph De Camp and James MacNeil Whistler, among others.

The artist is also hailed as one of San Francisco's most important art teachers in the early twentieth century. He was chosen dean of the San Francisco Art Institute, where he served from 1907 to 1913. This exhibition reflects the patronage of the Shensons and the vision of Theodore Wores.


The following essays for the exhibition were written by the Museum's Chief Curator, Susan Hillhouse:


Theodore Wores:

A lively intelligence, a willingness to travel to varied and far away places, an acute visual acumen and an ability to appreciate the gifts gleaned from diverse cultures afforded Wores empirical knowledge of the nonstatic elements of life. It seems he wished to receive and offer escape and spiritual comfort to his and future generations through his paintings. Indeed, looking at his work makes one feel both relaxed and energized. (right: Theodore Wores, Okikusan, Yokohama, 1897, oil on panel. Courtesy of Fred and Nancy Levin)

The paintings of Theodore Wores convey a feeling of effortless elegance that seems to reveal his internal state of being. His work is so well executed that one is not overtly aware of the rigorous training, diligent practice, and intense labor that made these masterpieces possible. Rather, his work inspires a reduction of the psychic distance between people and nature, for his landscapes and figures are treated with analogous reverence and quiet reserve. As a result, the body of his work has a graceful coherence and a presence that carries quiet authority.

Even though the work seen in this exhibition defies being placed in a conclusive stylistic category, it suggests a nature-based aesthetic paradigm. It flows from direct and keen observation of and an appreciation for all things living and growing, and, therefore changing. This fluid, eloquent balance of realism and expression, intelligence and emotion, material and spirit, was achieved, in part, by employing active brushstrokes alongside areas of subdued, thinly painted interludes and through the techniques of alla prima, impasto, and painting en plein air. Without doubt, Wores' sensitively composed and carefully constructed paintings have a directness, freshness and vibrancy that simultaneously translate and eclipse style, time and place.


What was Japan like during the time Wores painted the work seen in this part of the exhibition?

MEIJI PERIOD (1868-1912)

The Meiji period followed the Edo period (1600-1868). After a long time of unrest, the people of the Edo period enjoyed relative peace. This allowed the samurai, or warriors, to pursue the arts, such as literature, philosophy and the practice of the meditative tea ceremony. New art forms, such as kabuki (traditional Japanese theater) and ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world"), flourished.

Wores was in Japan during the mid to late Meiji period. This was an interesting time to experience Japan because its society was changing rapidly. The culture that transitioned from a traditional Japanese society to the beginnings of modernity was rich with inherent complexity. The Meiji period saw an amalgamation of western and eastern cultures; compulsory education and a change from feudalism to a central government with an adopted constitution.  The bicycle, train and telegraph were introduced to Japan during this period, allowing for a more mobile society with greater communication abilities.

By looking at paintings such as Okikusan, Yokohama; Irises;  Springtime at the Beach, and Blossoms in Japan, we see evidence that Wores was enchanted by traditional Japanese customs, including clothing styles. We conclude this because even though by the end of his first visit, the Empress adopted western dress and proclaimed that all women were to follow suit, Wores chose to paint his subjects in traditional dress.


The landscape paintings of Wores:

The spring blossoms and flowering gardens of Theodore Wores are gentle reminders of the fragility as well as the lushness of life. Implicit in his paintings, is pictorial proof that all things organic are ephemeral-the blush of youth will fade, as will the blossoms of the cherry tree. Hopefully, this realization impels us to take the time to marvel at beauty where it is found and to honor its existence. Though the people, landscapes and ways of life depicted in the paintings are no more, the affirmation of their presence is beautifully captured and rendered. We are eternally grateful that Theodore Wores chose to document his quickly and irrevocably changing world.


Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy earlier articles including The World of Theodore Wores (6/21/99), Decisive Moments: American Impressionist Painting from West Coast Collections (7/9/99), Visions of Home: American Impressionist Images of Suburban Leisure and Country Comfort (7/11/99), Frank Duveneck (1848-1919): Virtuoso of the Brush (5/30/99), William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes, 1886-1890 (3/21/00) and essays including Towards Impressionism in Northern California, The San Francisco Art Association, The Santa Cruz Art League and The Carmel Art Association,

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for Triton Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2004 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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