George K. Brandriff,
George K. Brandriff, "Sunday Breakfast," 1930/1935, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in. The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art

Exhibition of California Impressionism:
“Radiant Impressions”
Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA) at the University of California, Irvine
Through August 14, 2021

From the organizers:

Focusing on early to mid-20th-century painters, “Radiant Impressions” considers the ways artists have engaged with light not only for its optical qualities, but also for its power to convey meaning, ambiance, and emotion. The selection of oil paintings and watercolors also provides reflections of the times and places in which they were created. Depictions include pristine landscapes, harbor views, picturesque villages, urban skylines, domestic scenes and interiors, portraits, and people at work and play. Whether the golden tones produced by the California sun or the glow of an electric light bulb, the artists employ light to express a range of narratives and moments.

The exhibition is organized in four thematic groupings:

  1. The Domestic Realm and Work juxtaposes intimate household activities with crisply lit landscapes.
  2. Capturing the Scene evokes the sensation of light at different times in the day.
  3. Play and the Social Sphere reveals how light is used to suggest energy, atmosphere, and movement in the public realm.
  4. Lighting the Portrait comprises pictures of women whose gazes invite a rapport with viewers.

Well-known California Impressionist paintings are in dialogue with less familiar pieces by women artists, including rarely exhibited paintings by Elsie Palmer Payne (1884–1971) and Burr Singer (1912–1992). Together, the works demonstrate how these painters rendered light to imbue the rich and varied meanings of everyday experiences with both nuance and drama, stasis and motion, familiarity and remoteness.

Elsie Palmer Payne, "Bus Stop" painting
Elsie Palmer Payne, “Bus Stop,” 1949, Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 25 1/4 in., The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art

Highlights include Guy Rose’s (1867–1925) “Laguna Eucalyptus” (1917), revealing the influence of French Impressionism through a Californian lens. “Freeway Beginning” (c. 1948), a watercolor by Emil J. Kosa Jr. (1903–1968), emphasizes the contrasts between old and new architecture in post-war Los Angeles. Louis Betts’s (1873–1961) “Mid-Winter, Coronado Beach” (1907) presents the Southern California sun as its own character in this romanticized scene of beachgoers enjoying seaside activities. The title intentionally reinforces the region’s alluring climate even in winter.

Guy Rose, "Laguna Eucalyptus" painting
Guy Rose, “Laguna Eucalyptus,” circa 1917, Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., The Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine.
Emil J. Kosa Jr., "Freeway Beginning" painting
Emil J. Kosa Jr., “Freeway Beginning,” circa 1948, watercolor on heavy wove paper, 22 x 30 3/8 in. The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art
Louis Betts, "Mid-Winter" painting
Louis Betts, “Mid-Winter,” Coronado Beach, circa 1907, Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 in. The Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine

The exhibition is curated by Jean Stern, former Senior Curator of California Impressionism at IMCA. A leading authority on the genre, he is also Executive Director Emeritus of The Irvine Museum (its collection is now part of IMCA) which he led for 28 years. Stern retired from IMCA last spring to focus on writing, lecturing, curating, and consulting. A recorded Zoom conversation about Radiant Impressions between Stern and IMCA Curatorial and Research Associate Erin Stout showcasing some of the works is will be available on the museum’s website on May 14, 2021.

Elanor Colburn, "Bathing Baby" painting
Elanor Colburn, “Bathing Baby,” 1930, Oil on canvas, 36 x 33 in. The Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine.

Kim Kanatani, Museum Director of IMCA, said, “We are delighted to welcome visitors back to our space in Irvine. While we will continue to offer virtual programming, there is nothing quite like seeing these beautiful artworks in person. The artists represented in this exhibition used color, light, and shadow to stunning effect. We are grateful to Jean Stern for sharing his deep knowledge of California Impressionism and some of his favorite paintings.”

Please note: IMCA’s interim museum is currently closed in accordance with California state health protocols. Should health protocols still limit in-person visits during the planned presentation of Radiant Impressions, updates will be posted on IMCA’s website. For further information and COVID-19 safety protocols, visit IMCA’s website at

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