Before the Irvine Museum collection became part of the Institute and Museum for California Art, viewing exhibitions there enabled visitors to envision the California countryside of a century ago; as the venue was one of the first in this country to own an extensive California Impressionism collection, with many pieces depicting our state’s landscape long before the invasion of industry, shopping centers and tract housing.

While featuring major artists of the impressionist genre, the Irvine Museum displayed Granville Redmond’s “California Landscape with Flowers” (c.1931) above its reception desk as a sterling example of the painting style. People looking at the wall-sized scene, depicting a Southern California canyon with rolling hills, trees, bushes and golden yellow poppies in the foreground, were often drawn to it. Some even gazed at it for several minutes before acknowledging the receptionist sitting just below the artwork.

Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum

“California Landscape…” is just one of many paintings in the Laguna Art Museum exhibition, “Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette.” The show of 85 of the artist’s works, created in southern, central and northern California, is the largest survey of his oeuvre ever assembled. The exhibition was first displayed at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum, a venue known for art from the golden state.

Redmond’s signature landscape oil is one of his numerous poppy-infused paintings from the early 20th century; as both the poppy — which became California’s official flower in 1903 — and his expressive painting style were popular with residents and visitors to the state. Yet his expansive vision empowered him to create each painting uniquely. Dozens of these vibrant artworks now adorn the Laguna museum’s gallery walls.

Among Redmond’s other poppy paintings on display are: “Sand Dunes” (n.d.) featuring bright yellow flowers in the foreground, contrasting with sand dunes, the ocean and the afternoon sky in the background; “Poppyfields and Oaks” (n.d.) presenting a sparse field of the golden flowers, alongside blue ones, while including majestic oak trees, mountains and sky in the distance; “Pond with Poppies” (1912) displaying a sparkling blue pond as the centerpiece, as sparse poppies dot the hillside in the distance; and “Field of Poppies” (n.d.) depicting a seemingly endless field of the golden-hued flowers.

Granville Redmond, Sand Dunes, n.d., Private collection

Looking at the many magnificent poppy-themed paintings, from 20 to 80 inches wide — which art lovers were unable to see during our state’s lockdown — makes us aware of the significance of viewing real rather than virtual art. When I first saw the exhibition on the day that the museum re-opened, I wondered if the paintings had been keeping each other company by conversing with each other over the previous several months.

A gallery toward the back of the museum provides works that visually and technically contrast with the poppy-themed paintings. Against a background of blue walls, several nocturnal scenes (some created on Santa Catalina Island) provide shimmering visions of the night-time deep blue sky meeting the ocean, illuminated by shafts of light, some with mountains in the background. While the poppy-filled galleries evoke summer days filled with wildflowers, this room suggests dreamy and romantic moonlit nights. Paintings include “Untitled Moonlight Marsh Scene,” “Nocturne,” “Catalina Nocturnal,” “Moonlight on the Marsh” and “A Moonlight Scene over a Coastal Marsh.” All works are undated.

Granville Redmond, Untitled, Moonlight Marsh Scene, n.d., The Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine

“The Eloquent Palette” features several Redmond paintings done in Tonalism, a style emphasizing mood, often employed by American landscape painters around the turn of the century. Redmond’s expressive Tonalist works in the show include “Sunset (Evening Glow)” (n.d.), an atmospheric portrayal of the sun sinking into the ocean, while casting golden light onto the water. Other paintings in this series are: “Coastal Storm” (1905) a rain and windswept view of our state’s coast; “Moonlight, San Mateo Salt Marshes” (1911) an early evening view of trees and bushes surrounding a marsh; and “Carmel Coast” (circa 1917) a close-up of the area’s craggy terrain.

A gallery at the rear of the museum features a video, displaying scenes from several silent movies that Redmond performed in; as the multi-talented, deaf artist who was unable to speak supplemented his income by performing in silent films. Most of the films were directed by Charlie Chaplin. A quote from Chaplin on a museum wall describes his admiration and awe for Redmond’s paintings: “There’s such a wonderful joyousness about them all. Look at the gladness in that sky, the riot of color in those flowers. Sometimes I think that the silence in which he lives has developed in him some sense, some great capacity for happiness in which we others are lacking.”

Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach; Mon.-Tue., Thurs.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. “Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette,” on view through November 15, 2020.

Granville Redmond, Coastal Storm, 1905, Collection of John and Jill Manly

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