When Granville Redmond (1871–1935) was a child, like so many in the nineteenth century, he caught scarlet fever, which left him profoundly deaf. The Redmond family then moved to San Jose, California, which enabled the young Granville to study at the California School for the Deaf, where he learned to sign. It was there that his drawing and painting skills were recognised, and on graduation he studied at the California School of Design, in San Francisco. That, and his friend Gottardo Piazzoni, were his making.
Piazzoni was a Tonalist landscape painter, whose large murals for the headquarters of the San Francisco Public Library are now in the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. Beside artistic influence and close friendship, Piazzoni was a personal friend of Charlie Chaplin, the silent movie star, and introduced Redmond to him.
Artistically, Redmond’s break came in 1893 when he won a scholarship to study in Paris. His teachers there, at the Académie Julian, were Jean-Paul Laurens and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, both old-school artists in the academic style. Before he returned to settle in Los Angeles, Redmond had a landscape accepted for the Salon in Paris.
Redmond’s early paintings are in Tonalist style, with muted colours. His Coastal Storm from 1905 contrasts the wind and heavy rain sweeping in from the right with the distant view of the coast in much fairer conditions. He appears to have used fine scratching in the diagonals of the falling rain.
Sailboats on Calm Seas is a small oil sketch from 1906 with masterly modelling of wavesplash at the bows of the yacht. His colours remain muted.
In the years before the First World War, Redmond helped Charlie Chaplin improve his skills of expression using body language. As Chaplin rose to fame, the actor became his patron, providing him with a studio on the movie lot, buying his paintings, and he gave him roles in seven of his silent movies between 1918 and 1931, when he played a sculptor in City Lights.
In 1908, he moved to Monterey County, where he’d often spent the summer, then two years later moved north to San Mateo.
His move from Tonalism to Impressionism seems to have become most obvious in his paintings from 1911.
The colours in his Shepherd Herding Sheep in a Misty Landscape from 1911 are still muted, although the light is starting to break through the mist.
Morning on the Pacific (1911) appears to be an intermediate step, in this painterly view of the sea. My only puzzle here is that the title clearly establishes the time of day as morning, but the direction of view appears to be to the west, where you’d expect the sun to be in the later afternoon.
Then A Field of California Poppies (1911) erupts into a richly coloured carpet of California or Golden Poppies, the state flower associated with the Golden State, and the Gold Rush. There are also a few smaller patches of what may be the large-leaved or purple lupine.
The following year came this Pastoral Scene at Sunset (1912).
In 1918, Redmond returned to Los Angeles to live.
Blue Flowers from 1919 is more Impressionist, with small marks of paint building up what appears to be a large area of purple lupines up in the hills.
Redmond painted several nocturnes, including this of the Catalina Island Coast under a Moonlit Sky in 1920. Catalina, or Santa Catalina, Island is about 35 km (22 miles) off the coast of California, south of Los Angeles, from where the artist seems to have visited on several occasions.
Redmond’s sky is formed from innumerable short, fine brushstrokes in apparently random directions, and gives the effect of the atmospheric buzz of small insects. It appears quite distinctive, and contrasts with the dark mass of rock.
Steamer leaving Avalon, Catalina Island (1920) is a small and painterly sketch in oils on cardboard which Redmond made during his visits to the island.
The small town (officially a city!) of Avalon is situated on its natural harbour, and has grown from tents and three wooden huts in 1883 to a modern resort which now attracts a million visitors every year. Its development for tourists started in the late 1880s, but when Redmond visited in 1920 it had recently been purchased by the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr, who opened a casino there in 1929.
Malibu Coast, Spring from about 1929 shows the 21 mile beach of this coastal resort thirty miles to the west of central Los Angeles, in the summer with golden poppies and purple lupines in full flower. At this time, Malibu was only just starting development, with the small Malibu Colony and a ceramic tile factory which had been funded by May K Rindge, the owner of the land.
Redmond’s undated Valley Splendor is another fine landscape from further inland.
Granville Redmond died in Los Angeles in 1935. Although he was one of the early California Impressionists, and well-known in his day, there doesn’t appear to have been even a chapter written about his art.