Art Appreciation: Celebrating Fall Colour with Franz Bischoff

"Autumn Moods" by Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864 - 1929)

Franz Bischoff was born in Austria but immigrated to the United States in 1882. Trained in ceramic decoration as a boy, he continued to further his career in porcelain painting in his new homeland. He became well-known as a leading teacher of the craft, founding the Bischoff School of Ceramic Art in Detroit and in New York City, and as a master ceramicist who manufactured many of his own glazes.

Vase decorated by Bischoff (acclaimed as "King of the Rose Painters")

He decided to settle in California in 1906, ultimately building and completing a landmark studio home at 320 Pasadena Avenue in 1908. A description of the home says: "The building was poured of solid concrete and was one-and-a half stories high. It was designed in the Renaissance style, with an imposing entry through massive oak doors with stained glass panels. The doorway was set beneath a classical pedimented portico, supported by two columns. The interior was divided between a large gallery, a studio and a complete ceramic workshop in the basement.

The gallery measured 36 feet by 40 feet. It had high, concave ceilings lighted by several half-circle skylights. The floors were of solid oak covered by old Turkish rugs and polar bear skins. All interior doors and paneling were of natural redwood in the Gothic style. The furniture was of massive oak in the Mission style. At the west end of the gallery was a huge tile-covered fireplace. The wall space throughout was covered with paintings of flowers and landscapes, and in one corner were several oak display cases containing examples of Bischoff's painted ceramics.

The painting studio had a large picture window that overlooked the Arroyo Seco, with a wide vista of the distant mountains. The studio furniture consisted of an easel, several easy chairs and low divans, all of Flemish oak."

"The Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, c1918" by Franz Bischoff
- a possible view from his studio window?

In 1912, Bischoff went on an extended tour of Europe where he studied the works of the Old Masters and the Impressionists. On his return to California, Bischoff turned to landscape painting and gradually abandoned porcelain decoration (Source: The Irvine Museum).

Although I've categorized Bischoff's works under Impressionism, I think they more accurately fall somewhere in between Impressionism and Fauvism, particularly his later works (c1920s) which show very strong, vivid colours. His background in design comes through his compositions - look how his landscapes follow clearly the rules of linear perspective, and he seems to have retained quite a bit of art nouveau graphical influence in his stylized renderings of landscape elements such as trees, rocks and mountains. This unique treatment, in addition to his use of jewel-like colour blocks, makes me feel like I'm looking st a Tiffany stained glass window.

Autumn landscape window from Tiffany Studios (1902 - 1932),
design attributed to Agnes F. Northrop (1857 - 1953) (Source: The Met)

Finally, I am closing the post with two Bischoff paintings of fall's most popular flowers - the quintessential chrysanthemums!

"Chrysanthemums" by Franz Bischoff

"Spider Mums" by Franz Bischoff

Aren't these warm colours lovely? I hope you have the opportunity of using these golden hues in your fall decorating to stave off the encroaching cooler temperatures. Pretty soon, possibly after Halloween, I'll be filling up the house and front yard with more blue-greens and reds as we head into the Christmas season but it is really nice to savour the yellows, oranges, and golds while summer is still fresh in our minds.

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Art Appreciation: A Walk in the Pumpkin Patch with Evelyn McCormick

In keeping with the harvest season, I decided to feature a couple of Evelyn McCormick's paintings with pumpkins. Evelyn McCormick was an American Impressionist painter who lived and worked around San Francisco and Monterey, California at the turn of the 20th century. This intrepid Bohemian travelled to Paris, France in the 1880s to be with her lover, Guy Rose, also a painter. They both spent much time painting in the village of Giverny where they were influenced by the great Claude Monet.

This look at a corner of "A Garden in Giverny" made me think of the pumpkins we once tried to grow in our community garden plot - lots of aggressive leaves and vines but not-so-spectacular pumpkins. There is a charming air of country derelict in this overgrown garden with its tumbledown walls, a dying tree, and all sorts of interesting vegetation rooting everywhere. It feels like the kind of spot that a child might think of hiding in when playing hide-and-seek.

"A Garden in Giverny, 1891"

Almost 20 years later, back in California, McCormick painted this patch of pumpkins growing on a slope above a pond or stream in the Carmel Valley. The setting under an open sky, wide swaths of greenery and almost-still water feels more expansive than the semi-enclosed, intimate space of the first garden scene. The second image is more evocative of a prosperous farm, with its lush, neat fields and convenient footpaths and there is a sense that perhaps McCormick is trying to convey the idea of an agrarian idyll for her viewers.

"Carmel Valley Pumpkins, c1907"

Mary Evelyn McCormick (December 2, 1862 – May 6, 1948)

I confess that I'm drawn to the first painting more, despite the rough state of the garden. The atmosphere is relaxed; you don't have to worry about weeding or planning neat borders. You can graze on a berry or a bean should you come across one, and you can pick a couple of pumpkins to tide you over winter. What about you? How do you feel when you look at the paintings? Do they evoke memories for you? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Spot that Plant: Zinnia elegans 'Benary's Giant Salmon Rose'

"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it."
- Russell Baker

Are you experiencing sweltering heat where you live? This has been a pretty crazy end of summer in our Zone 5B garden. Temperatures were in the chilly single-digits last week but headed higher into the high 20+ degrees this week (30C+ with humidity). While most of our blooms don't seem to know what to do with themselves (some are really leggy, some are very floppy, more than a few are leggy and floppy), the zinnias that I planted in late spring are thriving and trouncing almost every other plant in the late summer garden sweepstakes.

The flower images shown here are the Salmon Rose variety of Zinnia elegans from the Benary's Giant series. The Benary's Giant line of dahlia-like zinnias was developed by Ernst Benary Samenzucht, a 170-year old seed breeding company with an interesting history. Benary's Giants are truly ginormous (as my daughter likes to say), with flower heads ranging from 3 to 5 inches across, which are very ably supported by their sturdy stalks that stay upright without staking, something I can't assert about my dinner-plate dahlias (lying face down in the dirt even as I type). I haven't seen any pest activity on these beauties but this is only my first year of growing this type of zinnia so time will tell if they are as insect and disease-resistant as claimed. I think I will switch these superlative annuals around with my weak-stemmed, aphid-infested dahlias in the front yard next year, perhaps in a wider variety of colours and in greater numbers so I can also use them as cut flowers in the home.

Have you spotted any Benary's Giant zinnias in your neighbourhood or are you growing some? Share a photo or story in the comments below. :)

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