Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lucia Mathews: Painter in the Shadow



Lucia K. Mathews
1870-1955
 Scrapbooks kept by painter couple Arthur and Lucia Mathews from the late 1890s to the 1920s, the period which covered the apex of their careers, is a voluminous book devoted to Arthur's successes. Dozens of clippings depict his triumphs, as Lucia's accomplishments, in contrast, are overlooked. A prolific artist, Lucia never had a one-woman show and the press was generally  silent about her work. [1]

How is it that an artist who trained in Paris with James McNeill Whistler, who maintained her own art studio in San Francisco for years, and whose association with that world included William Merritt Chase, remained unrecognized in her lifetime? The answer lies in the issues that surrounded gender and artistic identity at the turn of the century in Victorian Northern California. While Arthur decorated the foyers of theatres, libraries and the ornate mansions of the wealthy, Lucia worked in pastel and watercolor. She preferred small-scale works. Her subjects were domestic scenes.

Lucia was born Lucia Kleinhans in San Francisco and attended Mills College for one year before enrolling in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, at which her future husband was the Director. They married in 1894. [2] Lucia Mathews and her husband, Arthur, were two of the most prominent artists in Northern California in the early 20th century. They were leaders in what became known as the California Decorative Style, the West Coast version of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Their philosophy (like that of architect Julia Morgan) was that one's environment should be in total harmony and that people should surround themselves only with objects they consider beautiful.

Lucia Mathews
Three Women Standing in a Window
Oil on canvas
23 ½ x 31 inches
n. d.
When the 1906 earthquake and fire struck San Francisco, the couple saw an opportunity to rebuild an entire city according to the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts style. They opened the Furniture Shop in the California Street home of John Zeile, a wealthy arts patron, and hired seasoned craftsmen, many from Europe, who trained to execute their design ideas.


Lucia Mathews took the lead in interpreting various motifs, oversaw the color selections, and learned wood carving and painted decorative scenes. Classical figures in Grecian costumes (one of Arthur Mathews' preferred themes) as well as botanical images (Lucia's specialty) were dominant images. She liked floral designs from native plants such as the California poppy, and often incorporated Oriental motifs. Both she and her husband built their own picture frames.
Lucia Mathews
California Poppies
in a Tall Goblet
Gouache, gold lead and ink on paper
ca. 1890s
Oakland Museum of California


Lucia preferred a flat, graphic style of rendering figures, flowers, and landscapes. Lucia's preferred flower was the California poppy, a flower that covered the hills around the San Francisco bay.
Lucia Mathews
Poppy Box
ca. 1929
Polychrome
5 in. high x 16 in. wide x 12 in. deep
Oakland Museum of California



















Lucia Mathews
Painted Jar
ca. 1900s
The Furniture Shop
Oakland Museum of California
Lucia Mathews
Pine Tree
Watercolor on canvas paper
Lucia proved to be an exceptional painter on wood, creating sumptuous multicolored frames for her husband's paintings on gilded wood jars and bowls, patterned with miniature mural scenes. [3] An avid and skilled gardener, Lucia was an adviser to the designers of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In later years, both Lucia and Arthur turned to painting scenes of the seashore, perhaps influenced by the rise of the California impressionist movement. Lucia's views of the coast, with cypress and pines tree in the foreground, are rendered in a looser, more painterly style.
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1. With the exception of one and two line newspaper reports on their silver medal for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. (see "The Exposition Awards: California Artists," San Francisco Chronicle, July 25, 1915).
2. Lucia Mathews (1870-1955), http://www.hardygalleries.com/Default.asp?Page=70, (accessed March 11, 2013), source: "American Women Artists" by Charlotte Streifer Rubenstein.
4. Michael S. Gant, California Dreaming, Metroactive http://www.metroactive.com/metro/12.13.06/arthur-and-lucia-mathews-0650.html, (accessed March 11, 2013).