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the dean of southern california artists
William Wendt

Born: Bentzen, Germany
Studied: Chicago Art Institute
Member: American Federation of Arts
California Art Club (President)
Society of Western Artists
Laguna Beach Art Association
Chicago Society of Artists
National Arts Club, New York

One of California's best-known landscape painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William Wendt was born in Bentzen, Germany, and in 1880, immigrated to Chicago where, largely self taught, he studied briefly at the School of the Chicago Art Institute and worked as a commercial artist. His close friend was artist Gardner Symons, and they made several trips to Southern California between 1894 and 1906. William Wendt was called the "Dean of Southern California" artists. William Wendt's landscapes were especially known for rich greens and browns. In 1911, William Wendt became co- founder of the California Art Club, which he served as the second and fourth President from 1911 to 1919 and 1917 to 1918 respectively. This organization reflected Wendt’s commitment to plein-air painting of the California landscape.

William Wendt’s style was impressionism, obviously influenced by the Decorative Style of Arthur Mathews, and his landscapes seldom had figures in them. Indicative of the breadth of his reputation was William Wendt's election in 1912 as an Associate of the National Academy of Design in New York.

Wendt's adoption of impressionism as a style "can almost be dated to 1896-97" when he and friend Gardner Symons "were painting together on the Malibu Rancho near Los Angeles." Both Wendt and Symons were in the avant-garde of American painters in that they were open to the Impressionist style that had begun in France in the mid 19th century. And Southern California was a perfect location for depicting the bright colors, atmospheric conditions, and shimmering light that were characteristic of Impressionism”
In Chicago, William Wendt was not a particularly successful artist, but he was well received in California almost from the time he settled there in 1906. That same year Wendt married sculptress Julia Bracken, and they moved to Los Angeles, buying the studio home of Marion and Elmer Wachtel on Sichel Street. In 1913 he and Julia built a home in Laguna Beach, and they frequently exhibited together.

Once in California, Wendt was not a studio painter but worked outside, "en plein air", and explored the unique native landscape, often going into the wilderness. William Wendt had a deep reverence for nature, especially the unsettled wilderness, which he regarded as a place for silence and contemplation. Art historian Nancy Moure wrote that during the forty years of painting in California, Wendt's work became stronger and bolder and that with his brush, he was carving "out the underlying structure of the mountains, delighting in the folds of the earth. . . . William Wendt’s colors also moved away from the organic to stronger and purer tones; for a period he seems fascinated with a brilliant green. . . .These changes can be interpreted as personal growth or an attempt to update his style with the arrival of European Impressionists in Southern California."

William Wendt won numerous awards during his art career, including: Bronze medal, Buffalo Expo, 1901; Silver medal, St. Louis Expo, 1904; Silver medal, Panama Pacific International Exposition, 1915; Grand Prize, Panama-California International Expo, San Diego, 1915; Ranger prize, National Academy of Design, 1926. .

William Wendt biography provided courtesy of Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940. Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Nancy Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media is interested in purchasing all oil paintings by William Wendt. If you have a painting by William Wendt and are interested in selling it or simply wish to obtain an estimated value, please get in touch and we'll provide a free art evaluation.
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