The Carmel and Monterey Art Colonies

Hotel Del Monte, 1883
Internet Archive Book Images

California’s picturesque Monterey Peninsula, with its rugged coastline and dramatic vistas, has long attracted artists, photographers, and writers.  For more than a century, the area’s unsurpassed beauty, pristine landscape, and romantic Spanish colonial architecture have provided inspirational subject matter for creative individuals.  Artists were discovering the area as early as the 1870s, when the French artist Jules Tavernier and California native Charles Rollo Peters established their homes and art studios on the Monterey Bay.  The area, once secluded and relatively unknown, began to change rapidly in the 1880s with the introduction of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the opening of the famous Hotel Del Monte, which quickly became one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.  

The Hotel Del Monte, established by railroad baron Charles Crocker and funded by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, was one of the nation’s first and finest resorts.  The expansive complex featured elegant accommodations, an outdoor swimming pool, a golf course, polo grounds, and a track for horse--and later automobile--racing. The hotel was the starting and finishing point of the famed Seventeen-Mile Drive, which wound along the nearby coastline through what is now Pebble Beach.  Over time, the Monterey Peninsula became an attractive tourist destination where many Californians, including the Bruton family, vacationed. The Brutons spent an entire year in the seaside town of Pacific Grove, and they were on Monterey Peninsula during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when the shaking jolted one of the girls from her bed.¹

In addition to its attraction as a tourist destination, the Monterey Peninsula was an established destination for artists, with thriving art colonies in the towns of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. In the early twentieth century, the area’s temperate climate, cheap housing, and incomparable natural beauty had attracted the Bohemians of San Francisco who traveled south for expeditions to paint or sketch.  Some came for an entire summer to participate in art camps and classes. Many found the area so welcoming and appealing, and so ideally suited for their artistic needs, that they settled on the Monterey Peninsula permanently. In 1907, the Hotel Del Monte opened its own gallery, the first to showcase the work of California artists exclusively. For local artists, the gallery was an important venue and vital source of income.  It provided a unique opportunity for artists to display their works to affluent hotel visitors who could afford to buy them. Acclaimed artists Francis McComas, Ferdinand Burgdorff, and Jo Mora were some of the first to have their work displayed in the gallery. The Hotel Del Monte Gallery cemented the region’s reputation as a bonafide art colony and “helped introduce the best of California art to an international audience.”²  The Monterey Peninsula was producing talented artists who were achieving national--even international--levels of respect and recognition.

A mere four miles away from Monterey, another art colony was flourishing in the seaside hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Carmel was home to countless talented artists, including Mary DeNeale Morgan, E. Charlton Fortune, William Ritschel, Paul Dougherty, and Ferdinand Burgdorff.  Many of these artists banded together to support each other and promote their work, forming professional organizations such as the Carmel Art Association and the Carmel Art Institute.  The Carmel and Monterey art communities overlapped, yet they also had different styles and approaches. Carmel’s summer art school, founded in 1910 by William Merritt Chase, was more than a decade older than Monterey’s school.   Chase, an impressionist painter who was in his sixties when he came to Carmel, has been described as “the essence of the Gilded Age” and was known for his dislike of modern art His criticism of modernism resulted in a backlash that left him off the list of artists invited to exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  

William Merritt Chase, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection,
Smithsonian American Art Museum J0001378

Armin Hansen, on the other hand, was invited to exhibit his work at the Exposition and won a silver medal there. Yet Hansen, who was active in the Carmel Art Association and a co-founder of the Carmel Art Institute, was successful at bridging the gap between the Carmel and Monterey art colonies; he was “the most influential teacher and one of the best known painters in Monterey in those days, serving as a conduit between the bohemian moderns of Monterey and Carmel’s conservative art establishment.”4  Like Hansen, the Bruton sisters bridged this same gap.  Although they clearly identified themselves with the “Monterey Group," they frequently exhibited their works in galleries in Carmel and came to know many of the artists there.  Despite this, Helen Bruton remarked that the Carmel artists and the Monterey group were not very aware of each other; she said that for the most part, the Carmel artists were older and the Monterey group were younger, modern, and more progressive.5

¹Elise Jerram. Monterey County Herald, 18 Dec. 1977.
2Barbara J. Klein.  The Carmel Monterey Peninsula Art Colony: A History, p. 1.
3Robert W. Edwards.  Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History, East Bay Heritage Project, 2012, p. 132.
4Nancy Boas.  Society of Six: California Colorists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 136.
5Interview with Terry St. John, 21 July 1972.


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