Image: Joseph Raphael (1869-1950), Tea in the Orchard
A native of San Francisco, Joseph Raphael trained early in his career with Christian Jorgensen and Solly Walter. Raphael was quite active in the Bay Area during the 1890s, as a newspaper illustrator and later as a sign painter. Like many of the artists of the time, Raphael continued his artistic education abroad. By 1903, he saved enough money to pursue studies in Paris. He attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Académie Julian. During this Parisian interval, he supported himself by creating illustrations for a number of French magazines. In 1910, Raphael stayed for eight months in San Francisco, where he exhibited his predominantly figural Dutch series at the Art Association. Following his return to Laren, Holland in 1912, he married Johanna Jongkindt and moved to a small cottage in Uccle, a suburb of Brussels. Here, Raphael's children, his garden and home were frequent subjects and it is in Uccle where Raphael settled into his 'signature' style—that of broad brushstrokes loaded with thick paint and bright colors. This expressive use of paint is exemplified in Tea in the Orchard.
Joseph Raphael (1869-1950), Tea in the Orchard
While Raphael essentially lived as an expatriate in Europe, his artistic standing in San Francisco remained strong and his visibility constant. This was due in no small part to the patronage of Albert M. Bender (1866-1941). As early as 1911, Bender championed Raphael's work and actively brokered it through such firms as Helgesen Gallery on Sutter Street. Bender was a great patron of the arts, particularly in the first quarter of the 20th Century, supporting Diego Rivera as well as a young Ansel Adams. One resounding indication of Raphael's prestige in San Francisco was the display of six paintings at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition where the artist won a silver medal. The following year, a reviewer for the Oakland Tribune who attended Raphael's show in June at Helgesen praised the Belgian works for "vividness that makes the picture bring before the beholder the beauties of the original gardens. Raphael revels in color, and his themes are chosen largely for their radiant qualities which he paints with splendid force and conviction."
Tea in the Orchard is a significant painting in Raphael's body of work. The painting features many of the disparate artistic movements that influenced Raphael's vision. Compositionally, the painting draws on a central triangular form dating back to the Renaissance. The tree trunks on the left recede into the distance forming the left side of the triangle. The two young girls and the chair form the right side of the triangle, and the tablecloth forms the base. This triangle focuses the eyes of the viewer just off center as if they were sitting at the table enjoying the sunshine and tea. The subject matter is straight from the Impressionist playbook with the bright outdoor light. Raphael himself compared the summer light in Belgium to painting in California. Many years after it was painted, Tea in the Orchard was included in Raphael's one-man show at the Oakland Art Gallery. In January 1933, one critic wrote: "Here the artist has given his imagination full play with sunlight falling through flowering trees. It is an example of true impressionism carried to its farthest point to be safe."
The various brushwork on display show the heady influence of Pointillism along with other Post-Impressionist inspirations. The tablecloth is composed of a loose pattern of white and blue daubs which descend into abstraction much like many passages of the painting upon close inspection. In the trees, one sees broader, broken strokes of color with both isolated and layered strokes. The palette is largely creamy greens and pinks and blues with splashes of purple and bold shades of green, yellow and orange. There are furthers pops of saturated color in the flesh tones of the girls and trunks of the trees in the distance. The surface is dynamic and continuously activated by the structural nature of the impasto. This is Raphael at the height of his powers—an artist of whom William Clapp, of the Society of Six, wrote: "In my opinion Raphael is the greatest artist California has produced, in fact he is close to being the greatest Impressionist that the whole nation has produced."
California and Western Paintings and Sculpture
Los Angeles, 6 August, 2019
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