Press Releases

American Masters of Art Nouveau - The Art of Arthur and Lucia Mathews Coming to the Akron Art Museum

For Release: June 2008

Akron, Ohio, June 5, 2008 – Luminous paintings, stylish furnishings and dazzling decorative objects by the husband and wife team considered to be American Masters of Art Nouveau are featured in California as Muse: The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews. The exhibition opens at the Akron Art Museum Saturday, June 21, 2008 and runs through Sunday, September 7, 2008.

Arthur and Lucia Mathews were creators of what has become known to scholars as the California Decorative Style, a unique fusion of artistic European influences at the turn of the twentieth century, including Art Nouveau, and the ideals of the international Arts and Crafts movement — all in a California setting.
The Mathews were among California’s most important artists of that century, yet it has been almost four decades since a comprehensive selection of their work has been seen outside the state. Of particular interest to audiences today is the awareness that the Mathews may have been the first married couple in America to work together as equals in an artistic enterprise. Until recent decades, most artists’ wives who also trained as artists subordinated their careers to their husbands’ efforts.

Arthur (1860-1945), born in Wisconsin and Lucia (1870-1955), a native San Franciscan, met in 1893 at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, in San Francisco. Arthur served as director and teacher and Lucia was enrolled in his women’s life class. Arthur was an established artist who had studied in Paris. Lucia had spent a year at Mills College before coming to the Institute. They married in 1894 and toured Europe from 1898-99, returning to San Francisco so Arthur could return to teaching.

The Mathews dreamt of transforming their home town of San Francisco into a new Utopia, one imbued with the luminosity of the California landscape, the harmony of classical art, the grace of Art Nouveau and the populist ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 gave the couple a blank slate on which to incorporate aesthetic standards in the design and production of practical necessities.

Gathering around them artisans, architects, developers and city planners, the Mathews re-conceptualized San Francisco. With a local entrepreneur, they established the Furniture Shop, successfully combining art with commerce by creating artful products for commercial and residential interiors.

Although the couple collaborated on Furniture Shop projects and shared a love of the rich, nuanced tones in nature, each had a distinctive style. His paintings and murals often drew on classical references, with mythological figures placed in idyllic California settings, dancing or admiring the bountiful land and vistas. From the foundation of Arthur’s vision Lucia Mathews developed her own personal style and philosophy. Her work centered on images of children, botanicals and landscapes.

Akron Art Museum director Mitchell Kahan explains, “In California during the 1970s, I discovered the Mathews’ work and could not understand why such extraordinary artists were virtually unknown east of the Mississippi. I have wanted to show their paintings and furniture for thirty years, and finally the opportunity has come to showcase these gorgeous pieces. A tour through this sumptuous exhibition will brighten every visitor’s day.”

California as Muse contains 67 works by the Mathews, from elaborately carved frames, furniture and decorative pieces produced by the Furniture Shop to lusciously colored paintings and delightful drawings made in their private studios.

This exhibition was organized by The Oakland Museum of California, which acknowledges the following contributors: The Oakland Museum Women’s Board; The Brayton Wilbur Foundation; the Art Guild of the Oakland Museum of California; The National Endowment for the Arts; Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Holloway; and Nancy Stryble, in memory of Francis and Margaret Stryble.

Presentation in Akron is made possible by major sponsorship from Akron Community Foundation and the David H. & Barbara M. Jacobs Foundation with additional support from Merrill Lynch.

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