TALES FROM THE FIELD | Part Six
Part 6: Hunt for the Missing Artwork
By David Boysel
(To view the other parts of the story, click here.)
It is important to realize that movie theatre furnishing did not often feature original art. The use of artwork that was both contemporary and American, such as the Paramount had, was highly unusual. By far most common was artwork copied or adapted from other sources, most often European and antique. Original antique paintings or other valuable art objects only appeared in the most lavish theatres, with higher decorating budgets. Copied art was the accepted norm.
The Mezzanine Lounge had three paintings originally, all listed in the 1934 inventory.
In the 1932 photo of the Mezzanine Men’s Lounge, you can see through the doorway into the Public Lounge, and get a half-view of the untitled landscape by American Impressionist painter Chauncey Foster Ryder (1868-1949). This is the best view we have of the painting, frame, and its placement on the wall.
Another painting in the lounge, “Chestnut Trees”, by Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962) may have hung on the wall to the right of the Ryder, it is listed on the 1934 inventory, but is indistinctly shown in period photographs. It also was replaced with a Giclee in 2011, “Oak Trees in Spring”, by Ryder, c.1930.A Giclee on canvas, “Across the Valley” (1927) by Ryder, was chosen to replace the lost original painting in 2011, similar in subject, size and feel to the missing painting. Mario Donoso is shown adding texture to the canvas with a clear. heavy bodied emulsion, to emulate a real oil painting. The frame size and style were selected using the 1932 photograph as a reference. The Giclee reproduction is shown again through the same doorway in 2013 for comparison.
The third painting in the Mezzanine Lounge hung where a menu for the bar is now located. It was “New England Farm Land” by Frederick Judd Waugh (1861-1940). One edge of the frame is shown, rather vaguely, in a single period photograph.
All three artists were American, working in an Impressionist style, and all three were landscapes featuring hills and trees, pleasant scenery, celebrating nature. It was the kind of view which could be almost anyplace in the US, even California. None of the paintings were jarring, they all had a comfortable aspect, and celebrated nature.
A pattern emerges when having a serious look at the Paramount’s original paintings, almost any of them could be California-related, but only maybe two in twenty actually were West Coast. It was artwork that did not compete with the architecture, images that the anticipated typical theatre patron could freely identify with and instantly feel at ease viewing, nothing jarring or unsettling. Comfortable, non-apologetic decoration. This American Impressionist art was “Modern” in 1931, or at least about as modern as the American public could accept at the time.
For the now iconic 1925 Exposition in Paris, President Wilson was invited to submit entries from the US. His simple response, “We have no modern art.”
That says it all.