A writer, muralist, designer, decorator, and landscape painter, Bruce Porter spent most of his career in San Francisco. Like other painters of his era, he moved away from the previous generation’s spectacular scenery to more personal and domesticated settings that conveyed “hidden and mysterious . . . spiritual qualities and impulses.”(1) The shift was partly due to the influence of French Barbizon painting, but additionally to Porter’s close association with other California Tonalists, including Arthur Mathews, William Keith, and his close friend Arthur Atkins. It was also a response to industrialization and a rapidly growing population. George Perkins Marsh’s 1864 book Man and Nature, the title of Porter’s painting, helped launch the conservation movement by promoting a concern about the adverse effects of human activities on the landscape. In this painting, through the title and a tiny figure of a nude man, Porter contemplates humanity’s place within the environment.
Born in San Francisco, Porter grew up in Martinez and received his art training in San Francisco and Europe. In 1893, he designed stained glass for San Francisco’s Swedenborgian church, an icon of Arts and Crafts architecture, and became a leader of Northern California’s Arts and Crafts movement.(2) Arts and Crafts ideals of hand craftsmanship and subtle, natural harmonies inspired the simple forms and quiet colors of his paintings.
(1) Bruce Porter, “The Beginning of Art in California,” in Art in California (San Francisco: R. L. Bernier, Publishers, 1916; reprint ed., Irvine, CA: Westphal Publishing, 1988), 32.
(2) Leslie M. Freudenheim, Building with Nature: Inspiration for the Arts & Crafts Home (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2005), 37.