Giuseppe Cadenasso, who was born near Genoa, Italy, came to California, where his uncle owned a vineyard, when he was 9 years old. As a young man, he moved to San Francisco and worked as a barber, waiter, and even an opera singer. His talents as a visual artist were discovered by Jules Tavernier, who introduced him to Joseph Harrington, from whom he received free art lessons. Tavernier’s Barbizon-inspired paintings were also significant to Cadenasso, whose own misty effects and expressive color eventually earned him the nickname The Corot of California.
Cadenasso’s most influential training came from Arthur Mathews at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. Mathews’s tonal style swayed a generation of California artists like Cadenasso to create quiet, poetic works with subtle color harmonies. Cadenasso’s work eschewed exact topographical description and at times approached complete abstraction, yet was always rooted in the California landscape. His favorite subjects were eucalyptus trees. These were so prominent in his work that his Russian Hill home in San Francisco was called The Sign of the Eucalyptus.
In 1902, Cadenasso left San Francisco to lead the art department at Mills College in Oakland. There, he continued to paint moody arboreal subjects in quiet tonal shades with thick paint that he often applied with his fingers.