Sketch for a Mural Decoration, 1925.
Gottardo Piazzoni (American, born Switzerland, 1872–1945)
Oil on canvas, 43 x 30 1/8 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Russell Chatham, conserved with funds provided by the Historical Collections Council of California Art, 2010.1.

When asked, “And what is your religion?” Gottardo Piazzoni hesitated, then replied, “I think it is California.”(1) Piazzoni’s statement summarizes the essence of his landscape painting. Through an economy of means, his paintings extract nature’s underlying spirit. He depicts the earth’s elemental forms — land, sky, and sea — in large flat expanses of subdued color that communicate the artist’s interest in modernity, in evoking nature’s moods, and his kinship with, and reverence for, California.

Of Swiss-Italian heritage, Piazzoni was born in Intragna, Switzerland and spent much of his boyhood there until he moved with his mother and brother to Monterey County in 1887, joining his father on a dairy farm he had established in the Chupinos country above Carmel Valley. He studied at the California School of Design from 1891 to 1894 and then traveled to Paris to train at the Académie Julian. After a year, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose tightly rendered, orientalizing subjects seemed to influence his own work very little.

Two of the most influential figures in Piazzoni’s development were his California professors Raymond Dabb Yelland and Arthur Mathews. From Yelland, Piazzoni came to appreciate the California landscape as a manifestation of divinity. From Mathews, he learned to use subdued, tonal colors and the flattened, decorative forms of mural painting. This painting, which served as the starting point for a mural, evokes spirituality — the figure and sheep serving as a quiet, biblical metaphor. It also evidences Piazzoni’s belief that the color and compositions of paintings should be in total harmony and that the two-dimensionality of the painted surface should always be respected.

1. Max Stern, “Twenty-five Great Californians, No. 21, Gottardo Piazzoni: His Religion is California,” San Francisco News, 29 November 1929.

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