Landscape, 1940, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, signed, dated and titled verso: “Marcel Cailliet ’40 – S.C.” and “Marcel Cailliet Landscape”; likely exhibited at the annual juried students' exhibition of paintings at the Fine Arts Gallery of the United States Department of the Interior, Washington, DC., January/February, 1941, organized under the auspices of the United States Office of Education; Literature: Students’ Paintings Shown in Washington, The Los Angeles Times, February 11, 1941, Part I, p. 8 (“Of the 148 paintings selected, five were chosen from S.C.’s College of Architecture and Fine Arts . . . “Landscape” also was submitted by Marcel Cailliet, graduate student and now instructor at Arizona State Teachers College.”)
About the Painting
Landscape is a rare California Scene oil painting by the little-known, but talented, Marcel Cailliet. Cailliet painted Landscape in Los Angeles in 1940 during the last year of his MFA studies at the University of Southern California. Although still a student when he painted Landscape, Cailliet had already won awards and had his paintings included in prestigious museums and exhibitions, including the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco. Landscape itself was likely exhibited in Washington DC at the Fine Arts Gallery of the Department of the Interior in Washington DC, after having been selected in a national competition. Cailliet’s Landscape portrays a highly designed cluster of California ranch buildings and a windmill for drawing water from a well, all sitting above a sunken road where a rancher walks into the distance. These elements are typical of many regionalist paintings from the Depression Era Mid-West, but what sets Cailliet’s California Landscape apart is its dramatic quality. By adopting a palette of strongly contrasting colors to render the stormy sky, the barns, the single figure, and the surrounding dry California hills, Cailliet creates dark, clearly defined and ominous shadows. The stark lighting, upward thrust of the ranch structures and the bare tree to the right of the composition are distinctly cinematic, which is not surprising given the influence movie and animation studio artists had over the Los Angeles artworld of the 1930s and 1940s. The overall feel of Landscape seems to recall the farm and tornado scenes from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy’s fictional Kansas collides with the Southern California ranchlands.
About the Artist
Marcel Emile Cailliet lived and worked in Pennsylvania, California and Hawaii. There are conflicting records regarding his exact date and place of birth. He was born either in Dijon, France or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is clear, however, that he was living in the United States from a young age. Cailliet graduated from Villanova University and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art before relocating to Los Angeles in 1938, where he and his family lived at 1302 W 45th St. Calliet’s Father was a professor of music at the University of Southern California and an arranger for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Cailliet continued his art training in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art School and in the graduate program at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture and Fine Arts, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1940 and served as a painting instructor. While a student, he was a member of the Laguna Beach Art Association which awarded a prize to one of Cailliet’s marine paintings in 1939, the same year his works were exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exhibition and the Oakland Art Gallery. Cailliet was also a member of the California Watercolor Association. After graduating from USC, Cailliet became an assistant professor of painting at the Arizona State Teachers College in Tempe (now Arizona State) in late 1940. He was honored with a well-reviewed one-person show at the Lyceum Building soon after his arrival at Arizona State. In addition to painting, Cailliet designed theater sets and even puppets during his time in Tempe. In 1941, he married Helene Amoy, who was from a prominent family in Hawaii, and painter and muralist in her own right. In 1942, Cailliet stepped back from working full-time as a professional artist and painting instructor to accept positions in the aviation industry, first as a designing engineer for Goodyear Aircraft Corporation and later for Lockheed. He then served in the US Navy during World War II, including as the Executive Officer of the Navy Pacific University at Pearl Harbor, and he continued in the Naval Reserves into the 1950s. After leaving active service, Cailliet stayed in Hawaii where he pursued various business management roles, while working part-time as an artist. In 1946, he illustrated a book on Hawaiian Luaus and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Cailliet taught painting at the Honolulu School of Art. Both Cailliets continued to paint and sometimes teach and exhibit their work through Helene’s death in 1986. Marcel remarried and lived a long life before his death in 2007.