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  • by Jennifer Gunlock, Collections Manager

A Jonathan Club Legacy: Jack Wilkinson Smith

As the art collection in the Jonathan Town Club matures in prominence and quality, it’s fitting to take a look back at one chapter in the early period of its development, namely that of artist Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), whose own history aligns directly with the history of the building. When the Club resided on the top floors of the Pacific Electric Building in the first quarter of the past century, there was little room for painting in that already opulent palace.

When at the end of 1925 the Club opened the grand thirteen-floor structure it resides in today, it was clear that this enormous Italian Renaissance-style clubhouse had an abundance of blank walls in need of embellishment. The Club was challenged to ramp up its art collecting activity. To assist in this endeavor, the Artist Life Membership program was established (later eliminated in 1979 then restructured in 1991), in which a selected artist paid his membership fee with a valuable painting in place of cash. The first to hold this highly exclusive membership was Jack Smith, who was admitted in February 1926. Ninety years later, Smith now occupies a prominent seat among the Early California Impressionist masters. It’s only fitting that three of his paintings in the collection are so prominently displayed in the Town Club.

Smith was a master at using paint to convey mood and atmosphere. In Untitled (Seascape with Rocks) as well as his other two seascapes, Smith marries soft, sugary, cake frosting-like sea foam with unforgivingly hard-edged, jagged rocks. His treatment of the foam suggests that it is in constant motion. I feel the immense density of the whole Pacific Ocean beneath its surface, as it breaks over the rocks and pulls away, tugging the viewer back into its roiling depths.

Also part of Smith’s enduring popularity today is his remarkably sophisticated color palette. Depicted in the rocks most evidently, but also in the surf and sky, he mixes both cool and warm colors together, which add rich nuance to each object depicted. This complex color mixing suggests that all things on earth are composed of a host of unseen elements—the minerals in the rock, the particulate matter in the air, and the frothy chemical and biological soup that is the ocean.

If you wish to visit this and other paintings at the Jonathan Club, you may schedule a complimentary docent tour by contacting us at or (213) 312-5242.

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