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  • by Jennifer Gunlock, Collections Manager

Millard Sheets: Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

We open this article with sadness over the recent passing of longtime supporter and past president of the Jonathan Art Foundation, Mr. H. T. Joe Mulryan. His service on the JAF Board from 1998 to 2006, and again from 2008 to 2011 has contributed to JAF’s growth and maturation. This article is dedicated to the Millard Sheets watercolor, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, for which JAF had created a wall plaque in 2008 in the memory of Joe’s late wife, Lenore Hoag Mulryan. The painting, acquired by JAF in 1999, while Joe served on the Board, has since taken up permanent residence at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica.

Millard Sheets (1907-1989) was born in Pomona, California, and over his lifetime he became a Southern California icon with massive influence on an entire generation of watercolorists. Known as a watercolorist and muralist, his monumental mosaic works can be seen all over Los Angeles at City Hall, Chase Bank (formerly Home Savings and Loan) in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Studio City, the Marciano Art Foundation (formerly Scottish Rite Masonic Temple) in Los Angeles, and Scripps College in Claremont—to name just a few locations.

His watercolors, with which he was prolific over a span of decades, showed an expansive stylistic range. His early Depression-era works reflect the direct, gestural mark-making of his contemporaries, whose mission was to capture real life at the present moment: the farms, the factories, and the landscape, purposefully devoid of romantic or idealistic inflection. Sheets traveled around the world throughout his life, absorbing influences of the ever shifting European Modernist schools and of local folk art. His expansion into mosaics and other decorative media also contributed to his playing with the abstracted landscape in his watercolor work.

Fisherman’s Wharf was painted during the economic boom of post-war America, a time when the middle class was on the rise, and with it increased wealth to devote to tourism and recreation. This painting’s bold colors and energetic line-work reflect the burgeoning optimism of the era. Sheets raced to capture the fleeting moment of a scene frenetically buzzing with activity in classic plein air style, as the fishermen worked their nets, tourists shuffled along the pier, and gulls flung themselves frantically in circling swoops.

This painting’s placement at the Jonathan Beach Club is an obviously good one. The Club’s sweeping views of blue sky and sea, and of the famous pier to the north, are replicated in Sheets’ composition. If you have an opportunity to visit the Beach Club, be sure to pause at the Pier to breathe in its salty sea.

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