From the late 1930s through the 1960s, Emil Kosa was a nationally-recognized watercolorist, a notable Southern California landscape painter, and a special-effects artist for Twentieth Century Fox, where he won an Oscar for his work on "Cleopatra" in 1964. In 1951, he was elected a...
From the late 1930s through the 1960s, Emil Kosa was a nationally-recognized watercolorist, a notable Southern California landscape painter, and a special-effects artist for Twentieth Century Fox, where he won an Oscar for his work on "Cleopatra" in 1964. In 1951, he was elected a full member in the National Academy of Design, one of the few Golden State artists so honored. Kosa, who had settled permanently in Los Angeles in 1928, portrayed the growth of Los Angeles in his watercolors, and depicted the countryside primarily in his oils. Today, although he is less well known on the East Coast, his work is in private collections and several public museums on the West Coast. Southern California had been known in the early decades of the twentieth century for its plein-air landscape painters. Renowned for its sunshine and splendid scenery, the area's mild climate allowed artists to work out-of-doors year round, and thus landscape painting became a favored genre. In October 1941, while Kosa was painting "Murietta's Retreat," "Life Magazine" published an article entitled "California Painters, Their Land Lends Grandeur to Their Work," which heralded "a new stream of American art which is making art news throughout the country." The article proclaimed that the California paintings were "earmarked by some of the spaciousness and grandeur of the land itself," and Kosa's "Mountains Could Talk" (present location unknown), a view of Black Mountain southeast of Los Angeles belonging to William Randolph Hearst, was one of eight works illustrated. While Kosa and the Southern California School were receiving national recognition, mass tourism and development had begun to change the state. In "Murietta's Retreat" and his other canvases of the 1940s, Kosa seems to have been attempting to record the landscape he loved before it disappeared under highways, commercial buildings, and homes. In a long letter to the Museum curator in 1943, Kosa explained "Murietta's Retreat": "I associate California with much sunshine, golden yellow dry grass in the summertime, and a lot of Spanish influence. The location of Murrieta's [sic] Retreat is about forty miles from Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley region. There are many interesting little valleys there, slowly being commercialized, unfortunately. But the natural beauty still remains…This place in reality is called Brent's Crags. But old timers gladly point out a cave and remnants of an old dwelling and an old road that had a colorful sort of Mexican Robin Hood who robbed the rich and gave [to] the poor and used very little discretion with beautiful senoritas…It is said that when things got too hot for him, he'd come to this place for a hideout…I painted it in the Fall of 1941" (Emil J. Kosa, Jr. to W. G. Constable, January 31, 1943, curatorial files, Art of the Americas Department, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Kosa completed at least two more renditions of the present subject: "Muriatta's Valley" (exhibited at the Cowie Galleries in 1947; present location unknown) and "Brent's Crags" (exhibited at the Biltmore Art Galleries in 1946; present location unknown). In addition to explaining his colorful title, Kosa wrote that he had used "sun-thickened oil" so that he could "produce the intensity of light in the sky which is so characteristic of California." He also disclosed that he had employed "worn-out, raggedy brushes" to achieve the lively effects in the vegetation. "Murietta's Retreat" was probably painted out-of-doors - Kosa is known to have worked outside, even on fairly large canvases such as the Museum's painting. For the rest of the 1940s and into the 1950s, Kosa continued to portray the valleys and mountains of Southern California in oil paintings. Kosa's lushly painted scenes constitute a visual tribute to one region of the American scene and a nostalgic view of an unspoiled paradise. Janet Comey
Lower right: E J Kosa Jr
By 1942, with Vose Galleries, Boston; 1942, sold by Vose Galleries to the MFA for $500. (Accession Date: March 13, 1941)
The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund