Naval paintings on view at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
“Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea,” an exhibit of 53 paintings chronicling the accomplishments of the U.S. Navy, from the USS Constitution to atomic bomb tests and expeditions to the North and South poles, will be at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum through May 30.
It’s the last show on the West Coast before the exhibit leaves for the East Coast.
A special feature of the unusual exhibit will be a Zoom presentation by the artist’s son, Geoffrey Campbell Beaumont, set for April 15. He will share personal stories about the various watercolor and oil paintings and provide viewers with his unique insight into this exhibit, the art and the artist.
In addition to the paintings, the show will be accompanied by his book, “Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea,” published by the Irvine Museum in Irvine.
“My father was called the U.S. Navy’s ‘Artist of the Fleet,’ an unofficial title given to him by Admiral William D. Leahy, who was the highest ranking officer in all of the armed services during World War II,” Mr. Beaumont told the News-Press by phone from his home in Las Vegas. “He was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first chief of staff.
“One of the paintings in the exhibit is a portrait of Admiral Leahy in 1936, which was done at my father’s studio at the Pacific Coast Club in Long Beach. It overlooked the harbor, then the home port for the naval fleet before it was moved to Pearl Harbor.”
The artist also did his impressionist paintings at his home studio in Hancock Park in Los Angeles, where Geoffrey grew up with three siblings.
“I remember playing my clarinet for Admiral Leahy there,” he said, recalling that his father, who died in 1978 at age 87, was born in Norfolk County, England, and came to the U.S. in 1908 to study art at UC Berkeley.
“When he ran out of money, he became a cowboy at the Miller and Lux Ranch near Modesto. He had learned horsemanship in England as a reserve cadet in the Royal Cavalry Corps. He did that off and on for three years before moving to Los Angeles and opening his first commercial art studio in 1917. There is a self-portrait of him riding a horse that was done in 1934 and titled ‘The Fence Rider,’ ” said Mr. Beaumont.
After studying with other artists in the U.S. and Europe and teaching art and watercolor painting, Arthur Beaumont received a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and became the Artist of the Fleet by 1933, beginning his lifelong work of depicting naval vessels in various settings and states of preparedness through World War II, nuclear bomb testing, the Korean War, in Vietnam and naval missions to China, Japan, Alaska and Antarctica as well as Revolutionary War-era sailing vessels and portraits of prominent naval officers.
“For 47 years, he painted for the Navy. My father was the first artist to paint an atomic bomb test at Bikini Island in July 1946, above and below the water,” said Mr. Beaumont, adding that his favorite painting is titled “USS Glacier and USS Arneb, Antarctica,” 1973.
“It’s a two-fer — a landscape and seascape all in one. It’s the only painting of my father I bought at an auction. The others were all given to me.”
Near the end of his life, the artist was asked by his daughter how many paintings he had done.
“He said he didn’t know, and he wasn’t going to count them, but my mother said it was more than 1,200,” said Mr. Beaumont. “She had kept track because she did the annual taxes for them. Ninety percent were about naval subjects, and 95 percent were watercolors.”