Armin Hansen's scenes of man and the sea off the Northern California coast, such as the present work, are among his most celebrated images. "[His] coastal landscapes and marine paintings depicting Monterey's fishing industry rendered in bravura brush-strokes brought Hansen national recognition and made him one of Monterey's leading artists." (H.L. Jones, Impressions of California: Early Currents in Art 1850-1930, Irvine, California, 1996, p. 69) Decoration demonstrates the artist's inspired sense of color and composition and his profound, lifelong love of the ocean.
Born in San Francisco in 1886 to the Western painter Herman Wendelborg Hansen, Hansen enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco for formal training under Arthur Mathews. Hansen studied at the Institute for three years until the school was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Hansen left for Germany, where he studied in Stuttgart under Carlos Grethe and was influenced by his mentor's dark palette, German Impressionist style and, most significantly, his depictions of the ocean.
Hansen remained at the Academy for two years and then traveled briefly to Munich and through Holland and France before he finally settled in the North Sea town of Nieuwpoort, Belgium. In Nieuwpoort, Hansen's artistic interest in the sea became a reality when he signed on as a deck hand on a Norwegian steam trawler. He spent the next four years working periodically as a sailor on many boats in the North Sea, while also carrying a sketchbook with him to record his surroundings. During his shore leaves in Nieuwpoort and the nearby town of Oostend he painted finished works based on the sketches made at sea.
In 1912, Hansen returned to San Francisco, set up a studio and began a brief period of teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. A year after exhibiting and winning a silver medal for his paintings The Belated Boat and At the Breakfast Table at the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Hansen moved permanently from San Francisco to the Monterey Peninsula.
In Monterey, Hansen continued his exploration of imagery depicting the ocean and the various industries associated with it. "Armin Hansen was deeply moved by the sea and by the seafarers who braved its primal forces. ‘Every move I have made and everything I have done,' he once said, 'has always been to go back to the sea and to the men who give it romance. I love them all.' This powerful love of the sea and the pathos of seafaring life animates much of his work." (as quoted in Impressions of California: Early Currents in Art 1850-1930, p. 71) He captured the unpredictable oceans off the coasts of Northern Europe and California in saturated color, vigorous brushstrokes and with a sense of realism and accuracy gained from first-hand experience. "It is his concern with human dignity and courage in the midst of the powers of nature and ultimately, the beauty of both, that gives Hansen's work its greatness. Its strengths remain as timeless as the dramas he depicted." (A. White, C. Berney, Armin Hansen: The Jane and Justin Dart Collection, Monterey, California, p. 19) His dynamic and realistic scenes recall Edouard Manet’s depiction of the sea in L’évasion de Rochefort, circa 1881 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France).
Decoration is a visual celebration of the seafaring life the artist so loved. In the painting's lyrical composition, red, white and yellow sails and their reflections dance across a background of the deep blue bay. Hansen focuses the viewer's attention on the naturally decorative patterning of boats, people and water at the coast. He paints a typical day on the dock as sailors and deck hands chat while, perhaps, repairing and readying rigging and sails for approaching voyages. "From the piers and docks and wharves, and from the sand beaches and rocky covers Hansen viewed men and their struggle with the sea from countless angles, continuously refining his material over the years, exhibiting up and down the West Coast and occasionally in New York." (R.L. Westphal, R.L. Wilson, et al., Plein Air Painters of California: The North, Irvine, California, 1986, p. 89)