One of the leaders of California plein air painting and considered the Dean of the Santa Barbara painters, John Marshall Gamble exemplified the California tradition of painting the magnificent flowering landscape en plein air. He was an astute observer of nature and was inspired by the natural design created by the flowers along the hillsides and canyons.
Born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1863, Gamble moved to San Francisco in 1883, where he enrolled at the San Francisco School of Design. He continued his studies at the Acadmie Julian in Paris in 1890. Returning to San Francisco three years later, he opened a studio and began to paint the colorful landscape of the area. Early in his career he developed a penchant for the flowering fields. He exhibited "Wild Mustard" in 1897 which received particular attention and "was perceived as 'out of the ordinary' at an exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute." (William Gerdts et al, All Things Bright and Beautiful, The Irvine Museum, 1998, p. 34) With the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, Gamble lost everything. Disheartened, he decided to leave San Francisco and travel to Los Angeles, intending to join his friend and fellow artist, Elmer Wachtel. On the journey south, Gamble stopped in Santa Barbara where he was instantly charmed by the beautiful coastal landscape, framed by the high Santa Barbara mountains. He decided that he need not go further; he had found his new home.
Gamble quickly developed a reputation as a leading artist of the area's natural magnificence. He was often criticized by eastern art critics, who maintained that he exaggerated the color of the landscape in his painting. Gamble was quick to take such visitors to the region's valleys so that they could witness first hand the hillsides blanketed with brilliant blooming wildflowers.
Wild Buckwheat near Ortega Hill, Santa Barbara was painted circa 1915 and is a superb example of Gamble's unique style of painting. The work is beautifully composed featuring a panoramic view of a Santa Barbara valley. A path bordered by blooming wild buckwheat leads up to the distant purple mountains capped with fluffy clouds. The impressionistic brushwork is indicative of Gamble's early work, where he builds a rich, painterly surface but maintains fine details in the landscape. "Gamble often worked in a soft, painterly manner emphasizing the cromatic range of golden poppies, blue and purple lupine, and sometimes the pink buckeye, along with wild lilac, wild mustard, and wild buckwheat, often framed... against the Santa Barbara mountains." (Gerdts, p. 35)