This stunning oil painting by esteemed Swedish/American artist Carl Oscar Borg captures the hills of Santa Barbara bathed in the soft light of the afternoon and covered in the colorful blooms of spring. It is a prime example of American modernism, a landscape embedded with longing and steeped in beauty.
Despite being Swedish in origin, Carl Oscar Borg belongs to the pantheon of great American modernists, capturing not only the land and peoples of the United States but also aspects of its very essence. Known as ‘Dean of the California Artists,’ Borg is today considered one of the best artists to capture the indomitable spirit of “The West.”
Borg arrived in California in 1903, settling in the vicinity of Santa Barbara. While his life would bring him away from California for extended periods, it was here that he planted his roots. Our painting may consequently be said to be from his proverbial “backyard.”
While the motif is interesting because it depicts a landscape that he knew and loved dearly, the style and palette of the painting are just as important. Borg succeeded as a painter of American scenes during his lifetime, and his style and choice of motifs changed considerably over time. Thus, we see more romantic scenes of the American West in his early work and a distinctly post-impressionistic style.
After the end of World War I, the European art scene exploded, and an entirely new framework for artistic expression was created. Known as the Avantgarde, or simply ‘Modern Art,’ this creative revolution introduced many new ways to express one’s innermost feelings. Among the more well-known subsets of the modernist paradigm, we find famous styles such as cubism, expressionism, and surrealism.
During the 1920s, and especially the 1930s, Borg traveled repeatedly to Europe on study trips, slowly absorbing the overwhelming new possibilities. When World War II broke out, he was caught in neutral Sweden and was forced to stay there for the duration of the war. He began painting motifs from memory and in new and experimental ways. His palette, style, and motifs changed, moving from dynamic life scenes to capturing America’s extraordinary landscapes. Our painting belongs to this innovative and profoundly emotive period of Borg’s output, and is one of his late masterpieces.
Carl Oscar Borg enjoyed immense popularity during his lifetime and had a prolific output. But because his style and motifs developed considerably, his works command a broad spectrum of prices. Based on recent results in the market and the types of Borg works we have found in American museums, there is a consensus that the modernist landscapes constitute his best output.