San Francisco

Peter Hurd

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

This rather large retrospective exhibition of paintings by Peter Hurd occupies three galleries and could have been improved by some pruning. The earliest paintings in the show are from the mid-1920s: these works are in oil on canvas and depict atmospheric autumnal Pennsylvania landscapes with warm vibrant colors and bold swirling brushstrokes in a moderately heavy impasto, somewhat reminiscent of Van Gogh. After the twenties Hurd changed his locale, his style and his medium and concentrated on developing a Southwestern regionalism in egg tempera on gesso panel, and occasionally in watercolors. Mr. Hurd was clearly influenced by such outstanding exponents of the regionalistic movement in American art as Grant Wood, Thomas Benton and Andrew Wyeth, although his work fails to sustain the consistency of style and approach of these artists. Hurd has frequently let his “grass-roots bias” lead him into turning out genre scenes of deplorable parochial sentimentality and triteness, while on the other hand he has here and there developed subject matter unique to the region with unusual insight. As cases in point, there is a work entitled “Oasis” depicting youths swimming in a well with all of the banality characteristic of hundreds of such “old swimming hole” rustic cliches that one has seen reproduced on commercial advertising calendars; in contrast, however, there is the painting entitled “The Water Hole” depicting a luminous mirror-surfaced pool reflecting sky and clouds with only a segment of the desert around it, and no horizon to form an interpretive reference. This is a unique approach to such a subject and the painting has an abstract-surreal quality. It may be said too, that Mr. Hurd’s large broadly painted vistas of Southwestern mountains and plains, while conventional in all respects, achieve considerable sweep and grandeur, and the egg tempera medium is adroitly handled to catch the clear, crisp outlines and the luminosity of color so characteristic of the dry atmosphere and bright sunlight of the region.

Mr. Hurd’s portraits are sometimes merely commercial, but at other times eloquently dramatize regional types against characteristic local landscape in a manner spiritually akin to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”

Palmer D. French