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Percy Gray is considered one of California's most important historical artists, and more specifically, one of the state's premier watercolorists. He was influential as a leader of the American art movement known as “Tonalism” that began in the 1880's and lasted well into the 1920's. Tonalism focused on creating an interpretation of nature using muted colors, soft outlines, and subtle nuances and gradations of single hues in a narrow range.
Born in San Francisco in 1869 to a family with an artistic heritage, Gray inherited a passion for art, and enrolled at the California School of Design at the age of sixteen. After working as a newspaper illustrator, he began his full-time career as a landscape painter in the Bay Area.
The inclusion of wildflowers in many of the artist's paintings contributes to the romantic mood and the vividly colored flowers provide a striking contrast to the softer subtler colors seen in the sky and hills in the background.
Creating visual poetry, large elegant trees are often abundant in his paintings. Works showcasing the gently sweeping branches of the Eucalypti and the majestic oak trees are particularly sought-after by collectors.
Throughout his career his style was reminiscent of the Barbizon School artists and grays, browns, and greens were usually his palette of choice. His paintings of clouds and moody skies above the trees give a quiet, poetic feel to his works, and convey feelings of calmness, peace, and timelessness. He often focused on the uniquely hazy atmospheric effects and softly blurred outlines commonly found in Northern California.
Percy Gray originally started working with oils. However, he became allergic to these materials, prompting his switch to watercolor.
Today, Percy Gray is unquestionably considered one of the most successful and well-known landscape painters to have worked in California during the early 20th Century. Gray spent his last years in Marin County continuing to paint until his death in 1952. His work has been exhibited at many public institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Oakland Museum, Santa Barbara Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and the Monterey Museum of Art.