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By Kate Kiebala

Rex Brandt influenced an innumerable amount of artists through his inspirational watercolors, 15 instructional books, 6 instructional videos and the 48 years he spent devoted to teaching. Brandt’s years spent teaching, his comedic nature, and his lively, uninhibited watercolors make him a legend of the watercolor world to this day.

Table of Contents


Rex Brandt was born on September 12, 1914 in San Diego, California. Showing interest in art at a young age, Brandt starting taking Saturday classes at the Chouinard Art Institute while still in junior high. He continued on to graduate from both Riverside Polytechnic High School and Riverside Junior College with honors. He then moved on to receive a M.A. in Fine Arts from UC Berkeley, where he studied under Hans Hofman (1880-1966) whose influence geared him towards Abstract Expressionism. His early work was so impressive to those around him that in 1935, he became the youngest painter in America to be included in Mallet’s International Index of Artists. Brandt continued his art education doing post graduate work at both Stanford University and the University of Redlands in 1938.

In this time period, American artists were attempting to make artistic styles that were uniquely American. Various regional schools began focusing on a more indigenous and native style. Because of this, many artists rejected the popular trends that were booming in Europe. They attempted to create something more organic and original to their respective areas. When Brandt moved back to Southern California and settled down with his new wife Joan Mallock Irving in the late 1930s, this was exactly the type of doctrine that the California Watercolorists were practicing. A group of well-received artists from the California Watercolor Society immediately recognized Brandt’s talents and gladly welcomed him into their group.

The California Watercolorists, which included Millard Sheets (1907-1989), Milford Zornes (born 1908) and Barse Miller (1904-1973), were particularly noted for taking watercolor to an entirely new level by using larger paper formats, for working very quickly en plein air, using wet on wet techniques, and using bold, bright colors. Brandt’s lively and buoyant landscapes align with this group perfectly, and he was immediately successful in his area. He received his first, and most cherished award, at the California State Fair in 1934, where he took first place in watercolor; many more awards were soon to follow.

Though the group was well received in their area, an individual would have been hard pressed to find someone out of the California area that would be able to recognize any of these artists. Rex Brandt and artist Lawson Cooper changed that in 1937 when they organized a traveling exhibition titled, “The California Group.” The title of this show later became the most popular name for their style of artwork. The show traveled all over the East Coast, and Lawson Cooper arranged lectures around the theme of the show that he read on the radio. Soon, the artists were just as popular in New York as they were in Los Angeles. Around this time, in 1938, Fortune magazine published Rex’s first portfolio of paintings and things were truly looking up for him. The icing on the cake came when Brandt was chosen as one of the premier California Watercolorists to exhibit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair art exhibition, titled American Art Today.

Brandt’s personal life was taking off in the early 40s as well. In the spring of 1940, he and Joan purchased a summer home, which they admit was really just a “shack” for $250 in Corona Del Mar. They later transformed the home into an estate spanning four lots and appropriately dubbed “Blue Sky.” This same year, their first daughter, Joan was born, and in 1944, their second daughter, Shelley, was born. During the 1940s, Rex had many teaching stints ranging from being elected as the head of the Art department at Riverside Junior College (1937-43), to becoming a faculty member at the University of Vermont (1940), USC (1941-43), Scripps College in Claremont (1941), the Chouinard Art School (1947-56), and many more. His dedication to teaching younger generations of artists continued into the late 1980.

Realizing that teaching was one of his passions, he and Joan along with Phil and Betty Dike teamed up to establish the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting in 1947. In these workshops, the Brandts and the Dikes would teach their students using the plein air method of painting outdoors. Brandt and Dike taught their students to paint what they felt, not necessarily what they saw. The artists would invite their well renowned friends and fellow artists to help guest teach at their workshops. The result was a fabulous image of hundreds of amateur artists with their easels and boards sprawled across the Cliffside of the “Blue Sky” estate all painting whatever dazzling light or contrasting colors spoke to them.

As a result of the need for basic workbooks on technical aspects of watercolor for the summer workshops, Brandt began his publishing career. Though this “text book” started as photocopied sheets bound together in a spiral ring, he decided to officially publish it in 1950 titling it, Watercolor in 15 Easy Lessons. Fourteen other books would follow from Brandt including: Watercolor with Rex Brandt (1949), The Winning Ways of Watercolor (1973), The Artists Sketchbook and Its Many Uses (1966). His books cemented his reputation as an influential artist and officially made him a legend amongst American Watercolorists.

Throughout Brandt’s career he won hundreds of awards and his works have been exhibited in nearly every big gallery in the United States. He is a member of some of the most prestigious art societies and clubs, and his experience as a teacher of painting includes sessions all over the state of California. Moreover, his books have reached an innumerable amount of students all across this country. When Brandt passed away from a heart attack at his home in Corona Del Mar at the age of 85, he died one of the most well decorated, highly esteemed watercolorists the United States has ever seen.


“If I have an ability it’s not as an artist, but it is to ignite – to achieve a pitch that comes spontaneously.” –Rex Brandt

Brandt’s work has always primarily represented the careless, joyful nature of the beach and its activities and lifestyle. His creations emerge more as reactions to the happenings around him in his life than representations of real things. Living in California and absorbing all the influences around him, his art became a beautiful synthesis of the bold colors of Latin art, like the murals of Diego Rivera, and the spontaneity of Japanese landscapes. Though he dabbled in gouache and oil painting as well as printmaking and etching, Brandt’s main medium has always been watercolor. The medium appealed to Brandt because of the speed with which he could work in it and its portable nature. Throughout his oeuvre, Brandt succeeded in representing the true feeling of the sun, the seemingly carefree lifestyle of Southern California and the joy of not taking life, or even art, too seriously.

Brandt’s early influences came from his early work at the Chouinard Institute and his days at UC Berkeley. Rex once said of his time at UCB that, “the first thing that happened [at Berkeley] was quite a shock: to learn that pictures had an inner life quite independent of the subject. The next thing of course, was to become homesick for the warm waters and sunny days of the Southland.” 1Brandt also explains that Hans Hoffman, a legend of Modernism, influenced him a great deal and steered him towards a lifelong interest in Abstract Expressionism.

As much as Berkeley molded him as an artist, as soon as Brandt graduated he headed straight back to the sunny Southland. He explains that, “I used the $40 I had saved to rent a cottage at Laguna Beach where I could tackle the problem of painting the sea and sun without losing my Berkeley vocabulary. You might say I’ve been struggling with it ever since.”2 What Brandt describes as “struggling with” critics have since described as an astounding balance between representation and abstract design, setting him apart from most of the artists of his day who were either strictly representational or strictly abstract.

As Janice Lovoos explains, Afternoon at Kellers (1935), a painting from Brandt’s undergrad work is a prime example of his efforts to reconcile content with form. She says, “Sunlight emanates from the middle of the sheet, its path bending the distance upward in a way which has become characteristic of the artist’s style. A tense, linear grille of figurative images – boats, figures and zigzag dock, overlay the golden light like leading in a stained glass window.” 3 This painting was an immediate success for Brandt; it has won him multiple awards and remains one of Brandt’s personal favorites.

At the height of the California Group’s popularity, the US entered WWII putting an abrupt halt to their growing fame and esteem. Many artists had to enter the armed forces or worked as animators for Disney to get by during these hard times. After the war, there was never the same demand for watercolors as there was before the war, and many of the members of his group became “has-beens.” What kept Brandt popular after the war was his ability to grow and change as an artist. The trends in art were now leaning more towards abstract styles. Brandt gladly took on the ideas of Abstract Expressionism, while many of his group refused to adapt and wished to continue doing “pure” watercolors of simple representations.

Though Brandt’s work has ranged from Cubist abstraction, to Abstract Expressionism, to Realism, he has always had common threads and themes throughout his work. Regardless of the style that he used on a particular day, Brandt’s style always seemed to be, as art historian Janice Lovoos states a, “spontaneous combustion on paper that goes beyond planning. It seems flawless, appearing to have been dropped onto the picture plane without premeditation, creating exactly the right juxtapositions of shapes and colors. White paper sparkles through. We are persuaded.”4

Brandt always chose to work en plein air, so that he could truly identify with the scene and grasp the feeling of the area around him. He has been quoted as saying, “Have you ever noticed, you sit down alongside a stable, and the first thing you get is this awful smell. You’re painting this barn, but what you smell will change the colors you use in the barn! And then maybe the next thing you do is hear a horse whinnying, and it beguiles you. And that changes what you feel about the scene. Sight, sound, smell – all the senses – will do those things. It’s just natural but it means keeping your perceptive pores open.”5 It is this raw freshness that makes his painting so impressive and that creates an appeal for such a wide variety of people.

Another major theme that weaves its way throughout Brandt’s work is contrast. In Big Sur Coast (1966), Brandt could have chosen to represent the jagged, sharp edges of a cliff, or the incredible heights that the cliff reaches. He could have chosen to represent the vastness of the Pacific Ocean or its never-ending horizon. But, he chose instead to juxtapose the two together, showing the wonders of Mother Nature and the possibilities of the world. Furthermore, he plants man-made objects like docks to show the ongoing battle of man vs. nature. Similarly, in High Noon at Garnet (1976), he could have simply made a sublime representation of the awe-inspiring immense desert, but instead he chose to plant a billboard and telephone lines in the middle of this to show the dramatic contrasts of our world.

It seems that Brandt’s favorite contrast to represent was that of bold colors. Typical of much of his work, Ultralight on the Ortega (1984) has bold sweeps of color running down the cliff side and on the sides of a home that starkly contrast with the white of the paper he lets shine through where the sun hits on the roof and on the airplane in the sky. Looking through his vast collection, it is clear that regardless of the subject, he loves to juxtapose sharp changes to catch the wonders of nature and the world we live in.

His most prominent theme throughout his work was the play of light, whether on water, sails, roofs or the ground Brandt loved the challenge of representing the sun. He explains that, “You can’t paint the sun, you can only symbolize it. It’s the regenerative feeling of its presence that I seek to paint, not just the look of it.” 6 And that is exactly what Brandt has achieved throughout his career. In a time when many artists were painting about social problems and the war, Brandt chose to represent the sun and all the fun and happiness that is associated with it. By not troubling himself over with theory, he was able to create natural, free-flowing pictures that truly grasped the feel of mid-century California. This is the legacy that his paintings leave today – the carefree feeling of a simpler, happier time.

  1. 1. Lovoos, Janice. Two From California: Joan Irving and Rex Brandt. Riverside: Riverside Art Museum, 1984.
  2. 2. Ibid.
  3. 3. Ibid.
  4. 4. Ibid.
  5. 5. Champa, Paula. "Teacher Achievement Award/Watercolor: Rex Brandt." American Artists Magazine. June 1993, p. 30-38.
  6. 6. Lovoos, Janice. Two From California: Joan Irving and Rex Brandt.


  • 1914 Born, September 12 in San Diego, CA
  • 1928 Began taking Saturday classes at Chouinard Art Institute while still in junior high
  • 1932 Graduated Riverside Polytechnic High School with honors
  • 1934 Graduated Riverside Junior College with honors
  • 1935 Youngest painter in America to be included in Who’s Who and Mallett’s International Index of Artists
  • 1936 Received M.A. in Fine Arts from UC Berkeley
  • 1937 Organized The California Group, a traveling watercolor exhibition with Lawson Cooper
  • 1937 Fortune Magazine published first portfolio of paintings
  • 1938 Post graduate studies at Stanford University
  • 1938 Post graduate studies at University of Redlands
  • 1938 Married Joan Mallock Irving in Riverside, CA
  • 1939 Selected to exhibit in the New York World’s Fair art exhibition, American Art Today
  • 1940 The Brandts purchase a “shack” for $250 in Corona Del Mar. later developed and dubbed “Blue Sky”
  • 1940 Daughter, Joan, is born
  • 1941 Article in Life magazine, October 27
  • 1944 Daughter, Shelley, is born
  • 1946 Moved to Corona del Mar, CA with wife, Joan Irving
  • 1946 Founded Rex Brandt Associates
  • 1947-54 Established and Taught at Brand-Dike Summer School of Painting
  • 1949 Watercolor With Rex Brand published
  • 1950 Watercolor in 15 Easy Lessons published
  • 1955-1985 Established and Led Brandt Painting Workshop
  • 1959 The Composition of Landscape Painting was published
  • 1963 Watercolor Landscape published
  • 1966 The Artists Sketchbook and Its Many Uses published
  • 1969San Diego, Land of the Sundown Sea published
  • 1973 Winning Ways of Watercolor, published
  • 1995 His wife, Joan Irving died
  • 2000 Died, March 21 at home in Corona Del Mar, CA

  • Automobile Club of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Bonita High School, San Dimas, CA
  • California Water Color Society, Los Angeles, CA
  • Chaffey Art Association, Ontario, CA
  • Chemewa Junior High School, Arlington, CA
  • Cole of California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Collection of the James D. Phelan Estate, San Francisco, CA
  • Crocker Museum, Sacrament, CA
  • E. Gene Crain Private Collection
  • Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • National Academy of Design
  • Newport Union High School, Newport Beach, CA
  • Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa CA
  • Paramount High School, Paramount CA
  • Polytechnic High School, Riverside, CA
  • Reading Museum, PA
  • Riverside Polytechnic High School, Riverside CA
  • San Bernadino High School, San Bernadino, CA
  • San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, Ca
  • San Diego Museum
  • Scripps College, Claremont, CA
  • San Francisco Museum of Art
  • Union High School, Newport, CA
  • United States Maritime Service, Washington D.C.
  • United States Treasury Department
  • V. Teaching

  • 1937-43 Taught at Riverside Junior College and was elected head of the department in 1938 where he served until 1943
  • 1938-43 Taught at Riverside College Art Center
  • 1940 Taught at University of Vermont
  • 1941-43 Taught at USC
  • 1941 Taught at Scripps College in Claremont
  • 1941-42 coordinated the Summer Session for San Diego Fine Arts Gallery
  • 1942 Taught at Chaffey College
  • 1943 Head of Painting Department at USC
  • 1947-54 Established and Taught at Brand-Dike Summer School of Painting
  • 1947-56 Taught at Chouinard Art School
  • 1948 Taught at School of the Long Beach Art Association
  • 1948 Taught at Coronado School of Fine Arts
  • 1951 Began Los Angeles City Art Teacher’s Workshop Series
  • 1951 Taught at San Diego Fine Arts Gallery
  • 1952 Taught at Fresno City Schools Institute
  • 1954 Taught at Pacific Palisades Art Association
  • 1955-1985 Established and Led Brandt Painting Workshop

  • 1929 Chicago Art Institute
  • 1935 San Francisco Museum of Art Inaugural
  • 1935 Cowie Galleries
  • 1936-52 Laguna Beach Art Association
  • 1939 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1939 GGIE
  • 1939 American Art of Today, New York World’s Fair Art Exhibition
  • 1940 Crocker Museum
  • 1940 Foundation of Western Art
  • 1941 City Hall, 2nd Annual Compton Art Exhibition
  • 1941 Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
  • 1941 Robert Hull Fleming Museum in Burlington
  • 1943 California Contemporary Painters, Foundation of Western Art
  • 1943 Fisher Art Gallery, University of Southern California
  • 1943 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1950 Cowie Galleries, Biltmore Hotel
  • 1954 32nd Anniversary Exhibition, Chouinard Art Institute
  • 1955 Cowie Galleries, Biltmore Hotel
  • 1956 National Academy
  • 1957 Twentynine Palms Art Gallery
  • 1959 UCLA
  • 1960 Crocker Museum
  • 1963 30 Years of Painting, Laguna Beach Art Association
  • 1968 Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • 1968 Cowie Wilshire Galleries, Biltmore Hotel
  • 1974 Challis Galleries, Laguna Beach
  • 1983 California Aquarelle Members and Associate Members of the National Academy of Design, Edward-Dean Museum
  • 1984 Two From California, Riverside City College
  • 2003 Golden Memories, Chaffey Art Association

  • American Watercolor Society (Dolphin Fellow)
  • California Art Club Honorary Member
  • California Color Society Honorary Member
  • California Watercolor Society (President in 1948)
  • Desert Art League
  • Foundation of Western Art
  • Glendale Art Association Honorary Member
  • Laguna Beach Art Association
  • National Academy of Design
  • National Water Color Society
  • Philadelphia Water Color Club
  • Pomona Valley Art Association Honorary Member
  • Riverside Fine Arts Guild (past President)
  • Royal Society for the Arts
  • San Diego Fine Arts Association
  • San Francisco Art Association
  • Watercolor West Honorary Member
  • Westwood Art Association
  • VIII. AWARDS (Selected List)

  • 1934 First in Watercolor, California State Fair
  • 1935 Third Prize, Oakland Annual, Watercolor
  • 1935 Third Award, Delta Epsilon Club Annual Exhibit, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1936 Jury Award, English Club, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1936 First Prize, Los Angeles County Fair, Prints
  • 1936 Second Jury Award, Laguna Beach Art Gallery
  • 1937 Honorable Mention, California Water Color Society
  • 1937 First Prize, Los Angeles County Fair, Prints
  • 1937 Second Award, First National Water Color Exhibit, Laguna Beach Art Gallery
  • 1938 First Prize in Prints, Annual California Invitational Exhibit, Los Angeles Ebell Club
  • 1938 Second Prize in Watercolor, 10th Annual Southern California Exhibit, San Diego Fine Arts Gallery
  • 1938 First Prize in Prints, Los Angeles County Fair
  • 1938 First Prize, California Water Color Society Annual Exhibit
  • 1939 Awarded California State Secondary Credential in Art
  • 1939 First and Second Prize in Prints, Los Angeles County Fair
  • 1940 Silver Medal for Watercolor, Oakland Annual
  • 1940 Honorable Mention, James D. Phelan Awards
  • 1941 First Award for Ceramics , Riverside Fine Arts Guild
  • 1941 Honorable Mention, James D. Phelan Awards
  • 1941 First Jury Award, Laguna Beach Art Gallery Annual Exhibit
  • 1941 Duncan, Vail Award, California Water Color Society Annual
  • 1942 Bronze Medal in Watercolor, Oakland Annual
  • 1942 Award of Merit, 28th Annual San Diego Fire Arts Guild
  • 1943 Jury’s Choice, Santa Paula Annual
  • 1943 First Prize, Riverside Fine Arts Guild
  • 1944 First Jury Award for Watercolor, Laguna Beach Art Gallery Annual
  • 1945 Museum Patron’s Award, California Water Color Society, 25th Annual
  • 1946 First Award, Newport High School First Statewide Exhibit
  • 1946 First Purchase Award, San Dimas Second Annual Invitational Exhibit
  • 1948 Second Prize, Laguna Beach Art Gallery
  • 1949 Second Award for Modern Watercolor, National Orange Show Exhibit
  • 1949 Honorable Mention, James D. Phelan Awards
  • 1949 Exhibitor’s Award, Laguna Beach Festival of Arts
  • 1951 Bronze Medal for Oil, City of Los Angeles, 7th Annual Exhibit
  • 1951 Honorable Mention for Oil, National Orange Show
  • 1952 Brugger Award, California Water Color Society Annual
  • 1952 $750.00 Prize Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, Second National Competition
  • 1952 American Artist Citation, 85th Annual Exhibit of the American Water Color Society
  • 1952 First Purchase Award, Paramount High School Annual Exhibit
  • 1952 Honorable Mention for Watercolor, California State Fair
  • 1953 $500.00 First Award, James D. Phelan Awards, de Young Museum, San Francisco
  • 1954 Popular Vote, 87th Annual Exhibit American Water Color Society
  • IX. Bibliography

    1. 1. Anderson, Susan M.. "California Holdiay: The E. Gene Crain Collection." American Art Review. June 2002, 94-105.
    2. 2. Brandt, Rex. About Landscape. Corona Del Mar: R. Brandt, 1989.
    3. 3. Brandt, Rex. Winning Ways of Watercolor. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1973.
    4. 4. Dominik, Janet Blake. "The California Water Color Society: Genesis of an American Style ." Available from Internet; accessed 14 July 2007.
    5. 5. Champa, Paula. "Teacher Achievement Award/Watercolor: Rex Brandt." American Artists Magazine. June 1993, 30-38.
    6. 6. Gangelhoff, Bonnie. "A Passion For California." Southwest Art. January 2000, 51-55.
    7. 7. Hughes, Edan. Artists in California. San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company, 1986.
    8. 8. Koser , Joihn R.. "Rex Brandt: A Fond Farewell." Watercolor West. Spring 2000, 2-5.
    9. 9. Lovoos, Janice. Two From California: Joan Irving and Rex Brandt. Riverside : Riverside Art Museum, 1984.
    10. 10. Millier Arthur. “Rex Brandt Has Excellent Show.” Los Angeles Times. April 11, 1943.
    11. 11. Millier, Arthur. "Rex Brandt: An Interview By Arthur Millier." America Artist Magazine. February 1953, p. 112-114.
    12. 12. Rex Brandt 1914-. Los Angeles: Cowie Galleries , 1955.
    13. 13. Rex Brandt. California Watercolors. Available from Internet; accessed 14 July 2007.


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