Q: ‘What can you tell me about the artists DeWitt and Douglass Parshall?’
In the late 19th century, a significant colony of talented
artists began to develop in Santa Barbara. The growth of this
artistic community was such that by the late 1920s, Santa Barbara
could lay claim to being the most important art center between San
Francisco and Los Angeles. Two artists who helped forge this
reputation were the father-and-son painters, DeWitt and Douglass
DeWitt Parshall has been called “one of the foremost American
landscape painters of the early 20th century.” Born in Buffalo, New
York, in 1864, he took his first formal art training at Hobart
College where he graduated in 1885. Although his later reputation
would rest on his landscapes, while at school he developed a local
notoriety for his caricatures of faculty members and fellow
After graduation, he studied in Europe and attended the Royal
Academy in Dresden, Germany, and the academies Corman and Julian in
Paris. In an interview decades later, Douglass pointed out that his
father got much more out of his studies in Germany than in France.
Nevertheless, it was while in France that Parshall garnered his
first honors, including inclusion in the extremely prestigious
exhibition of the Paris Salon in 1890. He also made the
acquaintance of a number of other American artists studying in
One of these, San Franciscan Charles Rollo Peters, who became
celebrated for his nighttime landscapes or nocturnes, extolled the
beauties of California to Parshall, which encouraged the latter to
eventually visit the Golden State.
Acceptance of one of his canvases at the World’s Columbian
Exposition in Chicago in 1892 hastened his return to the U.S.
Parshall was known as a tonalist, one who visited the sites he
painted, but would execute the paintings from memory, which added a
romantic, moody feel to his works. Perhaps the watershed event in
his artistic career came in 1910, when the Southern Pacific
Railroad sponsored the first in a series of trips to paint the
Grand Canyon. These landscapes came to be held in such high regard
that Parshall became known in some circles as the outstanding
artist of this natural wonder.
In 1913, while on one of these trips out west, he visited his
friend, artist Thomas Moran, in Santa Barbara. Four years later,
Parshall relocated permanently here and became an active member of
the local artists’ colony. Here he developed an international
renown for his California landscapes and seascapes until his death
His son Douglass, born in New York City in 1899, came under his
father’s influence early on, executing landscapes, but eventually
included portraiture, murals, and animals, especially horses, in
his work. He attended Ojai’s Thacher School when his family moved
here and continued his education in art schools in New York, Paris,
Parshall also became very active in the area art scene. In 1933
he was appointed local district supervisor of the New Deal’s
Federal Art Project. Some 25 to 30 local artists earned $77 a month
to produce murals and other works of art for public buildings and
schools. Parshall estimated that more than 60 schools were graced
with art from this program. In 1939 he served as Santa Barbara
chairman for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San
Francisco and for the New York World’s Fair.
In 1952, he became the first president of the Santa Barbara Art
Association. The association was dedicated to promoting and
encouraging the best of artistic talent and to expanding exhibition
space to give these artists greater exposure to the public. In his
own work, Parshall moved to a more impressionistic style, with an
emphasis on a brighter palette.
Douglass Parshall died at age 91 in 1990. With their artistic
talent and their efforts in education and advocacy, the Parshalls
had immeasurably enriched the culture of Santa Barbara.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara
Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa
Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa
St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.