George Demont Otis,
American Impressionist

george demont otis
This website contains over 600 images of art by George Demont Otis

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American Impressionist

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George Demont Otis - American Impressionist (1879 - 1962)

George Demont Otis was an American artist, whose inspiration rose from the native tradition of American landscape painting. He is listed in Who’s Who in American Art.

He was born in Tennessee in 1879, orphaned six years later, and was sent to live with his grandmother in Chicago. He showed early promise of his future talent by rendering meticulous architectural drawings of metropolitan structures in Chicago. His fine arts education was first made possible by a teacher so excited by his obvious interest and talent that she brought him to the attention of a United States Senator. When Otis was fifteen years old, the Senator presented him with a full scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute. Not many years later, Otis would return to this school as an instructor.

His art education continued at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts under John Vanderpoel. The east coast art scene drew him to New York where he studied at the Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design, Art Students League, Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, and Woodstock School of Painting. A man of tremendous energy and stamina, he took private lessons with many prestigious teachers of the American art world. He studied under John F. Carlson for landscape, Izra Winters and Wellington J. Reynolds for figures, Robert Henri for still life, and William Merritt Chase.

Otis helped pay for his education by playing professional baseball for three seasons. He was an accomplished pitcher, playing at different times for two teams in the Southern Association. He was the first in the league to use an outcurve pitch. He generated hundreds of grease pencil drawings of the south during those years. His command of the grease pencil and gouache were evident in numerous wash drawings, pen and ink illustrations, watercolors, and pastels. Otis was a master of black and white as well as color.

He was a virile, robust man. He often journeyed to the backcountry wilderness to paint. At his studio near Estes Park, Colorado, he painted and hiked with early leaders of the National Parks movement, sharing his sense of the human need for untamed nature. While teaching at the Chicago Art Institute, he spent the summers painting and backpacking through mountains, canyons and deserts of many states.

Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah, and the great expanses of the Arizona-New Mexico desert found expression on his canvases. He lived with and painted the Native Americans of the southwest desert, and studied the customs, arts, and religions of the Hopi, Navajo, Yuma, Isleta, Acoma, Taos, and Pima tribes. His lectures on Native American stewardship of the land aided Otis in his drive for the conservation of the National Parks and respect for Indian traditions.

By 1900 Otis had visited Southern California. He was entranced by the quality of light and the clearness of the air. In 1919 he returned to stay, and for the next ten years, he painted the desert, beaches, trees, valleys and mountains. The country was virtually untouched, and he brought a new spirit and technique to the west.

Otis soon attracted the attention of Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios in Hollywood. He contracted with Otis to design sets for his movies. Shortly after, Otis was directing crews of artists to paint scenery under his tutelage. The professionalism taught to his artists by Otis greatly improved the theater offerings of the time.

During these years, Otis served as Chairman, West of the Mississippi, for the American Artists Professional League, Inc. He spent many hours lecturing to artists foundations and societies, leading to the acclaim for his work that has continued since his death in 1962.

George Demont Otis achieved fame as an artist and teacher who had exhibited at many major museums in America. He credited John F. Carlson for helping him refine his skills as a teacher. Through Otis’ works and lectures, he became known in the art world of the 1920s as an innovator of a major movement in art.

Otis moved to San Francisco in 1930, joining artist friends living in an art conclave on Montgomery Street. He later moved to the studio of Arthur Putnam, sculptor, near Golden Gate Park. Otis married a San Francisco business woman and artist, Clara Van Tine, in 1931.

Otis moved to San Francisco in 1930, joining artist friends living in an art conclave on Montgomery Street. He later moved to the studio of Arthur Putnam, sculptor, near Golden Gate Park. Otis married a San Francisco business woman and artist, Clara Van Tine, in 1931.

Visitors from around the world found their way to the studio during the next thirty years. Otis was a social man and welcomed them all. The studio-home was more than a workshop to Otis, it was a wellspring of creativity, and he never failed to share his enthusiasm. Over five hundred of Otis’ students became professional artists. He encouraged them to develop diverse styles, forming the school of Western Impressionism early in the twentieth century.

Otis modeled his forms with strong light and dark contrasts, a play of warm and cool colors. His brushwork was conspicuous, and consisting of wide, bold strokes of high key colors varied in length and size.

He was represented in the Cheney Collection, New York; Kahn Collection, Chicago; Municipal Collection, Chicago; Carnegie Collection, Colorado and many others.

He was a member of the Chicago Society of Art, Cliff Dwellers of Chicago, Society of Western Artists, Marin Society of Artists, Western Arts Academy Foundation, Laguna Beach Art Association, and Los Angeles Painters’ Society. In addition he was a founder and life member of the Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago and was appointed Chairman, West of Mississippi, American Artists Professional League.

Otis became a leader in the conservation movement. Through his exhibits and lectures, he fostered concern for preservation of natural scenic beauty, leading to the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962, the year he died. His niece, Grace Hartley, said that he would have been pleased by the legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. She believes that the intense feelings Otis had for the natural beauty and history of this country has been a factor in the growing movement to conserve and protect what remains of our unspoiled landscapes. His paintings of “Muir Woods Creek” and “Grain Time” hung in the White House during the passage of this bill.

George Demont Otis became known as a modern day Renaissance man. He was a painter, etcher, lithographer, stage designer, cinema artist, woodcarver, illustrator, author, poet, teacher and a worker in stained-glass. He influenced hundreds of artists who were his companions and students. Otis, at age 82, left a heritage of art that reflected his deep love and respect for this land.

Ada Garfinkel, writing for the Marin Independent Journal in November, 1977, on the occasion of a posthumous exhibit of Otis’ paintings at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Visitors’ Center in San Francisco, noted, “his paintings of the open, rugged terrain and natural beauty of Marin are rendered in impressionistic blocks of color and light and are as compelling for their pictorial realism as for their tonal nuances, airiness and wonderful spatial depth...Otis would undoubtedly have been proud to know that the Society of Western Artists which he founded, is the co-sponsor of this exhibit.”

George Demont Otis had a firm belief that all noble art is the expression of man’s delight in God’s work. “God has loaned us the earth for our life; it belongs as much to those who come after us and those whose names are already written in the book of creation, as it does to us. We have no right to neglect any obligations that are within our power to bequeath.” Otis encouraged his fellow artists always to strive for the feeling, that something has been added toward the betterment of civilization. He would advise them, “If it is a painting you are working upon, make it your best.” This is the inspiration and message George Demont Otis has left as his legacy to the world.





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