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Mary DeNeale Morgan Biography

M. DeNeale Morgan, as she signed her work, was one of Carmel's distinguished plein air painters. Her association with Carmel-by-the-Sea began early in the twentieth century and lasted until her death some forty-five years later. Her commanding treatment of local subject matter, in particular the Monterey cypress, sustained her creative energies throughout the better part of her career and earned her a reputation as one of America’s foremost female artists.

Her mother's family emigrated from Scotland to the Monterey area in 1856, homesteading a ranch near Point Piños and then in the Salinas Valley.  It was partly because of her family's stories about the beauty of the Monterey Peninsula that DeNeale Morgan came here to live and work.

Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1868. In 1872 the family moved to Oakland where her father became City Engineer. There the family became good friends with artist William Keith who encouraged Morgan’s early interest in art and was her first teacher. She was precocious. From 1886-1890 and again in 1892 and 1894 she trained at the California School of Design in San Francisco studying with Virgil Williams, Emil Carlsen, Raymond Yelland, Amédée Joullin, Arthur Mathews, and others.

She opened her first studio in Oakland in 1896 where she founded the Oakland Sketch Club. She also taught art at Oakland High School for a time. She became a frequent exhibitor in San Francisco and Oakland. Because she did not maintain a studio in San Francisco, Morgan suffered limited losses in the 1906 earthquake and fire; but the tragedy affected her deeply nonetheless and she toured the city recording the effects of the calamity in crayon and pastel.

In 1907 Morgan had her first solo exhibition at the Hahn Gallery in Oakland. How gratifying it must have been for her when William Keith, her mentor, came to the exhibition and purchased one of her paintings!

When the Hotel Del Monte art gallery opened to the public in 1907, Morgan was the first artist to sell a painting at this historic first location devoted solely to showcasing the work of “Californian” artists.

Morgan had first visited Carmel in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1910 that she returned to buy the studio and home of the late Sydney Yard, located near to what is now the Cypress Inn on Lincoln. It was to remain her home for the rest of her life.

From then on through the 1940's, her studio was filled with tourists, buyers, other artists and friends. Once Morgan was settled in Carmel, though she exhibited widely and often, she rarely left the area - never outside the U.S. In the 1920s she held shows in New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

DeNeale Morgan was also an original member of the Forest Theater, for which she designed sets.  Wearing her distinctive purple cloak, she was active with the Carmel Arts and Crafts Club, the forerunner of the Carmel Art Association. During World War I, she was the director of the Carmel Summer School of Art, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts Club.  At the urging of E. Charlton Fortune, Morgan invited William Merritt Chase, distinguished New York artist and teacher, to teach at the Summer School, greatly increasing Carmel's reputation as an art center, both here and on the East Coast.

According to her sister, Morgan possessed an “innate and prophetic sense of the transiency of the beautiful country which surrounded her in Carmel.” She became one of the town’s leading preservationists and in 1922 led a successful fight to save Carmel’s beach from developers. She identified this transience not only in the coastal dunes but also in the trees and historic adobes of Monterey.

Morgan painted on location. Armed with canvas, paint and brushes, she would set out to capture the light, color and mood of her subject, painting surely and rapidly.  

Her favorite subject was the Monterey cypresses that most captivated and inspired DeNeale throughout her career. She painted it more than any other subject, and its strength and simplicity reflect her own independence and perseverance in her chosen lifestyle.  

When asked if she didn't tire of that subject, she replied that she "would stick by her cypress trees till they sink into the sea, or--what is just as tragic and final--be hopelessly built-around."

Mary DeNeale Morgan died on Oct. 10, 1948, at the age of 80. A plein air painter to the last, she was painting a cypress at Point Lobos just four days before she died. After her death, the unfinished canvas was hung in her studio.

She left a great legacy to California art as a teacher, organizer, and painter. Her funeral service was held at the small Church of All Saints, of which she was a founder, and the honorary pallbearers included: Ferdinand Burgdorff, Arthur Hill Gilbert, Armin Hansen, Laura Maxwell, Frank Myers, Myron Oliver, John O’Shea, William Ritschel, George Seideneck, and William Watts.

Perhaps the best tribute to Morgan was made by Brother Cornelius, William Keith's biographer, who inscribed her copy of his book as follows:

"To Miss DeNeale Morgan, master painter of the strange form, color and texture, the weather-beaten toughness, the ancient fantastic weirdness, in a word, of the truth of our beloved Monterey cypresses ..."

Member: American Federation of Arts; Artists Guild, Chicago; National Association of Women Painters & Sculptors; San Francisco Art Association; California Watercolor Society; Laguna Beach Art Association; Carmel Art Association, Founding Member, 1927; Carmel Arts & Crafts Club; West Coast Arts.

Exhibited: Oakland Industrial Expo, 1896; Mark Hopkins Inst., 1897-98; Hahn Gallery (Oakland), 1907 (solo); Del Monte Art Gallery, 1907-12, 1934 (solo); Berkeley AA, 1908; Alaska-Yukon Expo (Seattle), 1909; PPIE, 1915 (silver medal); Hotel Oakland, 1925 (solo); Pasadena Art Inst., 1929 (solo); Carmel AA, 1934 (solo); Golden Gate International Exposition (SF), 1939-1940; Society for Sanity in Art.

In: California Historical Society; Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Del Monte Hotel; University of Texas; Stanford University Art Gallery; Union High School (Monterey); University of Southern California; Monterey City Hall and Presidio; Sunset School (Carmel); Salinas High School; Harrison Library (Carmel); Society of Calif. Pioneers. 11 AAA 1919-33; WWAA 1936-53; WW on Pacific Coast, 1947; Art and Artists of the Monterey Peninsula; Women of the West, 1928; Ber; G&S; CSL; BC; KOV; Monterey Peninsula Herald, October 11, 1948 (obit).

Major Awards: Silver Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition (SF), 1915.
Selected by Scribner’s Magazine, 1928 as one of the nation’s foremost women artists.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940" (1986); Westphal Publishing, Plein Air Artists of California: The North (1986); Carmel Art Association/Six Early Women Artists: A Diversity of Style (1991); Scott A. Shields/Artists at Continent’s End (2006); Hearst Art Gallery/Superbly Independent (2010); Robert W. Edwards/Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies (2012).