October 26, 2019 - February 2, 2020

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Arthur Beaumont in his combat correspondent uniform, China, 1947
Beaumont Family Archives


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Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea

To the artist Arthur Beaumont (1890-1978), the sea and the vessels that sailed on it held endless fascination. He sought to create an artistic record of the activities and accomplishments of the U.S. Navy, from the launching of the U.S.S. Constitution in 1797, to the fierce battles of World War II, to the Atomic Bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, and to the expeditions to the North and South Poles. All of these historic events and more are recorded in his paintings.

Beaumont’s body of work includes numerous portraits of specific naval vessels, including mighty aircraft carriers and battleships as well as personal yachts of presidents and celebrities. His art portrays not only admirals but also common sailors and soldiers. They formed the core of his series of significant wartime commissions for National Geographic Magazine. In 1958, Beaumont was named Artist Laureate of the U.S. Fleet.


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Born in Thorpe St. Andrew England, Beaumont came to California in the spring of 1909 to study art at Berkeley, the school his older brother attended. To raise money for tuition, the young artist spent his summers working as a ranch hand until a group of cattle rustlers beat him so badly that he was left nearly unable to ride horses. Seeking a substitute for the saddle, he turned to California’s shimmering shores and vibrant landscapes. 


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After arriving in Los Angeles, Beaumont quickly established himself as a member of the art scene, a role which led him to paint important U.S. Naval officers and the boats of celebrities. Over the course of his career, he created several series of famous figures and ships from throughout U.S. maritime history. Just over a decade before he passed away, Beaumont was invited to welcome the R.M.S. Queen Mary to the port of Los Angeles aboard the U.S.S. Long Beach.


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Beaumont began painting the U.S. Navy vessels harbored in the port of Los Angeles as a civilian. In 1931, Captain Percy Foot of the U.S.S. Arkansas invited the artist to sail with him and paint his portrait, beginning a fruitful relationship between Beaumont and the U.S. Navy. Less than a year later Beaumont accepted a commission as a naval lieutenant with the title of “Artist of the Fleet.” His earliest naval paintings show Allied vessels in various states of wartime preparedness.


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Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Beaumont’s attention was occupied by several projects that supported the U.S. war effort: painting publicity materials for Wake Island, a war film about the battle; assisting in raising over $80 million for the heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Los Angeles; and continuing to create pro-war images for the National Geographic. Beaumont’s depictions of peacetime naval exercises transitioned into dramatic life or death struggles as the Pacific exploded into a deadly theater.


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Soon after the surrender of Imperial Japan ended World War II, Beaumont was tasked with documenting scenes of the atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in the U.S. Marshall Islands. Refusing protective eyewear so he could better capture the bombs’ awesome destructive power, Arthur Beaumont became the first artist to ever paint a mushroom cloud—and the last to show the surrendered Japanese vessels sunk during the testing.


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Following World War II, Beaumont continued to travel with and paint for the U.S. Navy. Some of his earliest post-war paintings show official trips to China and Japan, war-struck nations which Beaumont treated with a somber reverence that was rare for the time. While these watercolors are consistent with those he had painted before and during the war, new rounds of naval paintings commissioned for the Korean War and other operations showed evolving military technologies. 


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Beaumont’s travels took him to both ends of the earth. Beginning in 1957 Beaumont embarked on an expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage, a water route across the Americas which had been a goal of international explorers for well over a hundred years. During this trip Beaumont took a flight to the North Pole. Two years later the artist travelled to Antarctica as an official artist for a U.S. expedition to the South Pole.



Arthur Beaumont sketching on the deck of the USS Midway, November 1945
Beaumont Family Archives

Watercolors for Water’s Colors

In Beaumont’s earliest works he used oil paints on board or canvas to create thick, impressionistic scenes. As he continued to study painting and developed as an artist, he explored different mediums such as ink pens and—following many painters active in the Southern California area—watercolors. The portability of the materials and the spontaneous nature of the method made the medium perfect for the dynamic conditions of the sea. Beaumont also enjoyed the challenge of this new medium. With oil paints mistakes could easily be painted over, but even Beaumont’s quickest watercolors took a minimum of four hours to complete and one mistake was enough to ruin the entire work. Painting with watercolors quickly became the artist’s preference. Beaumont only returned to oil paints on rare occasions after transitioning to watercolors.

Bowers Museum Permanent Collection Beaumont Artworks

In addition to the two Bowers Museum paintings on display in Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea, the Bowers Museum also happens to have a large collection of Beaumont paintings in the museum’s permanent collections. These depict both Beaumont’s characteristic naval artworks as well as the other varied subjects he painted throughout his career.

Dorothy Tennant, Arthur Beaumont’s wife, was originally from Santa Ana, California, making the Bowers Museum a natural repository for these prints, watercolors and oil paintings donated by descendants and close associates of the artist.

For more information on the Bowers Museum’s Beaumont paintings, follow the below links to the Bowers Blog:

Arthur Edwaine Beaumont and the Story Behind “The Red Bathing Suit”

  • Beaumont’s early history, time spent in Bikini Atoll for “Operation Crossroads” and the backstory behind the first bikini swimsuit.

Beaumont and Los Angeles' Chinatowns

  • Los Angeles’ little-known and short-lived China City painted by Beaumont in 1949.

A Mission Impossible: Arthur Edwaine Beaumont’s Carmel Mission

  • Intrigue behind a watercolor of the Carmel Mission painted by Beaumont as a larger series of magazine covers for the Jonathan Club.

Cheating Death with Arthur Beaumont

  • The artist’s many narrow misses with the hereafter, recounted alongside images from the exhibition.  

Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea is curated by James Irvine Swinden and includes works in The Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine.

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