Watercolor on paper, c. 1940
sheet 22 1/4 x 30 inches
Museum purchase with funds from prior gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation
Stan Backus achieved great depth and feeling in this view of a gathering storm with a diminutive automobile meandering down a country road. The application of dabs of green and yellow to the rolling countryside enlivens the overall drab grey and brown of the darkening scene. The atmospheric conditions are palpable: the smell of dampness in the air, the weak sun barely breaking through the clouds, the rustle of the wind through grasses in the foreground. Backus described the landscape quickly with bold brushwork and a wet-into-wet technique, letting the white of the paper act as a significant source of negative space in the composition. The watercolor, which has the immediacy of one captured outdoors in a single sitting, has the hallmarks of the work of the California school active in the state during the 1930s and early 1940s. Like Backus, many of the watercolor painters active during the Depression era were members of the California Water Color Society. These painters created mainly positive scenes of urban and rural life and can be located historically within the context of the national American Scene movement.