Rex Brandt plein air watercolor painting
Rex Brandt, "French Flats, Angeles National Forest, California," undated, watercolor, 15 3/4 x 21 1/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company

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Our Plein Air Heritage

Rex Brandt (1914-2000)

Considered one of the most important California Scene Painters (a group of American regionalists who flourished from the 1920s to 1960s), Rex Brandt (1914-2000) created joyful plein air paintings that perfectly conveyed the feel of mid-century Southern California.

Though he dabbled in gouache and oil, as well as printmaking and etching, he preferred watercolor for its portability and the speed at which he could work. Drawing from a variety of influences, he incorporated the bold colors of Latino murals and the spontaneity of Japanese landscapes in his watercolors.

Of painting outdoors, Brandt said, “Have you ever noticed, you sit down alongside a stable, and the first thing you get is this awful smell. You’re painting this barn, but what you smell will change the colors you use in the barn. And then maybe the next thing you do is hear a horse whinnying, and it beguiles you. And that changes what you feel about the scene. Sight, sound, smell — all the senses — will do those things. It’s natural but it means keeping your perceptive pores open.”

After World War II, he and Phil Dike formed the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting in Corona Del Mar. From 1947 to 1952, he also taught watercolor painting and composition courses at Chouinard Art Institute. Through these classes and his 11 instructional books, Brandt educated and inspired a generation of professional watercolor artists.

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  1. Rex Brandt !! Yes, he was such an excellent instructor. I took two summer sessions with him. His demos were so fantastic!! He created magic right in front of our eyes.
    I learned so much from him. I have many of Rex’s books that continue to inspire me, and I use them to teach others the basics of watercolor. He was “The Best!”.


  2. Louis Peck, art dept chair at Boise State University back in the late 1960’s, painted with Rex Brandt in Baja, Mexico a few times, maybe as a student or just a painting buddy . . . And used Brandts techniques in his live painting demos in our wc classes at BSU.
    Working from projected slides (mostly of old abandoned ranches, mining towns, desert spaces and occasional nocturnes) Peck gave us all the best intro to plein air painting that technology could offer back then. He was a master landscape painter as well. I remember more from his demos a half century ago than any other classes offered in my college days. He often quoted Brandt as he worked.
    For all of it, I am forever grateful! It has carried over to become very useful techniques in my primary medium, pastel


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