11567 TRIPTYCH PAINTING OF THE VILLA LOMAS AZULES AND HIGHLAND VINEYARD, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, SIGNED BY LEW DAVIS (1910-1979) Measurements: Left panel: Height: 30 1/2″ (77.5 cm); Width: 18 3/4″ (47.6 cm). Central panel: Height: 30 1/2″ (77.5 cm); Width: 24 1/2″ (62.2 cm). Right panel: Height: 30 1/2″ (77.5 cm); Width: 18 3/4″ (47.6 […]
Oil on canvas.
Bears an old paper gallery label to the reverse:
10. Whener Estate / This tryptec painting showes the Whener estate as it might have looked thirty years ago. The mansion is visible because the trees were smaller.
This charming Southern California landscape was painted by Lew Davis (1910–1979), an Arizona native and Regionalist painter who specialized in Depression-era genre paintings depicting the conditions faced by Americans, particularly miners and mining towns. He studied at the Academy of Design in New York, but returned to Arizona in 1936 and was assigned to the Federal Art Project in 1937. As a requirement, he sent six paintings of his region back to Washington D.C. annually; these copper mining scenes were exhibited at the New York World’s Fair (1939–40) and first brought him national recognition. He served as the State Art Project Supervisor for Arizona under the Works Progress Act and was one of the founding members of Arizona’s first art school.
Davis also served as an artist in the army during World War II, and was stationed at Fort Huachuca, a segregated base. Racial inequality became his focus when he was asked to paint murals for the white officer’s mess hall. In response Davis set up a silk-screen shop and with the assistance of African American soldiers, and “created new artwork portraying the participation of black soldiers in the war,” which were nationally distributed.
After the war he returned home and opened the Desert School of Art with his wife Mathilde Schaefer Davis, also an artist. He continued to paint and became known as the “Dean of Arizona Artists.”
The property, depicted in triptych across three canvases, belonged to William Wehner, a German entrepreneur and mural artist himself, who left his home in Hanover for America in the 1850s. He became “well known as the originator and proprietor of many large panoramas in a number of large cities in the United States.” After living in Chicago for some time he moved to California to start a vineyard and winery. His brother, Ernest, later came over from Germany as well to help manage what became Highland Vineyard in the Evergreen district of San Jose.
Wehner enlisted the Chicago architects Burnham & Root to design the estate’s three-story Queen Anne style house and outbuildings in 1887. Completed in 1891, the home was originally called Villa Lomas Azules, or Blue Hills Estate, for its vivid color, and is pictured on the central canvas. He transformed the 750 acre plot of land into a great vineyard and orchard beginning in 1888. The vineyard contained foreign grapes of all varieties, while the orchard was planted with nectarines, peaches, French prunes, and Bartlett pears.
In 1915, Wehner sold the winery and vineyard portions of the estate to fellow German immigrant vintner, Albert Haentze, who re-named the winery Rancho Villa Vista. Unfortunately for Haentze, Prohibition was instituted a few years later and closed the winery down. After Prohibition was lifted, an Italian immigrant, Benjamino Cribari, purchased the vineyards and Villa Lomas Azules, renaming it the Cribari Mansion. Today, however, although the vineyards have been replaced with housing developments, the house is once again known as the Wehner Mansion.