The painting depicts a sailboat heading into the vast ocean for points unknown. With the wind filling its sails, it glides away from the shore under an early evening sky. Titled “Evening Rendezvous,” it is a watercolor by Rex Brandt that had caught the eye of Newport Beach philanthropists Mark and Jan Hilbert, avid collectors of California Scene paintings and the owners of altogether 20 Brandt paintings.
When the Laguna College of Art and Design staged a Brandt retrospective titled “Awash in Color” last year, “Rendezvous” was loaned by the Hilberts to join 16 other Brandts lent by several collectors. The exhibition co-curated by LCAD library director Jennifer Martinez-Wormser and gallery director Andrea Harris-McGee celebrated the 100th birthday of Brandt, who lived in Corona del Mar and was a seminal figures at the private art school.
Last month, the Hilberts made a gift of the painting valued at $4,500 to the college, making it the first completed Brandt painting in its possession.
LCAD was also the recipient of an 80-box cache of Brandt archives including sketchbooks, textbooks and memorabilia including the artist’s easel and brushes.
“We fell in love with the college, its faculty and its mission,” said Mark Hilbert. “It coincides with ours: to celebrate California representative art.”
During close to three decades of collecting, the couple has amassed roughly 1,000 works including paintings and lithographs, mostly by California Scene painters. Last year, they donated 200 of them, valued up to $10 million, to Chapman University. They also gave $3 million to build a research library and museum to house the collection on campus.
The Hilbert Museum of California Art will be the first one exclusively devoted to California Scene painting, a style that Mark Hilbert describes as largely overlooked. A temporary version of the museum, located in downtown Orange, is slated to open this fall.
The couple built their collection, including works by Millard Sheets, Phil Dyke and Emil Kosa Jr., over nearly three decades, honing their eye and acumen during 25 trips to Europe to look at all the great museums. “Looking at the old masters refined our eye,” said Hilbert. “We particularly liked the Dutch masters, who were great proponents of painting scenes from everyday life.”
He added that their collection also includes portraits, still-lifes and landscapes in both watercolor and oils.
Chronologically it begins with works from the 1930, a golden era when film studios were hiring artists to do set designs, backdrops and design movie posters. “There were more working artists in L.A. in those times than at any time in history, and they painted on weekends to satisfy their souls,” said Hilbert.
Both in their 70s, the couple built their fortune on real estate investments. Jan is retired from teaching business at Santa Ana College. Mark grew up in Pasadena and spent seven years on the board of the Pasadena Museum of California Art. He has also served on the board of the Laguna Art Museum.
The friendship between LCAD and the Hilberts began when curator Hope Railey looked for works to include in an exhibition titled “Assessing the California Landscape.” She contacted the Hilberts at the urging of Irvine Museum Director Jean Stern.
Hilbert was excited to learn about the college’s fine art and painting programs, recalled Jonathan Burke, LCAD’s president. It was clear the collector already appreciated Brandt works, produced by artists who were able to maneuver between fine and commercial art as well as teach and curate shows. Brandt was on the faculty of the college formerly named the Laguna Beach School of Art.
Harris-McGee describes “Evening Rendezvous” as one of her favorite Brandt paintings. “It is exceptional because of its pewter cast and the light and shadows on the water and the boat,” she explained. “It was a great surprise to me when Mark contacted me and let me know that they plan to donate ‘Rendezvous’ to our collection.”