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Percy Gray
(1869-1952)


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Eucalyptus Trees, Carmel
c. 1915
Watercolor
17 x 27 1/2 inches




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Percy Gray was born in San Francisco, California on Oct. 3, 1869 to a family with a rich artistic and literary heritage. Due to a childhood illness, Gray was confined to his bed and it was during this period that he began to experiment with watercolors and sketching. At 16 in 1886, Gray enrolled in the California School of Design under Virgil Williams, Emil Carlsen, and Raymond D. Yelland. In the 1890s, Gray took on a full-time job as an illustrator at a major San Francisco newspaper Morning Call. His job forced him to work quickly and accurately on his sketches which would be ideal for his career as a watercolorist.

In 1895, he moved to New York City where he spent 11 years working as head of the art department for W.R. Hearstís New York Journal. While in New York, he studied at the Art Students League, and with William M. Chase. Gray returned to San Francisco in 1906 to report on the San Francisco earthquake and ended up joining the art department of the Examiner. During his period back, watercolors in San Francisco were growing in demand. The first paintings Gray produced after returning were exhibited in 1907 by the Sketch Club. About 1910, he began signing his paintings in script instead of the block letters he had used since student days and began showing his watercolors at the Golden Gate Park Memorial Museum and the Del Monte Art Gallery in Monterey. By 1915, Grayís paintings included exaggerated bright fields of poppies and lupine that were true Impressionist paintings in both palette and technique. The incorporation of Impressionist techniques were due to his studies with William Merritt Chase who taught him the virtues of broken brushstrokes, exaggeration of colors, and vigorous handling of paint in which he included into his watercolors.

He left the Examiner in 1920 and by this time, he was able to establish himself as a professional landscape painter. From 1918-1923, he maintained a studio in San Franciscoís old Montgomery Block. In 1923, Gray married Leone Plumley Phelps, settled in Monterey, and bought and renovated the Casa Bonifacio Adobe. While in Monterey, he was known to have possibly produced 18 etchings given as gifts to family and friends but never exhibited. Gray attained total mastery of his watercolor technique during his Monterey years. After the death of his wife in 1951, the last year of Grayís life was spent as a resident of the Bohemian Club in his native city. Gray died of a heart attack at his easel Oct.10, 1952. Although he executed oil paintings and a few etchings, he is best known for his atmospheric watercolors. His works most often depict the glades and valleys of Northern California, with slopes of poppies and lupine under oak and eucalyptus trees. He also portrayed many views of the rocky California coast. On occasion, he depicted Southwestern desert scenes and portraits of American Indians.

Member: The Family, San Francisco; Bohemian Club; Sequoia Club; San Francisco Art Association; Carmel Art Association; Society of Western Artists.

Awards: Bronze medal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915; First prize, Arizona State Fair, 1915.

Works held: National Museum of American Art; Oakland Museum; California Historical Society; Crocker Museum, Sacramento; Bohemian Club; Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; de Young Museum; Stanford Museum.