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Biographical Overview

Darwin B Musselman was born in Selma, California, in 1916 and began his art education at Fresno State College, from which he graduated in 1938. He then attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles, where he studied with the portrait artist, Stanley Reckless and Willard Nash. The war years gave cause to relocate to the Bay Area, where he worked in the Richmond ship yards. He then went on to earn an M.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and a master's at the University of California - Berkeley. He was awarded a doctoral equivalence from the California State University system in 1966 and has engaged in advanced study with internationally known painters Lyonel Feininger and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

Study at Art Center School - 1938

Musselman was a member of the American Watercolor Society and the California Watercolor Society, founded in 1920, which in 1975 became the National Watercolor Society with him as a member. He was also on the first certification committee of the American Portrait Society. His work is also noted in the book "A California Style," published in 1985.

Musselman has had more than 50 one-man shows in major art museums, has been invited to show in 50 national, international and regional exhibits, and in 60 competitive shows.

A portrait artist since 1940, Musselman has amassed several awards for both his portraits and advertising illustrations. He was a professor of art, design and illustration at his alma mater, the California College of Arts and Crafts, and also spent 25 years on the faculty at the California State University in Fresno. He retired in 1978 to devote himself to painting.

Self Portrait - 1951


Exhibition Notes -

Franklin & Marshall College - 1999

The following biological profile is taken from the exhibition catalog of Darwin Musselman's last exhibition prior to his passing on June 28, 2001, in Lancaster, PA. The author is Carol Faill, Director of Rothman and Dana Galleries.

A California Style, Watercolors and Oils 1935 1990, Dana Room, Steinman College Center, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, August 28-September 19, 1999:

Franklin & Marshall College is pleased to present this exhibit of oil paintings and watercolors by the California artist, Darwin Musselman. We are fortunate to have on our faculty the person most familiar with Mr. Musselman's work, his elder son, Ronald L. Musselman, Professor of Chemistry. This exhibit demonstrates a stylistic evolution over the prolific career of this seasoned artist. The works on display and those reproduced in the brochure are largely owned by The Darwin and Ethel Musselman Exemption Trust, and have been selected from a larger body.

Darwin Musselman's paintings vary widely in style but possess one feature in common - a composition that is highly methodical. After developing skills in drawing and realistic painting, the artist established his most identifiable style, one that reflects the influence of both cubism and abstract realism.

Musselman's prominence in the California art world during the mid twentieth century, primarily through his abstract paintings, helped to define what has come to be called "the California Style."(1)

Darwin Musselman was born in a small central California town in 1916. Fascinated from early childhood with creating images on two-dimensional surfaces, his attention was diverted in high school to the more practical field of engineering. Shortly after his arrival at Fresno State College in 1934, however, he rediscovered his vocation, and subsequently devoted a lifetime to painting.

The earliest works in this exhibition are from the Fresno State years and display a remarkable talent for realistic representation. During his last summer as an undergraduate, Musselman studied with the internationally known artist Lyonel Feininger (1871 - 1951), whose work is closely associated with the cubist style.

Upon graduation from college, Musselman attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles, from which he returned to Fresno in 1939 to begin work as a commercial artist with a large advertising agency, where he remained until the Second World War compelled him to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was employed in the construction of Navy ships. His visual acuity equipped him to direct welding crews who transformed two-dimensional drawings and flat sheets of steel into massive three-dimensional structures; the three years he spent in a shipyard proved to have a lasting influence on his art. His first paintings upon his return to Fresno were industrial scenes reminiscent of shipyards, and patterns of squares and rectangles ("Composition 847").

These orthogonal shapes and urban/ industrial subjects would combine with Feininger's cubism to create Musselman's personal abstract style.

The paintings of 1947 reproduced here are among those which Musselman submitted to competitive shows in northern California, where his emerging style caught the eye of the Bay Area art world. In 1948 he was offered a position at California College of Arts and Crafts, one of the leading art schools in the West.

His style was further refined in the 1950s. "Harrison Street, Oakland" is a fine example of the combination of careful composition and the interplay of orthogonal shapes and urban subjects that best exemplify his mature work. In the late 1940s and early '50s, art critics were beginning to notice these features: "In the Fresno show, we honored clarity of design and elegance of craftsmanship in awarding first prize to Darwin Musselman."(2) "Darwin Musselman does some of the most carefully organized research in watercolor gouache that I have seen. You never know where his subject comes from, but it is always presented with rich elegance"(3) "The Watermelon" (1957) represents a highly evolved example of his prolific, abstract period during the mid-1950s.

Upon becoming a member of the faculty of Fresno State College in 1953, Musselman felt the pedagogical urge to illustrate a variety of styles for the benefit of his students. He had long been fascinated with the trompe l'oeil technique, particularly that of the American painter, William Harnett (1842 - 1892). His painting entitled "Widmung" (now in the permanent collection of the Oakland Art Museum) won considerable recognition and, as a result, Musselman was invited to submit several paintings of a similar style to an Oakland show entitled, "Bay Area Realists." Consequently, he produced many more trompe l'oeil paintings, "Studio Door" being an example.

Musselman, as the artist-teacher, conducted two student art history tours to Europe in the early 1960s. There, he was strongly influenced by the richly varied, urban environments ("Sacre Coeur de Montmartre"). At the same time, however, his interest in the natural beauty of California was renewed, particularly the Sierra Nevada mountains and the rugged Pacific coast, and he painted numerous "rocks and stream" and "waves on the rocks" images during this period. In both of these subjects, European cities and California waters, he included orthogonal shapes. (These tend to be sharp edged in the European, and softer edged in the Pacific Coast subjects.)

By the end of the decade, Musselman was exploring amorphous, non-objective images, taking the representation of pure shape to its logical extreme. (Note for instance, the large canvas entitled "Textural Variations in Red and Black".)

By the 1970s Musselman had been painting realistic desert and other western landscapes for decades, and it was natural consequence that gallery owners began requesting western scenes, very much in the vogue nationally at the time. While in the past he had never emphasized a human presence in his landscapes, he began now to study contemporary Native Americans, ranch hands and their tools, and the vestiges of early frontier civilization. "Bull Riding Gear" and "Crystal Ice Co." reflect this direction.

The western subjects were in many ways a continuation of his realistic work of previous decades. As a result of his new interest in human subjects, Musselman began receiving portrait commissions and portraiture became the focus of his work in the 1980s. He won several awards for his portraits, again attributable to his experience in composition. He was also active in portrait societies until diminished health required him to retire.

Best known for his works in oils, Darwin Musselman was also an accomplished watercolorist. He worked in both opaque and transparent watercolors, as well as egg tempera. Several of his latest works in this exhibition, executed when he was 74 years of age, are transparent watercolors (a challenging medium which allows no correction of error). "Pennsylvania Winter" and "Ad Space" are two examples of his work in transparent watercolor.


1. "The California Style: California Watercolor Artists 1925 - 1955," Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last, Hillcrest Press, Beverly Hills, 1985.

2. Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 1947.

3. Emil Kosa, Jr. American Artist Magazine, March, 1950

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