Francis McComas: Rediscovering California’s First Modernist

January 21 – April 4, 2021 

An influential artist once rated “among the twenty best painters of the world,” Francis Mc Comas (1874 – 1938) is one of art history’s greatest lost treasures. While his name is less familiar than Pollock or Monet, there was a time, not so long ago, when Mc Comas was among the most famous artists on Earth. Newspapers from San Francisco, New York, Paris and London celebrated his unique genius. A boxer, a dancer, and a drinker, he was a brazen ladies’ man renowned for his charm and acerbic wit, and counted among his personal friends Jack London, William Keith, and Charlie Chaplain. Princes and presidents alike sought him out, eager to meet the bon vivant Tasmanian whose triumphs spread through the art world like wildfire.


Francis Mc Comas: Rediscovering California’s First Modernist, guest curated by Robert J. Pierce for the Monterey Museum of Art, will be the artist’s first retrospective since his 1939 memorial exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor. With an emphasis on his larger, later, most modern works, this exhibition will tell Mc Comas’ story through an examination of his strongest paintings and a selection of never before-seen personal photos. The show will explore his ever-changing style, told against the backdrop of California’s evolving art world. This exhibition will present a twenty-first century look at this historic artist, correct errors and omissions in the historical record, and help to return him to his place as one of America’s most significant painters. Eighty years after his death, Mc Comas’ story has languished for too long. Truly, now is the time to tell it, or risk losing it forever.


Image: Francis Mc Comas (1874-1938), Monterey Cypress, n.d., oil on canvas, 36 x 75 inches. Private Collection. Courtesy Josh Hardy Galleries LLC.