Emil Kosa

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About this artist

A notable Southern California landscape painter, Emil Jean Kosa, Jr., was also one of the region’s most respected watercolorists, achieving national prominence in the 1940s. As a youth he went to Czechoslovakia, his father’s homeland, to study in Prague at the Academy of Fine Arts and Karlova University; he was graduated from the latter in 1921. He then settled in Los Angeles, where he studied at the Clay School of Art (later known as the California Art Institute) in 1922 and began a career as an easel painter and muralist. He returned briefly to Europe in 1927 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris with Pierre Laurens (1875-1932). In 1928 he returned permanently to Los Angeles. First he supported himself working for decorators, and then in 1933 he began a thirty-five year association with Twentieth Century Fox as a set painter and special-effects artist, winning an Oscar in 1964 for his work in Cleopatra.

Kosa’s first solo exhibition was organized in 1939 at the Oakland Museum, and in 1940 he showed at the Macbeth Gallery in New York; throughout his life he would be accorded many solo exhibitions. In 1945 he was elected president of the California Water Color Society and in 1948 director of Southern California Artists Equity. Unlike most Southern California artists he taught only infrequently, for a year after World War II at Chouinard Art Institute and in 1962 at the Laguna Art School. He was one of the few California artists to become a member of the National Academy of Design.

Kosa was known primarily for his panoramic landscapes, although he also painted portraits and figure paintings of nudes, clowns, and dancers. By the late 1930s he had developed a bold watercolor style that helped bring California art to national prominence. His watercolors were noted for their strong brushwork and clear light, and his oils were admired for their golden tonalities. In 1943 the critic Arthur Millier praised Kosa for bringing a new power to California landscape painting. In 1957 he first exhibited his abstract paintings, which were inspired by an interest in astronomy.

Arthur Millier, "Kosa Sings California," Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1943, pt. 3, p. 5 § Emil Kosa, "Sketching on the California Coast," American Artist 14 (March 1950): 39-43 § Moure 1975, pp. 17-18, 52-53, with bibliography § Moure with Smith 1975, pp. 141-42, with bibliography § Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last, The California Style: California Watercolor Artists, 1925-1955 (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Hillcrest Press, 1985), pp. 100-1.