2009 Catalog, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home

2009 Catalog > 14. Okey “Lake with Surrounding Mountains.”

14. John [Jack] Clark Okey. “Lake with Surrounding Mountains,” n.d. (c.1915). Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 30 3/8." Frame: 24 x 35 1/2." Signed in l. r. corner: “J.C. Okey.” With period California frame (c. 1900-1925). Excellent.


Before his highly successful career in Hollywood film making, John Okey (1889–1963) was a student of fine art in both Los Angeles and in Paris. After Oakey began work in set design and art direction, his first love of painting persisted, but his canvases are rare.

Lake with Surrounding Mountains is a plein air painting. The landscape is evocative of the austere environment of interior southern California, and may depict the Salton Sea. Okey had studied with the early California Impressionist Joseph Greenbaum, whose influence is especially evident here in Okey’s use of color. His assured brushwork renders the scene with thinly painted textures in the rocks and water, while the sky is heavily painted with sweeping strokes. The sky dominates the composition, and gives a sense that the true subject of the painting is its extraordinary illumination.

Okey was born in California and attended the Los Angeles Art Students League, an early bastion of modernism in the west. There he studied painting with his uncle, John Bond Francisco, whose Barbizon influence carried over into Oakey’s early work. Okey traveled to Paris in 1909 with Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and there continued his studies. After returning to Los Angeles in 1910, Okey entered the world of filmmaking.

Click to view John Clark Okey’s signature on this painting.

Okey became a highly successful art director during the Golden Age of Hollywood, contributing to a wide variety of films ranging from early musicals to film noir. His work was nominated twice for academy awards. In the 1930s, Jack (as he became known) was invited by Alexander Korda to design what would become the largest film studio in England—the enormous Denham Studios. He stayed in England for several years working on films as well. Okey returned to Los Angeles in the 1940s, and continued his work in film there. Notably, he was art director for the highly successful film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Lake with Surrounding Mountains is a beautiful example of early California Impressionism by one of Hollywood’s greats.

Refs.: Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940 (2002); Martin Stockham, The Encyclopedia of British Film (2003).

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