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Pictures From the Past

Though the achievements of Constable and Turner couldn’t quite be matched, they honed other English painters’ regard for the limpid atmosphere and picturesque settings of their own sod. Aptly named, Benjamin Williams Leader ranked near the top of the late-19th-century Constabulary, celebrating the Midlands and Wales with a perfect blend of 17th-century Dutch (Ruysdael, Hobbema), 19th-century French (he’s practically a cross-Channel Barbizoniste) and, of course, his British predecessors. (I don’t doubt he knew his Düsseldorf School too.) A collation of choice Leaders on view in Brentwood, dating mostly from Victoria’s last years and Edward’s reign, should be a touchstone for expat Limeys, Anglophiles, environmentalists and painters alike — and for anyone else who likes inhabiting superbly made pictures. (Leader’s gentle evening pieces are a particular balm to eyes fried by Pacific sunsets.)

For more in this genre, this month the Barbizon ’scapists themselves enjoy their annual Beverly Hills roundup (or perhaps herding, given the number of sheep and cows populating these canvases). The big boys — Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny, Diaz de la Peña — are well represented but don’t steal the show from successors like Pierre Damoye, Léon Richet and Léon Lhermitte, not to mention the occasional étranger, such as Briton Henry John Yeend King.

Moving away from the landscape and into the modernist era, another show in Beverly Hills rounds up 20-odd painters and sculptors (and an occasional photographer) in “The California Modernist Portrait,” offering Impressionist, Fauvist, Cubist and even Surrealist portrayals of friends, family and fellow ’fornians. Especially well chosen, this collection, balanced between Bay Area and Southland, argues that the 1920s and ’30s were as heady times for artists out here as they were back East — and that the talent they displayed could be formidable. Benjamin Williams Leader at Cambridge, 200 S. 26th St., Santa Monica, Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (310) 451-2888. “Barbizon” at Galerie Michael, 430 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. (310) 273-3377. “The California Modernist Portrait” at Spencer Jon Helfen, 9200 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (310) 273-8838. All through Dec. 2.

—Peter Frank


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