Painting on the rocky coastline at Lands End, San Francisco, 1915

The Man Beneath the Paint:
California Impressionist Tilden Daken

The man beneath the paint book cover  The man beneath the paint book back cover

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Tilden Daken lived a life made for headlines and brought California to the world through his art. Bonnie Portnoy, the granddaughter he never knew, peels back the life of her artist grandfather, securing his place in history, while taking the reader on an unforgettable adventure.  Historians say he painted 4,000 works . . . from the majestic redwood forests to the otherworldly High Sierra, Daken painted in every California state park and every national park in the West, and beneath the sea in his custom-built diving bell. The media avidly covered him, fascinated by his art, swashbuckling persona, tumultuous personal life, and the adventures that took him far outside of California. Today, Daken’s paintings hang in museums and are eagerly sought by collectors. More about his life on Wikipedia.


Armando Quintero, director of California State Parks: “Tilden Daken lived during a golden age when artists, writers, and scientists championed the protection of landscapes that today are precious state, national, and regional parks. His works are a very personal expression of the life of a man who was a tireless adventurer and infectious painter. Bonnie Portnoy reveals the man and brings to us the world through his eyes and imagination. . . We owe a debt of thanks to her for her passion to see this through and to Tilden Daken . . . for bringing these images to the world at a moment in history when the public voices first began to influence the preservation of these lands for all to enjoy.”

Matt Leffert, executive director, Jack London Park Partners. “California Impressionist Tilden Daken, Jack’s pal—fellow adventurer and fellow dreamer—captures the spirit of nature and exploration in his exquisitely rendered paintings. It has been a joy to become acquainted with Tilden’s art and wildly adventurous life, and his friendship with Jack London, through my friend, Bonnie Portnoy, Tilden’s granddaughter, who has produced a truly splendid volume of his epic life and prolific works of art. . . . Her journey researching and chronicling her grandfather is an inspiration of its own.”

Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, California art historian, prolific author, former curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Bonnie Portnoy is not hesitant to reveal family secrets. Alternating between biography and background history, she keeps the reader turning pages. Tilden Daken is revealed as a fascinating raconteur who pursued his own version of representational landscape painting. The Man Beneath the Paint is well-documented with footnotes and enhanced with family photos and many color illustrations of Daken’s paintings. It is a welcome addition to the ever-growing body of literature on California’s historic artists.”


Bonnie Portnoy BONNIE PORTNOY lives just a few miles north of the enchanting Arts and Crafts house Tilden Daken built in Mill Valley, California, in the 1920s—unbeknownst to her until she launched the Tilden Daken Legacy Project to unearth the mysteries about her grandfather. Through the project, she made invaluable connections with art historians, museum curators, gallery owners, and avid collectors who helped her flesh out Daken’s long-lost story. In addition to family lore, she mined hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, exhibit catalogs, personal letters, autobiographical short stories penned by the artist, and much more. Portnoy, a former merchandising and marketing executive at several San Francisco-based retail firms, lectures frequently about Daken at a wide variety of public and private venues.


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