While many members don’t realize it, there is actually a fairly strong tradition of impressionistic painting among Mormon artistists. The origins of the tradition go back to the decision of the Church to send some budding young LDS artists to Paris as “Art Missionaries” in the late 19th century. This painting, a study for the mural in the Garden Room of the Salt Lake Temple, is an example of this impressionist tradition.
As the completion of the Salt Lake Temple approached, the leaders of the Church began looking for artists to paint the murals. John Hafen (1856-1910), the painter of this picture, and some colleagues were called “on missions” to go to Paris to study art. At the time, impressionism was the hottest thing in the French art world, and it is what the Mormons picked up. The use of light and color in this painting shows the influence of Hafen’s exposure to impressionism in Paris.
Hafen found it difficult to make a living as an artist in Utah. Heber J. Grant, who was a successful finacier in addition to being an Apostle, felt it was very important that Hafen continue to produce art. He made a deal. Hafen would work full time as a painter and attempt to sell his paintings. Any that he could not sell, then-Elder Grant agreed to buy.
Interestingly, after an absence of several decades, I understand that there are plans to once again include painted murals in the ordinance rooms of new temples. For me, at least, it is exciting to see a revival of what is a peculiarlly Mormon use of art.