Pageant of the Masters takes place in Laguna Beach, CA, every year

Pageant of the Masters yet again features dozens of volunteers recreating masterworks of art.

In 1932, artist John H. Hinchman put together a summer art festival in Laguna Beach, California, to attract tourists in Los Angeles for the Olympic Games. It shortly grew to include “living pictures,” actors dressed and made up to echo masterpieces from throughout history. Nearly a century later, that tradition has continued and grown. In 86 years, the show has only missed four years for WWII, and 2020.

The Laguna Beach Festival of Arts is an eight-week-long art spectacle, including a juried art show, art tours all over the city, live music, and art workshops for all skill levels. The Pageant, for many, is the highlight of the entire Festival.

The theme for this year’s Pageant of the Masters is “Made in America,” and it is meant to focus on American artists. Forty paintings are featured, each one performed by live actors on an outdoor stage.

For each painting, a few moments of narration separate the works while intricately painted set pieces and beautifully made-up actors are rapidly rearranged from “painting” to “painting.” To the musical accompaniment of a live orchestra, they hold each painting for about twenty to thirty seconds, then proceed.

Notable paintings included in the show this year include Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the Passage of the Delaware by Thomas Sully, and Lincoln Memorial by Daniel Chester. The Statue of Liberty is included, even though the sculptor was Frenchman Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. And the show will conclude as it has every year since 1833, with a recreation of The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s a simulacrum and an illusion,” says Matthew Rolston, a photographer who captured the cast and costumes of this year’s show for the Laguna Art Museum. “Somewhere between humanity and a depiction of humanity. And that has some intrinsic, almost primitive fascination for people.”

Pageant of the Masters 2021 began on July 7 and will run through September 3.

Image: Shutterstock