In 1931 Beau received his first major commission. The women’s council of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles retained him to paint an altarpiece for the new parish of St. Thomas Church, located within the Arctic Circle at Point Hope, Alaska. Measuring six by six feet, the large oil on canvas painting depicted Christ and Thomas, his doubting disciple. The large work was entitled, "BE NOT FAITHLESS BUT BELIEVING". Unveiled first at the Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles, the painting earned fame not only for its location as the northernmost mural in the world, but also for its exquisite beauty. Beau adopted the chiaroscuro painting style of his favorite French artist, Georges de la Tour, and created a composition of internal luminosity, drama and grace.
Beaumont's well-regarded skill as a portrait painter soon led to his lifelong association with senior officers of the United States Navy. While still a civilian artist, he painted the portraits of Admiral Frank Schofield, Commander In Chief of the US Fleet, Vice Admiral Thomas T. Craven Battle Fleet Commander, Captain Percy Foote, the captain of the battleship USS Arkansas, and, most importantly, Rear Admiral William D. Leahy, Commander of the Battle Fleet Scouting Force. Leahy’s portrait was completed on board his flagship, the cruiser USS Raleigh while anchored in San Diego Bay. Of the three portraits Beau would create of Leahy, the first, painted in 1932, portrayed him in the uniform of a Rear Admiral. The successive portraits would reflect his rise in stature as he was promoted first to Vice Admiral, and subsequently to the rank of four star Admiral. In 1937, Leahy was appointed Chief of naval Operations by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was routine for Beau to require that each of his subjects pose for him in person so that he might observe and capture the subtleties of their personalities over time. During these sessions, spaced over a period of five years from 1932 thru 1937, Beau and Bill Leahy became good friends. One day, while sitting for this first portrait, Leahy surprised Beau by posing the question, “Beaumont, why aren’t you in the Navy?” Leahy was cognizant of the fact that the artist who had recorded the Navy’s history from the time of the Spanish-American War through the end of World War I, had recently passed away. The Navy no longer had a dedicated artist, and Leahy had concluded that Beau had the artistic ability to become Henry Reuterdahl’s successor. Beau was intrigued by the concept, surmising that the Admiral’s Leahy’s patronage could lead an important opportunity for his career. And, it amounted to a rare job offer during the depths of the Great Depression!
Beau accepted Leahy’s offer. His commission as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve arrived on August 17, 1933. Beau's first exhibit, as the Navy’s official “Artist of the Fleet”, encompassed 39 paintings, and was entitled "Our Glorious Navy". The exhibit had opened, before he received his commission, in May of 1933. The venue was the elegant Villa Riviera Apartment/Hotel in Long Beach. The hotel had been selected as the Leahys’ residence, and Bill’s wife Louise joined Beau’s wife Dorothy as a co-hostess for the opening event. Positive reviews appeared in the press in both Long Beach and Los Angeles. The owner of the Biltmore Salon Gallery in Los Angeles was one of the guests at the exhibit. He was impressed by the quality and scope of the exhibit and he offered to display the exhibit in his gallery at the elegant Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The Biltmore show opened in October of 1933 with a much expanded audience. Viewers and critics alike were mesmerized by the drama and beauty of the unusual variety of ships. As a result of the favorable public reception, the Los Angeles Art Association decided to create a traveling exhibit for “Our Glorious Navy.” Organized under the auspices of the American Federation of the Arts, the exhibit traveled for over a year to multiple venues across the nation. The East Coast debut occurred in Washington DC in May of 1934 at the National Gallery of Art, which was administered at the time by the Smithsonian Institution. This exhibit was the first one man show by a living naval artist, ever held at the National Gallery. One Washington art critic noted, "Paint, brush and canvas are Beaumont's weapons that give him free reign of every ship. And he is the supreme boss when it comes to keeping the aesthetic log of the U.S. Navy."
Before the exhibit returned to California, it would appear in New York City, Newport, Newport, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, and Chicago with similar positive reception wherever it traveled.
While “Our Glorious Navy” was on tour, Beau received his first assignment Navy assignment at sea. He was ordered to board the cruiser USS Louisville in California and record its activities as it passes through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic. In Panama, he was to transfer to the new cruiser Portland for fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. Secretly, the Navy was manipulating the impression of the time it took warships to transit the canal. The Japanese were monitoring ship movements through the canal, and the Navy wished to deny them accurate information on the elapsed time it took ships to deploy from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beau was impressed with the Navy's secret orders to slow the transit and even stop and anchor while in the canal. During his first extended voyage, Beau recorded every aspect of the Fleet’s operations. He sketched in pencil and in ink for hours each day, making detailed notes about colors he observed as he went along. On those occasions when he was not painting with his easel in plein aire on site, he would return to his ship with his sketches in hand, and complete his refined watercolors his cabin/studio aboard the cruisers.
After observing Fleet exercises for several weeks in the Caribbean, Beau was ordered to Washington D.C. The Presidential Review of the Fleet was to take place in New York harbor on May 31, 1934. Beau was intrigued. He knew that President Roosevelt was scheduled to review the fleet from his flagship, the USS Indianapolis. Beau desperately wanted to witness and record this historic occasion. In pursuit of that goal, he contacted Admiral Leahy in Washington to ask for orders to attend the event. Unfortunately, the admiral had already received so many requests from congressmen and ranking navy officials that he was forced to deny most of the requests. In that context, Leahy concluded that it was inappropriate to grant Lieutenant Beaumont’s request. Of course, Beau was disappointed. However, at the last possible moment, good luck intervened. At the Army-Navy Club in Washington DC, Beau ran into his old friend Captain Smeallie, the Commanding Officer of the President’s Flagship, the USS Indianapolis. Friendship won the day and within hours, Captain Smeallie issued Beau the requisite orders to attend the Presidential Review.
Two days later Beau boarded the USS Indianapolis in New York harbor. Once on board, he learned that formal uniforms had been ordered to be worn for the presidential event. Beau did not own a formal uniform. All he owned was his Service blue uniform. The thought of being in the wrong uniform for such an important event was disturbing to him. But there was nothing to be done on such short notice. As he observed and sketched the activity on decks below him with his usual precision and insight, he was surprised to hear his name called out over the ship’s intercom, "The President wishes to see Lieutenant Beaumont", repeated twice.
"I nearly dropped dead!" Beau remembered, fearing that Roosevelt might notice he was out of uniform. But he made his way to the admiral’s quarters where the President was seated in his wheelchair. Captain Smeallie introduced Beau to the President. FDR began, “Mr. Beaumont, I enjoyed so much the watercolor which Captain Smeallie has just presented to me.” He was referring to Beau’s painting of the USS Indianapolis, accompanied by the President's schooner, Amberjack in the foreground. The painting had been commissioned by Captain Smeallie and the crew of the flagship, and had been completed several months before. Beau was surprised by the accolade and honored by the President’s compliment. He and the President then had an extended chat about his recent experiences sketching fleet activities at sea. After some time became concerned that their conversation might delay the President’s appearance in public, so he finally excused himself by saying that he should probably be on his way. The President graciously excused him and headed for his distinguished assembled guests.
The widespread exposure of "Our Glorious Navy" brought Beau enhanced national recognition. His ship portraits were in demand for publication in numerous newspapers and periodicals throughout the country. Beaumont images appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner and Evening Herald Express, The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. And In October of 1934, the Chicago Sunday Tribune ran a full page color layout of “Heavy Weather” an image of the USS Oklahoma, and “Majesty”, the battleship USS Maryland in their Sunday Supplement. Beau also completed sketches that were accompanied by his comments for a multipage article in the popular Cosmopolitan Magazine.
One of the elements that made his paintings so striking was his ability to render effectively the complicated details of the ships in the technically demanding medium of watercolors. "I've had to be as much historian as painter," he wrote. "I've got a whole Navy full of critics to contend with...men who are ready to jump down my throat if I miss a detail on a ship they've sailed. Accuracy is very important!"
Although Beau continued to enjoy his assignments with the Navy thru the end of 1934, he grew disillusioned with the notion that the Navy owned all the works he produced while he was on active duty as a naval officer. He also became disenchanted with the government’s W.P.A. art programs. He felt that artists were often selected to participate in these government programs because of their political views, rather than as a result of their artistic talent. The idea that US government would specify what the artist should depict conflicted with Beau's staunch advocacy of artistic freedom. These two issues prompted Beau to resign from the regular Navy Reserve in December of 1934. Instead, he was able to continue his work with the Navy on a freelance basis by joining the California Naval Guard. He was able to retain his rank as a lieutenant, and, at the same time, control the ownership of his paintings and drawings which he was then free to sell privately.
In 1935, Beau opened a new studio in the tower of the Pacific Coast Club in Long Beach, where panoramic views from the penthouse "crow's nest" informed his art. He could easily monitor the Navy’s ship activity in the harbor below, and at the same time, he could take his watercolor students down to the harbor to paint in plein air, as the weather permitted. At the same time, he renewed his acquaintances with realist, impressionist, and modernist artists he had known in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He accepted invitations to participate in many group shows including those sponsored by the Laguna Beach Art Association, the California Water Color Society, The California Art Club, and the Academy of Western Painters.
In the late 1930’s his works were featured by the Long Beach Art Association, the Ebell Club Salon in Los Angeles, and multiple California State Fairs. Although he was now known primarily for his renderings of ships, some of his non-naval compositions were awarded prizes in major competitions. Reviewing the California Art Club's annual show in 1936, one critic wrote, referring to a non-naval submission: "The first prize winner in this division (watercolor) comes near to being the best piece in the entire exhibition, regardless of medium. It is Arthur Beaumont's “Gypsy Carnival”, among the top-notch things this aquarellist has shown.”
In 1939 The Golden Gate International Exposition was being organized in San Francisco, and Beau was appointed as chairman of the Southern California selection committee. Held on the former site of the San Francisco World’s Fair, the exhibit was to become the largest art exhibit in California history. Over 550 entries would be presented, and Beau invited Millard Sheets, Katherine Leighton and Jean Mannheim, to join him on the prestigious selection committee. For his own submissions, Beau was awarded two prizes, one for watercolors, and the other for an etching. The more prominent of these two entries was a composition that depicted great battleships at anchor in the harbor at San Pedro. This painting won the first prize overall for watercolors, and the Philadelphia Watercolor Society purchased the painting at the close of the exhibition. In 1940, The Watercolor Society gifted the painting to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in whose collection it resides today. Later in the year, Beau also won the highly sought after purchase prize award from the renowned Clearwater Junior High School competition. Entitled, “Anchors Away”, the prizewinner became one of Beau’s trademark works, published frequently in the press and exhibited widely at venues throughout California.