The California Modernist Landscape

April 14, 2007 – July 28, 2007

Public Reception: April 14, 2007, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

9200 West Olympic Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 273-8838, fax (310) 273-8848
Web site,
Gallery hours, Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm

Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts is pleased to announce the opening of The California Modernist Landscape, an exhibition featuring the finest in Modernist rural and urban landscape art by artists working in Northern and Southern California during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  

Modernism was introduced to California in a number of ways including by artists returning from France and other destinations in the late 1910s and early 1920s, such as Otis Oldfield (1890 – 1969) in San Francisco and Stanton Macdonald Wright (1890 – 1973) in Los Angeles.  These artists and others helped to influence their students and fellow artists to view and interpret the landscape in new and different ways.  Artists no longer merely reproduced nature on canvas, but instead interpreted it.  

Oldfield, Otis (1890 – 1969)                                                                                    
Telegraph Hill, East
Signed and dated “Otis Oldfield 1926” lower right
Oil on board
8.5 x 6.25 inches
Galerie des Beaux Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1926
Arnautoff, Victor (1896 – 1979)                                                                    
Men With Picks
Ca. 1930
Signed “V. Arnautoff” lower right
Oil on canvas
16 x 23 inches
For Oldfield, the use of flattened planes of brilliant color gave his urban and rural landscapes a bold, fresh look, as in Telegraph Hill, East from 1926.  His student and wife Helen Clark Oldfield (1902 – 1981) adopted her mentor’s use of bold color and flattening of objects, as in Ranch House at Santa Rosa from 1929. Victor Arnautoff (1896 – 1979), who arrived in San Francisco from Russia via Mexico, began to look at the urban landscape with a new eye.  In Men With Picks, ca. 1930, Arnautoff depicts workers toiling in an almost blighted industrial section of the City by the Bay. Other Northern California artists featured in this exhibition include Ruth Armer, Raymond Bertrand, Margaret Bruton, Ralph Chessé, Rinaldo Cuneo, William Hesthal, Erle Loran, Louis Siegriest, Frede Vidar, and others.

Krasnow, Peter (1886 – 1979)
Untitled (French Landscape No.2)
Signed and dated “Peter Krasnow ‘34” lower right
Watercolor on paper
15.5 x 23 inches
Gage, Merrell (1892 – 1981)                                                                        
Adobe House, Taos, NM
Signed and dated “Gage ‘37”
Oil on board
16 x 20 inches

Southern California also had its share of progressive landscape painters.  Of course, Macdonald Wright had his own idiosyncratic use of line always recognizable in his work, as in Topanga Canyon from 1940.  Los Angeles artist Peter Krasnow (1887 – 1979) traveled to France in the early 1930s and painted with wild abandon scenes of the French countryside, such as Untitled (French Landscape #2) from 1934. Los Angeles-based Merrell Gage (1892 – 1981) often adopted the Southwest as his subject, as in Adobe House, Taos N.M., from 1937, in which he rendered the landscape with a brooding sky and flat, almost block-like, cliffs and buildings.  Edward Biberman (1904 – 1986), known for his depictions of urban Los Angeles, created a haunting, even disturbing, image of  a cypress tree -- the symbol of Monterey, California -- through the use of brilliant blues and deathly grays in Lone Cypress from 1948.  Other key Modernist painters from Southern California featured in this exhibition include Grace Clements, Paul Landacre, Warren Newcombe (whose paintings of the local environs serve as testimony to the past, and who won an Oscar for his set design in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo), Lillian Whiting, and others.

The Gallery specializes in California Modernism of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and is one of the only galleries to undertake large-scale exhibitions featuring the important art and artists of the Modernist period in California.  

Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts is open Tuesday - Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and by appointment.  The Gallery is located at
9200 West Olympic Boulevard, Suite 200, in Beverly Hills.  Phone: 310.273.8838 Fax: 310.273.8848 Website:

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