The Nude in California Modernism

August 4, 2007 – November 3, 2007

Public Reception: August 4, 2007, from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

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

Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts is pleased to announce the opening of The Nude in California Modernism, featuring exquisite and provocative depictions of the human body by some of the foremost as well as lesser known California Modernists of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  

In classical antiquity the nude was a revered and frequently depicted artistic subject.  Reverence for the nude as art would wax and wane over the centuries due in part to changing societal mores.  The experimentation occasioned by the advent of Modernism brought new freedom to artists wishing to express their ideas about the human form. European avant-garde movements influenced to varying degrees California artists working in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  This exhibition explores some of the ways that the California Modernists interpreted the most intimate of subjects – the human body.

(l.) Lorser Feitelson (1898 – 1978)
Untitled (Figures in the Woods)
Signed “Feitelson” lower right
Oil on canvas
24 x 19.75 inches
                  (r.) Paul Landacre (1893 – 1963)                                                                                                           
                  Signed “Paul Landacre” lower right
                  Wood engraving on paper, Edition of 60, No.46
                  10.5 x 7.25 inches     

Lorser Feitelson’s Figures in the Woods from 1923 exemplifies the influence on California artists of early European Modernism.  The elongated and stylized figures are hallmarks of French Art Deco. Feitelson later would explore abstraction.  But his early and rare Modernist works give a glimpse into the burgeoning Los Angeles art scene of the 1920s.  Another Los Angeles artist, Paul Landacre, perhaps the finest wood engraver of the 20th century, used his medium to the fullest in capturing the luxuriousness of the female form in Anna, from 1938.  Literally undulating in the soft light, Anna exudes sensuality and sexuality.  

Otis Oldfield gives us the good with the bad in his 1935 depiction of his wife in Study for “The Comb”.  Showing the body as it actually appeared to him, the artist gives no illusions to the viewer, no idealization -- the body is depicted with all its flaws.  Oldfield’s wife, Helen Clark Oldfield, gives a more flattering and less revealing look at the female form in her 1938 Nude Back.  From the nape of the neck down the slightly curved back, the seated model is at once relaxed yet exposed.

(l.) Brents Carlton (1903 – 1962)
Toned Plaster of Paris
29 x 6 x 5 inches
Guest of Honor, 8th Annual Sculpture Exhibition, Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA, 1942
10th Annual Sculpture Exhibition, Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA, 1945
                (r.) Claude Buck (1890 – 1974)
Ca. 1940
                Signed “Claude Buck” lower right
                Oil on masonite
                48 x 21.25 inches  

In the 1940s the early Modernists turned to more idyllic depictions of the nude. Brents Carlton revealed the female form in Torso from 1942, a sculpture that hearkens back to classical antiquity.  Carlton’s nude form is presented without arms in a true classic pose.  Claude Buck created a sensual yet strangely cool image of the Greek (and Roman) god of wine and revelry.  In Bacchus, the young man, wearing a crown of grapes, calmly plays the flute while lounging against a tree and tenderly holding a blanket that just covers his bits.  Russell Cowles also looked to classical times in depicting a proud and beautiful nude in Egyptian Nude, Ca. 1940.  

Other artists featured in the exhibition include Mabel Alvarez, Victor Arnautoff, Ralph Chessé, Grace Clements, Jason Herron, Robert Kennicott, Caroline Lloyd, Jacques Schnier, Frede Vidar and Bernard Zakheim.

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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