The California Modernist Portrait

September 16 – November 11, 2006

Public Reception: September 16, 2006, from 6:00 p.m. to 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 extremely proud to present The California Modernist Portrait, an uncompromising look at the vivid, colorful and historically innovative approach to portraiture by California’s foremost Modernists of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The exhibition, emphasizing oil paintings and sculpture, includes drawings and prints.

Victor Arnautoff (1896 – 1979)                                                               
The Muralist (Self Portrait)
Ca. 1928
Signed “Victor Arnautoff” lower right
oil on board
25.5 x 19.75 inches

Soon after his arrival in the United States from Russia, Victor Arnautoff (1896 – 1979) visited Mexico and worked as a muralist with Diego Rivera.  This association in the mid-1920s had a profound impact on the artist.  His The Muralist (Self Portrait), ca. 1928, reveals a young, contemplative artist, holding an art portfolio and standing in front of a blank wall with a ladder and empty bucket.   The artist is front and center, but the painting signifies his early training as a muralist with the blank wall emblematic of the many walls and canvases yet to become murals and paintings.  In Green Dress, ca. 1935, Arnautoff, who, like Rivera, commented through his art on the inequities in society, gives a harsh look at the wealthy during the Great Depression.

Otis Oldfield (1890 – 1969)                                                                   
The Pink Dress
Signed “Oldfield” upper right
oil on canvas
25 x 21 inches

Otis Oldfield (1890 – 1969) spent his formative years (1910 – 1924) living and studying in Paris during the very time when Cubism, Dadaism, Fauvism and many other artistic styles were developed.  His experimental portraits are among the most incisive and stylistically forward of any during the Modern period. While Oldfield painted many subjects, including Chinese-American artist Yun Gee and photographer Edward Weston (portraits of each, dating from 1926, are on view in this exhibition), Oldfield’s favorite subject was his wife, fellow artist Helen Clark Oldfield. The Pink Dress, in the style of the frescos of the day and with Cubist influences, is a very tight rendering in what is referred to as neo-realism – an exacting style communicating great expression, in this case, Helen’s obvious disappointment and resignation .  

One of Los Angeles’ important early women Modernists, Mabel Alvarez (1891 – 1985) is known for her elegant and colorful renderings of objects and people.  In 1939, to recover from a love-affair gone awry, Alvarez returned to the place of her birth, Hawaii.  Herman is one of the most profound of the paintings created during this trip.  A young man of mixed ethnicity, a fact of great interest to Alvarez, Herman is portrayed as a sensitive and attractive young man.  Herman reveals Alvarez’s careful painting technique and her uncanny ability to portray her subjects as refined and sympathetic.

Other early Los Angeles Modernists featured in this exhibition include Peter Krasnow, with his 1925 introspective Self Portrait, and Ejnar Hansen’s 1928 sculptural portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann, a member of the Stieglitz group and an early Modernist thinker and photographer who lost his way once he moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1920s.  Hansen’s haunting portrait shows a grizzled Hartmann, perhaps at that point in his life when he was plagued by alcohol.

Hollywood celebrities make an appearance in the exhibition. Included are Edna Reindel’s surrealistic portrait of Ronald Colman from 1948, and Manuel Tolegian’s sensitive 1951 portrait of a handsome, young Cesar Romero.  Also included in the exhibition are paintings, sculpture and works on paper by Edward Biberman, Dorr Bothwell, Conrad Buff, Francis de Erdely, Yun Gee, John Langley Howard, Boris Lovet-Lorski, Helen Clark Oldfield, Jacques Schnier, Frede Vidar, Christian Von Schneidau, Edward Weston, Bernard Zakheim, 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.  

The Gallery is located at 9200 West Olympic Boulevard, Suite 200, in Beverly Hills, at the southwest corner of Palm Drive, between Beverly Drive and Doheny.

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