Thursday, October 13, 2016

Painting with Light: Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu

I recently discovered the artist Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu. Raised by her grandparents on a farm in North Dakota, the young artist attended the Minneapolis School of Art in Minneapolis. She studied under the artist Anthony Angarola, who would become her fiançe. Before the couple Were able to marry, Angarola died in 1929. In 1932 changed her name from her father's surname Goldschlager to her mother's maiden name, Baranceanu.

In 1924 Baranceanu relocated to Chicago, where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and began to develop a distinctive abstract realist style. She soon made her way West, where she was transfixed by the light of California. She settled in San Diego, where she did murals for the Public Works of Art Project at the La Jolla Post Office and Roosevelt Jr. High School. Her palette was imbued with bright colors and modernist broken planes of color reminiscent of the Fauvists.

Most interesting was her ability to paint portraits in a distinctive technique. Beautifully meticulous, yet with a modern sensibility, her figures represented mid-century California.

Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu's paintings range from $2,000-$5,000 at auction. Like many women artists she is undervalued in the art market, compared to male artist of the same caliber.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Erle Loran: Bringing Cezanne to California

"Farmhouses" oil on canvas c.1930s (courtesy:

With so much scholarship about East Coast American artists I'm always seeking the California and Western artists who changed the course of American art. Erle Loran (1905-1999) was a most interesting artist of the modern period. Loran published the book Cézanne's Composition, exploring the artist's approach to form and space during a period when Post-Impressionist art still perplexed the American public. The important publication explained Cézanne from a purely aesthetic point of view. Loran's book became a staple amongst California artists, teachers, and students. It was used by important universities who were beginning to teach modern art.

Loran was born with the name Erleloran Johnson. And as a young man attended University ofMinnesota from 1922-1923, transferring to the the Minneapolis School of Art where he graduated in 1926. Through the Chaloner Foundation, Loran earned a scholarship to study in Europe. He became fascinated by the artist Paul Cézanne. Erle Loran explored the French countryside around Aix-en-Provence, France, to document the scenes Cézanne used in his paintings. Loran even was said to have lived in Cézanne's studio there.

Loran returned to the United States in 1930, where he briefly worked in New York publishing art criticism and painting. He returned to Minneapolis where he became an artist of the Public Works of Art Project, a federal program that commissioned artists during the Great Depression. In the mid-1930s, Johnson changed his name to Erle Loran. In 1936, he was appointed to the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. Loran became the leader of an artist group known as the "Berkeley School." He was influenced by Asian, pre-Columbian, American Indian and African tribal art.

In 1943 Loran wrote his important book on Cezanne. His pupils at Berkeley included Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis. In 1954 Loran studied with Hans Hofmann, the painter and theoretician of modern art in New York.

Loran retired from the University in 1972. He suffered a stroke in Berkeley and died at age 93. His art work was collected by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, the Los Angeles County Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

*The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University's exhibition has an exemplary work by Erle Loran currently on view.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Anton Refregier: Controversial Mid-Century Modernist Challenges California History

Anton Refregier was one of the most interesting and controversial California modernists of the mid-century. Most of his paintings make a social commentary about the world around him. Utilizing broken planes of color and fractured lines, his modernist style often replicated the tone of the subjects he was painting.

Born in Moscow, Russia in 1905, Refregier emigrated to New York City in 1920. Soonafter he received a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design in 1921, afterwhich Refregier moved back to New York. Refregier was employed as an artist to  interior decorators, creating replicas of François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard paintings. Refregier returned to Europe in 1927 and visited to Munich where he studied under the modernist Hans Hofmann.
Anton Refregier "San Francisco 1934 Waterfront Riot", 1949 Color Screenprint (Collection of DeYoung Museum)

This print "San Francisco 1934 Waterfront Riot" by Refregier was recently appraised on Antiques Roadshow for $3,000-$5,000.

One of Refregier's most interesting commissions was the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco. Commissioned in 1943, it was the last year of the Federal Art's project. In fact, the murals were not even painted until after World War II was over. Since it was an obselete notion to illustrate how hard work would end the economic depression --- Refregier choose to depict California's history, ugly bits an all, including the great Earthquake, the Goldrush, corrupt leaders, anti-Chinese riots, and the Bay Area's waterfront strike of 1934.

The mural was so controversial, that many people including former President Richard Nixon protested to have the work removed. They claimed it had a communistic tone and “defamed pioneers and reflected negatively on California's past.” Eventually the mural was saved, thanks to a group of artists and museum curators. 

Refregier's "Ploughed Under" an oil painting from 1935 serves as one of the artist's most important Depression era paintings. Depicting a Dust Bowl era farmer devastated by his bleak landscape, the painting represents the Depression-era experience. The shape of the broken and dilapidated house is mirrored by the shape of the farmer in his tired, worn overalls.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Anna Skeele: California Artist and Modernist of the Southwest

Rancho Church, New Mexico 1930 Oil on canvas

I recently discovered a most interesting California artist by the name of Anna Skeele (1896-1963 Monrovia, CA). Skeele was born in Wellington, Ohio and eventually made her way to New York City to study at the Art Students League of New York City under Charles Hawthorne and Frederic Bridgman.

Skeele, she also travelled to Europe where she became exposed to modernism at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and with André Lhote in Paris. In a mostly male artist dominated feel, she travelled to the Royal Academy of Arts in Florence, Italy where she studied the history of painting.

Skeele eventually made her way west, moving to California in 1912. Here she took art classes at the California School of Fine Arts under the apprenticeship of Armin Hansen in Monterey, California. Skeele eventually began teaching at Pomona College. Also know as Katherine Skeele Dann, she married fellow artist Frode Dann.

The mid-century in Southern California produced a vibrant school of modern artists like Skeele. Because of the number of imporant art school in the area -- artists were able to innovate modern art techiniques and styles unlike anywhere else in America. Artists like Anna Katharine Skeele, Helen Lundeberg, Henrietta Shore, Henry Lee McFee, Richard Haines, among others developed a distinctive figurative modernist school of painting.

Skeele favored figurative art but painted in a modern style in which she utilized a vibrant Fauvist palette, cubist forms, flattened panes of color. Reminiscent of artist peers of her time period Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, and Georgia O'Keeffe -- Skeele developed a similar but signature style unique to her

Anna Skeele spent quite a bit of time in the Southwest -- and she became fascinated by the people and place. Some of her most striking paintings often depict Native Americans in and around New Mexico.
Image: Courtesy of Laguna Art Museum. Anna Skeele "Rancho Church, New Mexico" depicts San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Rancho de Taos, built between 1772 and 1816 by Franciscan fathers. It was a favorite subject for artists who came to the area, among them Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe. Skeele emphasizes the massiveness of the structure, which fills the composition and dwarfs the figures nearby. The fluffy white clouds form a halo around the church.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Henrietta Shore: California Modernist

Henrietta Shore Huntington Art Collection
As an art historian and appraiser with a specialization in California art -- I am always looking for paintings by interesting women artists during the modern period. One of my favorite modernists is Henrietta Shore.

Henrietta Mary Shore (1880-1963) was born in Toronto, Canada. When she decided to be an artist, she went to New York City to gain an art degree. She attended The Art Students League and learned American realist painting under the mentorship of the great artists Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. Shore also travelled to London to attend Heatherly Art School as a student of John Singer Sargent. She learned her foundations of art from some of the very best 20th century American artists.

Shore was a founding member of the New York Society of Women Artists. But rather than continuing with realism she began exploring modernism. Often likened to Georgia O'Keeffe of the same period, she had a style that also used bold colors, sinuous lines and foreshortening. Henrietta Shore also happened to be interested botanical studies. Her work is now known as Abstract Realism.

In 1913, Shore was bewitched by Los Angeles and moved there. She was a founder of the Los Angeles Society of Modern Artists. West Coast modernists of the period included Mabel Alvarez, Belle Baranceanu, Elanor Colburn, and Helen Lundeberg, who explored technique, color, and composition-- but continued to paint realist subjects. Shore won a silver medal at the 1915 Pan-American Exposition in San Diego. She and her colleague, Helena Dunlap partook in a two-person exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA).

Shore’s had earned a strong reputation as an artist and a retrospective of her work was held at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In 1924, she was chosen to be one of 25 American women represented women in Paris' exhibition. She also traveled to Mexico where she painted portraits of the famous artists Jose Orozco, Jean Charlot, and others. 

Upon returning to California, Henrietta Shore met photographer Edward Weston who made series of photographs based on Shore’s paintings. Shore eventually settled in Carmel, CA and continued to paint. During the Great Depression, Shore worked for the Treasury Relief Art Project and completed murals at the Monterey post office and another at the Santa Cruz post office.

Contact us with any artworks you think might be paintings by Henrietta Shore.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Robert Henri and his California Sojourn

The paintings of Robert Henri bewitched me into the world of art history as a young student. From his opulent portraits of wealthy industrialists to gritty depictions of New Yorkers like the sensuous Salome (below) his work beguiles viewers with truthful portrayals of turn-of-the-century America.

Copyright: Salome, 1909, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida

Robert Henri was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and eventually became a teacher and trailblazer of American Realism painting. Henri became known as the father of the Ashcan School of painters, a group of artists who included John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. Known as The Eight, they rejected the confines of the National Academy of Design began painting images of real life in New York and Pennsylvania.

Copyright: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Whitney Museum of American Art:

In 1888 Henri travelled to Europe where he was exposed to the subject, colors, and minimalism of the modernists. After have establishing himself as an esteemed portraitist, Henri travelled to California in 1914 with his wife, the artist Marjorie Henri. 

The recent exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum focuses on this period of work and is one of the most interesting exhibition I have seen in a long time. Robert Henri's California Realism, Race, and Region 1914-1925 explores Henri's painting done in La Jolla, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

Henri was tantalized by the region. This is most glaringly seen in his inspired palette of bright yellows, vibrant greens, and sparkling blues -- instead of his trademark oil paint done in browns and black used in his East Coast works. 

What is most interesting about Henri's West Coast work is his pursuit of real-life characters for his portraits. Instead of painting wealthy patrons he was intrigued by everyday people -- like the local Mexicans, Native Americans, African Americans, and Chinese of Southern California.

Copyright: Sylvester Private Collection 
Other artists in the Los Angeles area were also seeking Social Realist subject matter. Artists like Francis De Erdely, Richard Haines, and Mabel Alvarez were interested in depicting intriguing people of the area -- including dancers, workers, immigrants, and minorities. Artists like these as well as Henri wanted to capture the character and personality of this people -- which he does masterfully with paintings like Sylvester Smiling and Po Tse (Water Eagle).

Copyright: Tom Po Qui Denver Art Museum 
A most interesting part of the exhibition were the missing paintings by Henri. Mounted on the wall of the Laguna Art Museum were black and white photographs of paintings stated as "location unknown." As an art appraiser and historian it is interesting to think about where these paintings might be . Perhaps they are burned, lost, or hidden in the clutter of someone's basement. These might be unsigned works so a collector would not know whether it was a Henri painting. The lost painting have titles including Sylvester, Mexican Man, Mexican Woman, Ramon, Yen Tsidi, Ground Sparrow, and Machu.*

Robert Henri's California Realism, Race, and Region 1914-1925 is a must see. The Laguna Art Museum (which also has a wonderful permanent collection to note) has the Henri exhibition up until May 21, 2015. As stated in the worthwhile exhibition catalog by Grand Central Press, "Henri’s eagerness was rooted in his quest for new settings and fresh subjects. “I am now quite convinced that San Diego is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the world and we shall head that way and will not be convinced otherwise until we have seen the place and have been turned away.”"

NOTE: Readers, if you have seen these paintings or think you have a painting by Robert Henri, please contact us.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Borrego Art Institute Plein Air Invitational

I was recently asked to serve as juror of the upcoming Borrego Art Institute's 2015 Plein Air Invitational. While the Borrego Art Institute is only two years old, it is already attracting visitors from all over the world. Sunset Magazine's March 2015 issue highlights the desert town as well as the 2015 Plein Air Invitational.

Every year, 15 artists are asked to visit Borrego Springs for an entire week of painting. Artist will paint outdoors all day long -- and present works at the end of each day. They will hang in the gallery of the Borrego Art Institute and later be for sale. The artists included in the competition are Santa Barbara artist Marcia Burtt as well as Simon Addyman , Josh Clare, Janice Druian, Stuart Fullerton, Paul Kratter, Patty McGeeney, Clark Mitchell, Rita Pacheco, Dot Renshaw, David Solomon, Stock Schlueter, Victor Schiro, Toni Williams, James Wisnowski.

As an art appraiser, I have never had the opportunity to serve as juror of an art competition. Specializing in American art with a focus on California Modernism, I am usually asked to examine midcentury paintings or very old artworks. It is an exciting proposition to look at painting that are not yet dry.

I will judge the artworks in the exhibition based on stylist merit, composition, and technical prowess. Borrego Spring landscapes are known for their extreme beauty and the artists should have plenty of inspiration -- and I have a feeling viewers shall be inspired as well.