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.