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.