Put Me Amongst the Girls

California Women Modernists
Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts

Helen Lundeberg
Portrait of Inez
oil on celotex
24 x 36 inches
ca. 1933

These broads can really paint. A number of gentlemen talked about Ronald Colman at the gallery premiere, because of Edna Reindel’s portrait of him (meant to be seen further away than is practicable here), and a number of ladies didn’t know what to think. The works are in all manner of styles, from abstract to trompe-l’œil, and nearly all were painted in the first third of the twentieth century, “up and down the California coast” of America. As always there are problems here for the East Coast, which prefers to call the shots even when it’s drawing blanks, figuratively speaking, but that’s not our problem, which is to consider a couple of dozen able painters most of whom are little-known.


Certainly there is Helen Lundeberg in her portrait style à la Urbino and a canyon landscape with a tall dead tree in the foreground painted in one continuous movement, definitively laid on throughout in thin oil showing the texture of the canvas (as the portrait on celotex has the mottled honest look of a fresco). Dorr Bothwell, Mabel Alvarez, Helen Forbes and Agnes Pelton are great and essential painters whose works are not a secret in the West. I don’t know, however, how familiar the generality are with Helen Clark Oldfield, whose still life Brown Bowl is a marvel of abstract composition figuring numerous planes in space as effects of focus. Lilian May Miller astounds with her ukiyo-e Orange Sailed Junk of the Han. Margaret Bruton has a bright ghost-town watercolor, Main Street—Gold Hill, and the Stuart Davis school is represented by Dorothy Winslade and Leah Rinne Hamilton.


Grace Clements
San Francisco Bay
watercolor and graphite on paper
18 x 11¾ inches

Belle Baranceanu
The Steeple, Hollywood
oil on canvas
16 x 14 inches
ca. 1935

Grace Clements has a superb nude life study drawing, and from around the same time a striking watercolor of San Francisco Bay (1930). They all learned their Cézanne, Nabis, Cubism and whatnot, the way California painters have always learned their business, and then applied themselves to the views and problems at hand, like Belle Baranceanu around 1935 in a great small painting called The Steeple, Hollywood.