Lundeberg, Helen (1908–1999)

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Lundeberg, Helen (1908–1999)

American artist. Name variations: Helen Feitelson. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 24, 1908; died in Los Angeles, California, on April 19, 1999; studied at the Stickney Memorial School of Art, Pasadena, California, 1930–33; married Lorser Feitelson (an artist).

A cofounder of California's Post-surrealist movement, an independent avant-garde trend of the 1930s, painter Helen Lundeberg evolved over six decades as one of America's foremost painters. Born in Chicago in 1908, she grew up in California from the age of four and attended the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena, where she was greatly influenced by Lorser Feitelson, an early modernist whom she eventually married. The couple would work together for 50 years in the same studio. While still a student, Lundeberg had her work accepted in the Southern California Annual Exhibition at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, and also won honorable mention for her Landscape with Figure at the annual exhibition of the Los Angeles County Museum.

The California Post-surrealist movement that Lundeberg and Feitelson founded was an outgrowth of the European Surrealist movement of the late 1920s, which had its roots in the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. Drawing from the subconscious mind, the Surrealists, simply stated, expressed themselves through automatic intuitive imagery (automatism) and dreams, avoiding the consideration of rational thought. Lundeberg and Feitelson added another step to the process, however, attempting to reconcile subjective, introspective material with the logical and rational conscious mind. Lundeberg's painting The Red Planet (1939), discussed by Charlotte Rubinstein in American Women Artists, is characteristic of the Post-surrealist approach. "A red doorknob on a door suddenly reverses itself and can also be read as Mars, the red planet, moving in deep space. Unlike the surrealists, however, her lyrical shapes, colors, and forms, have an ordered classicism totally different from the chaos of the dream, and her themes are clearly readable." The same approach is found in Double Portrait in Time (1935), which appeared at a California Post-surrealist exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1936. The painting depicts a seated child, a little girl, with a flower and a clock set at two fifteen. The child is casting a shadow of an adult whose upper torso also forms a portrait on the back wall. The adult is studying the form of a flower intensely. Edward Alden Jewell, in a New York Times review of this painting, described Lundeberg as "handling a brush with cosmic authority."

Between 1933 and 1941, Lundeberg worked for the Southern California Federal Art Project, and her mosaic wall for Centinela Park in Inglewood is perhaps one of the largest works ever commissioned under the New Deal. Titled The History of Transportation (1940), the painting covers a 245-foot curved outdoor wall and is executed in an inexpensive mosaic made of colored cement and marble chips. Lundeberg also collaborated on other mural projects for the Federal Art Project, which she praised for providing artists with work during the Depression. On a more personal note, she praised it for allowing her to execute projects (such as the mosaic wall) that otherwise might not have been feasible.

Throughout the 1940s, Lundeberg continued in the Post-surrealist mode. In the late 1950s, she began to experiment in "hard-edge," a term coined by Jules Langsner to describe the work of a California group of avant-garde painters (John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley, and Lorser Feitelson) who produced flat abstract works, using shapes of unmodulated color. Rubinstein suggests that although Lundeberg embraced the style, she never completely sacrificed subject matter or three-dimensional space. "The artist set herself the complex task of suggesting a landscape, interior, or still life, and at the same time reducing it to a satisfying hard-edge abstraction. Although she has never painted a landscape from nature, the Southern California ambiance of sea, sky, and desert is strongly felt in works like Desert Coast (1963) and Waterways (1962)."

Lundeberg had a retrospective at the La Jolla Museum of Modern Art in 1971, and another in 1979, at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. In 1980, following the death of Lorser Feitelson, a double retrospective was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 1996, Lundeberg's painting Double View was part of an exhibition, "City of Vapor: Capturing the Transitory Reality of Los Angeles," at the Tatistcheff/Rogers gallery in Santa Monica. Lundeberg died in April 1999.

In January 2000, another show opened at the Los Angeles County Museum titled "Four Abstract Classicists Plus One." It served as an echo of its original, 1959's "Four Abstract Classicists," curated by Langsner. The sponsors added a postscript:

After World War II, Los Angeles proceeded to strengthen the foundation of Modernism begun the decade earlier. Art centers were expanded, prominent private collections were formed, young and mature artists examined, explored, experimented with techniques and expressions. Quietly, thoughtfully and independently, Feitelson, McLaughlin, Hammersley, Benjamin—and Feitelson's wife Helen Lundeberg worked at their easels. During the '50s, through the observations of Jules Langsner—writer, curator and Los Angeles Times art critic—and Peter Selz, then professor at the Claremont Colleges, a thread connecting these artists was noted. They all gathered in the Feitelsons' home with the goal of creating an exhibition; however, the climate for including Helen—a woman!—was not prevailing. Helen Lundeberg is now included.


Rogers, Terrence. "City of Vapor," in American Artist. Vol. 62, no. 672. July 1998, pp. 28–38.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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