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3 Paintings in Collection

Helen Lundeberg


(1908-1999) United States

Works in Public Collections

Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; San Francisco Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA; Long Beach Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; Oakland Museum, CA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; Nora Eccles Museum of Art, Logan, UT

Selected Exhibitions

The Pursuit of Abstraction, The Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach, FL, 2016. Traveled to The Baker Museum, Naples, FL, 2017

Fantasy and Shadow of the Rock Included

Helen Lundeberg: A Retrospective, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, 2016

Modern Parallels: The Paintings of Mary Henry and Helen Lundeberg, Sun Valley Museum of Art, Curator: Courtney Gilbert, Ketchum, ID, 2009

Fantasy and Shadow of the Rock Included

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Mid-Century, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA. Traveled to Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA; Oakland Museum of California, CA; Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX, 2007-2009

Helen Lundeberg: An American Visionary, Fresno Art Museum, CA, 1989

A Birthday Salute to Helen Lundeberg, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA,1988-89

California Contemporary Artist: Helen Lundeberg, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, 1987

Helen Lundeberg Since 1970, Palm Springs Desert Museum, CA, 1983

Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg: A Retrospective Exhibition, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, 1980-81

Selected Publications

Helen Lundeberg: A Retrospective by Ilene Susan Fort, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California, 2016.

Helen Lundeberg: Poetry, Space, Silence by Suzanne Muchnic, Louis Stern Fine Arts, CA, 2014

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Mid-century by Elizabeth Armstrong, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California, Addison, Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri; The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, 2007-2009

Infinite Distance: Architectural Compositions by Helen Lundeberg by Marie Chambers, Louis Stern Fine Arts, CA, 2007

Helen Lundeberg and the Illusory Landscape: Five Decades of Painting by Dave Hickey and Diane D. Moran, Louis Stern Fine Arts, CA, 2004

Artists in California 1986-1940, by Edan Milton Hughes, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, 2002

On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art 1900-1950 by Paul J. Karlstrom, University of California Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1996

Other Resources

Artist’s foundation website:

Helen Lundeberg: American Painter. Video, Atmosphere Productions, 1987:

Born 1908 Chicago, IL
Died 1999 Los Angeles, CA

Often referred to as a “poet among painters” Helen Lundeberg is among the most innovative painters of 20th century modernism. In the mid 1930s she founded the Subjective Classicism or Post Surrealism movement with Lorser Feitelson. Her meditative landscapes and muted interiors suggest places and objects that are more visionary than dreamlike. Her coloration is a touchstone of her still, peaceful canvases where she uses filtered light and often restricts her palette to one or two hues.

Helen Lundeberg moved with her sister and Swedish parents to Pasadena, California in 1912 when she was four. California remained her home for the rest of her long life. As a young person Lundeberg read novels and travel books voraciously, cultivating a rich imagination. After studying English literature at Pasadena Junior College, she enrolled in 1930 at Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena. Among her teachers was Lorser Feitelson, whom she would later marry and with whom she would collaborate artistically for decades.

In the early 1930s Lundeberg begins to enter her art into competitions and by June 1933 she has her first one person exhibition at Stanley Rose Gallery in Hollywood. From 1933 to 1942, Lundeberg worked for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project making easel paintings and designing mural projects. Lundeberg described her murals as “straightforward storytelling,” and their realistic imagery reflects the dominant style of the time. Among the murals she designed was The History of Transportation, 1940, commissioned by the city of Inglewood, California. The 240 ft. long “petrachrome” mosaic mural, made of cast concrete and terrazzo panels, tells the story of transportation from Native Americans on foot and horseback to modern scenes of car, train and air travel. She made the mural in a representational style and with a purpose that differed radically from that of her innovative easel paintings.

Lundeberg’s Post surrealist work begins to appear in 1934. The ideas behind the Subjective Classicism or Post Surrealism movement grew out of her and Feitelson’s shared interest in the psychological aspects of European Surrealism—particularly its exploration of juxtaposition and incongruity as ways to produce new meanings. But Lundeberg canvases differ from the surrealists’ which she felt were chaotic. Less interested in exploring the subconscious or random acts, Lundeberg sought a more orderly, rational structure for her paintings while taking license from the liberation embedded in the earlier European work.

Two paintings in the Jeri L. Wolfson Collection are representative of her mature approach. Fantasy and Shadow of the Rock are otherworldly images that demonstrate artists’ desire to explore new realities. These are whole compositions to be read as landscapes but they are of no known landscape. In Shadow of the Rock a huge stone absorbs the picture plane and is a force to be feared and awed. The small lifeless tree quivers in its enormous shadow. Lundeberg’s restrained use of color is intentional and typical of this period. The chalky, muted tones add to the mystery of the image.

In Fantasy we see a similar eerie desertscape with muted tones and long shadows. But the black edges to the bottom and right of the image suggest that we might be gazing out a window. Yet that illusion is halted with the addition of a small planet in the bottom right corner, echoing the moon that is present in the landscape and reflecting Lundeberg’s interest in the cosmos and astronomy. The bands of blue and tan that make up the landscape coupled with the black geometrics at the base and right foretell Lundeberg’s future direction where her paintings are composed mainly of interlocking planes of color.

In both these works from the late 1940s Lundeberg gives us landscapes articulated with clarity and complete with shadows and modeling. Hers is not straight realism but a way to use the tools of accurate perspectival painting with the intention of creating a new possibility and exploring a state of mind or emotion. Often described as a metaphysical artist, Lundeberg’s paintings are enigmatic, evoking moods rather than describing specific spaces. Critic Jan Butterfield notes: It is this curious melding of objective and subjective, this clear implication of several realities, that makes Lundeberg’s work so subtly powerful.

Lundeberg’s post surrealist work garnered a great deal of attention and in 1935 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had a group exhibition of post surrealist work that traveled to Brooklyn Art Museum. A year later Lundeberg and Feitelson are included in MOMA’s Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition, a landmark exhibition that introduces both European and American surrealists while tracing the movements roots to 15th, 16th and 17th masters. In the 1940s Lundeberg continues to exhibit beyond California. Her canvases were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s Americans 1942 / 18 Artists from 9 States and Abstract and Surrealist American Art at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1947.

Themes of Post Surrealism continued in Lundeberg's paintings until the 1950s, when she begin to explore geometric abstraction further. Between 1950-58 she employs flat geometric areas, closely hued bands of color, and cast shadows to create architectural environments or interiors. Throughout her life she insisted that her works were always referencing the real world and many of her geometric abstractions hint at some reality. Daybreak from 1961 is one of her more abstract paintings. Flat, squared off geometric shapes are placed in relationship to each other. The gradual color shifts suggest the slow evolution of the sun’s rise. The formality of Lundeberg’s abstraction is divergent from that of the Abstract Expressionists who have come to dominant this moment in American art. These hard-edged paintings with restrained soft palettes defined her unique approach to abstraction and while these compositions are precisely executed they continue to pose a certain moodiness or suggest an emotion.

By the 1960s Lundeberg began to add curving lines, archs and organic shapes to her paintings. The colors brighten but the control and restrain remain evident. In 1978 Lorser Feitelson died, creating a tremendous personal loss, but Lundeberg continues to paint until 1990 when her health too began to fail. Her artwork remained in demand and she continued to participate in exhibitions until her death from pneumonia in 1999. Today Helen Lundeberg is recognized as an essential part of modernism’s story in America. She and Feitelson brought needed attention to California art and in addition to creating a unique brand of American surrealism, Lundeberg’s hard-edged painting laid the groundwork for Color Field work.

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