2 Paintings in Collection
Lucretia Van Horn
VAN HORN, LUCRETIA
(1882 - 1970) United States
Works in Select Public Collections
Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, CA; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
Select Recent Exhibitions
The Pursuit of Abstraction, Wolfsonian Art Museum, Miami Beach, FL, 2016-17. Traveled to The Baker Museum, Naples, FL, 2017
Women Artists in the Modernist Tradition, Boise Art Museum, ID, 2002
Leaves and Two Women with a Squash Included
Reconsidering the Retrospective: Lucretia Van Horn, Euphrat Museum of Art, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA, 1998
Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, Vol. IV, 1860-1960 by Maurine St. Gaudens and Joseph Morsman, Schiffer Publishing, 2015
In Wonderland: The Surrealistic Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States by Ilene Susan Fort, Tere Arcq, Terri Geis, Prestel USA, 2012.
Lucretia Van Horn: The Artist’s Meaningful Impact on the Development of Modernism in the Bay Area by Annie K. Roddy, Master’s Thesis, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, 2022
Born 1882 St. Louis, MO
Died 1970 Palo Alto, CA
Lucretia Van Horn explored a number of different styles during her lifetime but is best known for her modernist canvases from the 1920s and early 1930s that reflect the significant impact that the Mexican muralists had on artists in the United States. Van Horn’s innovative artwork and her advocacy for artistic freedom was hugely influential in the Bay Area of California where she served as friend, mentor and leader for the progressive community.
Born in Saint Louis, Lucretia Le Bourgeois was privately educated and spent a good deal of her childhood at her family's plantation in Louisiana. When she was 14, she was orphaned and sent to live in New York and Washington D.C. with the family of her mother's sister. The Wadworths were a well-educated, sophisticated family who continued Lucretia's private education and introduced her to artists. Van Horn began to seriously study art in 1897 when she enrolled at the Art Students League and took painting classes from Impressionist, John Henry Twachtman, and drawing from George Bridgeman. In 1902 her studies took her to the Académie Julian in Paris. There she was the first woman to be awarded the Concours Julian-Smith prize (1904).
Early in her artistic career Van Horn aspired to be an illustrator. Her formal schooling provided her with a strong background in figure drawing and still life. She cultivated a formal, refined style with precise lines. Her accomplished and meticulous approach earned her commissions doing book illustrations including Helen Hay Whitney's Herbs and Apples (1908).
In 1907 she met Robert Van Horn, a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. The following year they married and Lucretia moved with her husband from military base to military base. During the early part of the century they lived in Cuba, Georgia, Kansas, Washington D.C., New York, and Boston. In 1909 a daughter, Margaret, was born. After the 1916 birth of their second daughter, Lucretia, Van Horn stayed east while her husband worked in Texas and then France during WWI. After the war, the family moved to San Antonio, Texas where Lucretia helped found the Conservation Society (1924) and was responsible for helping preserve the city's river and its Spanish heritage. She also became an active member of the San Antonio Art League.
While living in the American Southwest, Van Horn traveled to Mexico where she spent time with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. A friendship of some significance was established and Rivera included a painting of Van Horn in the mural he did for the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico City. During her time in Mexico, Van Horn assisted in the production of Rivera's murals and acquired a number of his paintings.
Exposure to the modern, streamlined approach of the Mexican muralists helped Van Horn flatten and simplify her ornamental, academic style and build on her understanding of the human form. Two Women with a Squash shows her understanding of sculptural form and Rivera's influence—rounded, simplified figures are pressed up against the flattened picture plane. Their women’s faces are drawn with a sympathetic view. Throughout her life, Van Horn chose women and children as her primary subject matter. Exposure to socialist politics and Rivera’s elevation of Mexico’s indigenous peoples may have contributed to Van Horn's treatment of these peasant women nestled in the land. Many of her works done during this time are representations of women presented frontally and outside in a natural setting.
Diego Rivera and Van Horn’s friendship lasted for decades and, when Rivera came to San Francisco to execute murals, Van Horn not only advocated for his work which was controversial, but also served as his translator and ad hoc publicist while introducing him to important members of the art community including Galka Scheyer and Bernard Zakheim.
The 1920s and early 1930s were Van Horn's most productive years. Her time in Mexico provided her with the confidence to experiment and develop her own artistic expression. Like many others, she was not only looking to her peers in Mexico for inspiration but was equally intrigued by the work of the European modernists whose art prompted her to experiment with varying styles from cubism to surrealism. She worked in a variety of media from charcoal to ink to watercolor and oil. In Leaves, the swirling, morphing organic forms that make up this mysterious landscape show influences of symbolism as well as surrealism. The dark umbers, greens and browns depict a forest more fantastical than threatening. The density and animation of the botanical forms, the light emanating from behind and the lack of deep perspective all add a mysterious element to the painting. We don’t know whether Van Horn is presenting a macrocosm or a microcosm of a forest, but the new growth uncoiling in the center confirms that there are wonderous forces at play. This close up, abstracted view of nature’s forms are similar to those being explored at the same time by painters Georgia O’Keeffe and Emily Carr.
In 1927 the Van Horn family moved to Berkeley, California where Lucretia became a prominent member of the Bay Area art community encouraging free expression. She befriended Ralph Stackpole, a young artist who had worked with modernists in Europe and advocated for experimentation. Stackpole and Van Horn both exhibited with newly established Galerie Beaux Arts which became an essential piece of the progressive Bay Area arts community, presenting local artists as well as European modernists. Van Horn also exhibited at the East West Gallery in the late 1920s and became lifelong friends with owner, Albert Bender. Van Horn nurtured her relationships with fellow artists, inviting them to her home to see her art and that of others she had collected. She served as a mentor to Bay Area figurative painter David Park, introducing him to Stackpole with whom he would later work. She was also close friends with German art dealer Galka Scheyer who was an avid crusader for Modernism in California.
The Oakland Art Gallery (now the Oakland Museum) held annual exhibitions in the 1930s and 1940s and Van Horn exhibited in them frequently. Deeply enmeshed in the Bay Area progressive community and respected as an innovator, she served on the Board of the Oakland Art League as well as the Berkeley League of Fine Arts. Between 1927 and 1932 her work was included in over twenty five exhibitions including the Berkeley Art Museum as well as in San Francisco Art Association shows, Mills College Art Gallery and the Legion of Honor. Reviews were generally favorable and critics remarked on her modern, imaginative style.
In 1933 Van Horn participated in Abstract Paintings by European and American Artists at the San Francisco Legion of Honor. The exhibition included works by Braque, Leger, Picasso, Miro, Max Weber and David Park. At this point Van Horn’s work had transitioned from flat figurative narratives to more abstract work.
In 1932 the Van Horn's daughter, Margaret died. There are very few artworks that exist after this date and fewer records of exhibitions until 1943 when she participated in the San Francisco Art Association exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. After her daughter's death, Van Horn continued to move with her husband, residing for a time in Georgia. In 1940 General Van Horn retired and the couple returned to California in 1941. Robert Van Horn died in June of that year. Lucretia Van Horn spent the remainder of her life in an historic adobe home in Palo Alto, California.