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Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999)
Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999)

The Tree

Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999)
The Tree
signed 'Lundeberg' (lower center)
oil on masonite
30½ x 24 in. (77.5 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1938.
The artist.
Estate of the above.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 2005.
D. Miller, Americans, 1942, 18 Artists from 9 States, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1942, pp. 96, 127, illustrated.
S. Muchnic, Poetry, Space, Silence, Los Angeles, California, 2013, n.p.
M. St. Gaudens, Emerging from the Shadows: Women Artists' Works 1860-1960, Los Angeles, California, to be published.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere, Americans, 1942, 18 Artists from 9 States, January 21-March 8, 1942.
(Possibly) Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1944.
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and elsewhere, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and America, January 29-May 6, 2012.

Lot Essay

As exemplified by the present work, Helen Lundeberg was instrumental in the formation of the Postsurrealist movement. Together with her mentor and later husband, Lorser Feitelson, she was on the leading edge of the American response to the European movement. Rather than simply dreamily juxtaposing unrelated objects like the original Surrealists, the goal of Postsurrealism was to configure disparate items in such a way that surprisingly achieves a larger meaning. Lundeberg explained this distinction, writing, "My aim, realized or not, is to calculate, and reconsider, every element in a painting with regard to its function in the whole organization...In contrast to the surrealist program of intuitive expression and subconscious automatic recordings, Postsurrealism explores the field of psychological science to create a classic subjective expression. The pictorial elements are deliberately arranged to stimulate, in the mind of the spectator, an ordered, pleasurable, introspective activity." (as quoted in D. Miller, Americans, 1942, 18 Artists from 9 States, New York, 1942, p. 93)
In The Tree, Lundeberg creates a segment of the world in which fertile growth and desolate wasteland sit side by side. The nominal plant grows on the border and illustrates the different effects of each environment. A single wedge of land floating in space, the composition alludes to Lundeberg's interest in the metaphysical. The environmental focus may also reflect the goal in city planning at the time to somehow make city life rural, which Lundeberg believed went unfulfilled. In an interview, the artist said of these initiatives, "Well, nobody ever plans well enough, or the plans are thrown aside at some point." Recalling the less industrial California of her youth, she said of her childhood home, "I remember the outdoors much better than the interior. I remember the yard; I remember the field across the street; I remember the street itself (it was lined with big pepper trees)." (as quoted in Helen Lundeberg, transcript, Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1982, p. 6) These cherished memories point to Lundeberg's interest in rural preservation and suggest a possible expressive function of the present work.

With such meanings inherent in the painting's dreamlike arrangement, The Tree is a quintessential work of California Postsurrealism executed by one of its greatest artists.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work being prepared by The Feitelson Lundeberg Art Foundation and Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, California.

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