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April 21, 2023

Acquisition: Lorser Feitelson

Lorser Feitelson, "Dancers—Magical Forms"

Lorser Feitelson
Dancers—Magical Forms, 1945
oil on canvas
overall: 91.44 x 101.6 cm (36 x 40 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Tobey C. Moss and Allen S. Moss

An important figure in the development of West Coast modernism, Lorser Feitelson (1898–1978) is best known for his abstract paintings of the 1950s through the 1970s. The National Gallery of Art has received two transitional works of 1945—a painting and a drawing— from the collection of Tobey C. Moss. The works capture Feitelson’s stylistic shift from surrealism and cubism into abstraction.

Featuring flamelike abstract shapes in red, orange, blue, and turquoise with two small, biomorphic forms at bottom center, Dancers (Magical Forms) (1945) shows the transition from a surrealist style influenced by Yves Tanguy to the rhythmic abstraction that would characterize Feitelson’s "ribbon" paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, including the National Gallery's Untitled (1964). Figure Evolving into Magical Forms (1946), a small study in ink on paper, depicts several distinct forms, from a seated female figure seen in three-quarters view in sharp light, to blocky abstract shapes that convey the simplified bent gesture of her neck and head.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1898, Feitelson soon moved with his family to New York City. After attending the 1913 Armory Show and being inspired by its modernist works, he immersed himself in the growing community of New York artists. In the 1920s he relocated to Paris, hoping to find an audience that would be more receptive to modern art. He settled in Los Angeles in 1927, where he began teaching at the Chouinard Art Institute and organizing exhibitions with groups of fellow artists. He was an informal mentor to Philip Guston, whose early works show Feitelson's influence. In 1934 Feitelson founded the so-called post-Surreal movement with his future wife and close collaborator, the artist Helen Lundeberg. During this time, he also began creating murals across Los Angeles as part of the California Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project.  He was one of the four artists featured in the landmark 1959 Four Abstract Classicists exhibition curated by Jules Langsner at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park. From the mid-1960s, influenced by minimalism, Feitelson began reducing his compositions, creating sleek paintings comprised of sensuous lines set against solid backgrounds of color. Feitelson’s work was featured in Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury (2007) at the Orange County Museum of Art, as well as the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time (2011–2012). Works by Feitelson are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and numerous other public and private collections.

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