Smartly Chic--Women in the Art of Joseph Kleitsch
Perhaps I'll admit to you that I have been in my workout clothes all day, never having made it to the gym. Yes, I'm enjoying a bit of time off, but I would guess that back in the Golden Twenties, women probably pulled themselves together a bit more on a regular basis. At least the ladies who posed for portrait painter Joseph Kleitsch (1882-1931), many of whose works were recently displayed at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. An immigrant from Hungary, Kleitsch eventually settled in California, enjoying the coastal life and blossoming artistic community of Laguna Beach in particular.
Let's begin with the painting above, Portrait of Ruth Renick (Jade Necklace), 1928. This silent movie star appears sitting casually in a wing-back chair, seemingly musing on the contents of a letter she's just read (and let's just hope it's from period heartthrob, Rudolph Valentino!). Impressionist-style loose brushwork with a mix of pattern--in this case colorful florals on her jacket (surely silk) and upholstery (definitely chintz) give this piece the visual richness characteristic of Kleitsch's style. The question one could perhaps read in her eyes as she delicately lifts her brows, "Will I write back to this admirer?" Let's imagine so...
I love the confidence of this gal, gazing boldly out at the viewer, elbow jutting out, full of self assurance. This is a modern woman with her cropped hair, appearing to wear a pair of masculine trousers à la Katherine Hepburn. That warm, luminescent light radiating through the curtain was masterfully done. Go ahead, get into a discussion with her about Hemingway, Surrealism, or Prohibition--she can handle any topic you can throw her way.
A focus on color and light comes through in this work as well, the subject being a portrait of two women in an imports shop located in the famed Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. The rage for all things Chinese (or Chinoisorie imitations) was still in vogue and these objects--porcelains, textiles, and trinkets--make the perfect backdrop to this rich painting seemingly made up of various still lifes. Oh if only Starbucks was around to perk up the lethargic ladies seated inside...
The placard at the museum pointed to the connection between this portrait of a French woman to Manet's famed painting of a Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) which also used a mirror as an expansive visual device to reflect back the subject and setting. However, unlike Manet, Kleitsch was a more straightforward artist who didn't play with illusionary distortions to make a commentary about modern life and/or rebel from conventional art practices. Instead his works focused solely on capturing beauty and light--the dominance of cobalts and violets indeed have me captivated.
Would you have a portrait painted of yourself? I think with the tsunami of easily forgettable selfies pouring into our media feeds I think there could be a definite market for this kind of revival of gorgeously rendered studies, subjects to spend time with and admire. Stunning!