Joseph Kleitsch, “Problematicus,” 1918, oil on canvas, 60 x 55 in. © Collection of Robert and Susan Ehrlich 2017

A California institution is proud to have recently opened a major exhibition that delves into the life and career of an Impressionist widely recognized as one of the state’s most influential. Although he fell into obscurity after his untimely death, the script has flipped with “The Golden Twenties.”

Born in Hungary in 1882, Joseph Kleitsch (1882-1931) immigrated to the United States in 1902, eventually taking up residence in such vibrant cities as Cincinnati, Denver, and Chicago. However, it was Kleitsch’s migration to the West Coast, particularly Laguna Beach, that proved to be the most important move, as he eventually became one of California’s most influential and important impressionists.

Although his death in 1931 lead to the artist’s relative obscurity, the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) — along with scholar and author Patricia Trenton, PhD — are quickly changing the narrative with a brilliant exhibition on view this year.

Opened on March 5 and continuing through August 6, “The Golden Twenties: Portraits and Figure Paintings by Joseph Kleitsch” is not only the first museum exhibition to focus on Kleitsch, but also one that “characterizes Southern California during this tumultuous decade through depictions of the people who helped shape it,” the museum writes.

“Noting the mild climate of Laguna Beach and perhaps the success Edgar Payne, his friend and fellow Chicago artist, found there, Kleitsch moved to the artist’s haven in 1920. He quickly became a leading member of the art colony. He was involved with the Laguna Beach Art Association and was an in-house portraitist for the esteemed Stendahl Gallery, then located in the elegant Ambassador Hotel. The artist also pursued his newfound interest in landscape painting, becoming an important part of the California Impressionism movement.

“Kleitsch’s career is often mistakenly divided into two parts: his early portraits painted in Hungary and Chicago and his impressionistic and increasingly abstract landscapes painted in California during his later years. However, Kleitsch continued to paint portraits and figurative works in California and was considered Laguna Beach’s premier portrait painter until his untimely death in 1931.

“In his relatively short career, Joseph Kleitsch’s innate sensitivity propelled him to uncover the depth of his subjects. With a jewel-toned palette and pattern influenced by his native Hungary and a golden, impressionistic palette developed after his arrival in California, the artist’s figure paintings and portraits of friends, dignified businessmen, and glamorous movie stars convey the character of each sitter and recount the personal stories of California in the twenties. This selection of 42 of Kleitsch’s bold and diverse paintings represents a significant artistic legacy, which has been assembled, for the first time, in this focused and intimate study.”

To learn more, visit the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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