Editor's note: The following text was published on March 27, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of Stuart Denenberg. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author at Denenberg Fine Arts, Inc., 417 North San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90048, T310-360-9360, F-310-499-5244 or by email at: email@example.com
Helen Inez Seibert (1914-1987)
An Individual Artist's Response to Picasso, Mondrian & Dove
by Stuart Denenberg
An exemplary American modernist, Helen Inez Seibert (Brooks) was first inspired by the rich surfaces and architectonic structures of Cezanne. Later, for one incredibly fruitful year, 1936-1937, she nestled under the wing of Arthur Dove -- his only student.)
Through family connections, and with ample funds, the attractive young couple headily explored the European expatriate scene, at a moment perilously close to the outbreak of war, from 1937 to 1938. Seibert met brilliant creative personalities, including Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Cocteau. Returning to the United States, there were lunches in Westport, Connecticut, with Sinclair Lewis, Randolph Bourne, and others.
Helen Seibert was readily associated with An American Place, Alfred Steiglitz's nexus of American modernism, and her work registers the presence of Mondriaan on the scene in two 1944 paintings, Composition and Rock by the Shore.
In late 1940, Helen and her husband, Charles Van Wyck Brooks, moved to California, staying on the way at Mabel Dodge's Taos "Salon." They eventually settled in Marin County in Northern California where Helen created a body of modernist pictures uniquely her own. She was becoming a successful and recognized painter; two *neoplasticist paintings, Composition, 1944, and French Vase and Italian Scarf, 1945, were shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco, in 1946.
However, these promising and productive years in California were cut short in 1949 by a tragic diagnosis of schizophrenia. Helen was 35 years of age, and had just given birth to a son, Peter. Institutionalized in a New England hospital, she remained there until her death almost 40 years later.
Arnold Genthe, a society photographer from San Francisco and New York, took two photographs of the radiantly beautiful young woman around the time of her marriage. These are reproduced here for the first time, one showing her with her eyes open, and one, in a tender prefiguring of her eventual mental decline, with her eyes closed.
Nevertheless, Seibert's work from 1932 to 1949 is a bright discovery in the history of arts and letters in the United States by virtue of her sophisticated aesthetic achievement. Hers is a fresh voice of exploration and synthesis of abstraction and figuration at the dawn of post-war America.
* Neo-Plasticism, also called "De Stijl," was
a Dutch movement in painting and sculpture founded by Theo van Doesburg,
characterized by a reversion to the basic fundamentals of art: color, form,
the plane, and the line. Artists used mostly straight horizontal and vertical
lines in black, white, gray, and primary colors completely devoid of realism
and the artist's emotion. In 1917, the magazine "De Stijl" was
published. Another leading figure of the movement was Piet Mondriaan who
published the manifesto, Neo-Plasticism in 1920. The Neo-Plasticism
movement ended formally in 1931, but was very influential in the development
of the Bauhaus and International Style.
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