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Love Never Fails: The Art of Edouard and Luvena Vysekal

September 18, 2011 -January 8, 2012


The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is presenting Love Never Fails: The Art of Edouard and Luvena Vysekal, the first museum exhibition to bring together the work of husband and wife Edouard and Luvena Vysekal. The couple became emblematic of modernism in a conservative art community, opening the door to an avant-garde aesthetic. Featuring over sixty paintings, sketches and photographs, the exhibition examines the deeply intertwined, but distinctive oeuvres of the two artists.(right: Luvena Vysekal, Still Life (Poppies) 20 x 18 inches, Oil on Canvas, Collection of Jean and Linda Stern)

"Love Never Fails" was a favorite song of the couple, sung at their wedding and at his memorial service, a hymn that aptly describes their devotion to each other in marriage and in their artistic practices. While Edouard's paintings in watercolor and oil of landscapes, cityscapes, nudes, still lifes, portraits, and allegorical subjects tended to be more experimental, ranging from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism to semi-abstraction, Luvena's portraits and still lifes in oil hewed closer to Realism. Both artists were notable for their use of color -- bold and strong -- as well as their sharp senses of humor, which would often permeate their portrait work. Together, they participated in exhibitions as members of the early progressive art organizations in Los Angeles, such as California Progressive Group as well more traditional art clubs like the California Art Club, gaining respect from modern and conservative critics and audiences alike. Edouard Vysekal also left his imprint on future artists as an instructor of drawing and painting at the Art Students League of Los Angeles and at the Otis Art Institute from 1922-1939.

Some of the works in the exhibition have never been exhibited and others have not been shown since 1954, when Luvena passed away and the Vysekal Studio Gallery was closed. Curated by Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, co-curator of the critically acclaimed 2008 PMCA exhibition A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles (1906-1953), the exhibition and accompanying catalogue will feature new research and insight into the work of the couple. Less than a quarter of a century after the Vysekals arrived on the Los Angeles art scene, they had established themselves as vital components, leaving a lasting imprint on the development of modernism in the city.


Wall text from the exhibition

Love Never Fails: The Art of Edouard and Luvena Vysekal

"LOVE NEVER FAILS," a favorite hymn of Edouard and Luvena Vysekal, aptly describes the artists' devotion to their marriage and to their creative endeavors. Edouard conveyed this message in his 1918 canvas, We Don't Know Where We're Going, But We're On Our Way. The painting combines humor and anguish, depicting them in a comedic-realistic manner as they face an uncertain future, hand in hand.

Born in Kutná Hora, Bohemia, Edouard (1890-1939) immigrated in 1907 to Minnesota, where he studied at the St. Paul Art Institute. From 1909 to 1913 he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1913 he began his teaching career there. Luvena (1873-1954) was born in Le Mars, Iowa, later moving to Pittsburgh, Kansas. Aspiring to be an artist Luvena studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1897-189 8 and again from 1910-1914. In the latter year, famed author Harold Bell Wright commissioned Luvena to paint a circular progression of murals closely following the story line of his book, The Winning of Barbara Worth for the lobby of the Barbara Worth Hotel in El Centro, California. Luvena invited Edouard to assist her. The murals were completed in March of 1915 and the hotel was opened with a grand banquet in May.

Edouard and Luvena eventually settled in Los Angeles. In the West they found the opportunity to achieve the artistic independence they longed for and also to embrace an imaginative and open outlook on the emerging art movements. Their first joint show in January 1916 aroused the attention of critics and the art community. In December of the same year, Edouard held a one-person exhibition to the following favorable remarks, "[Vysekal] is a modern among moderns, seething with ideas that he believes can and must be expressed in paint."

Edouard and Luvena married on January 1, 1917. As artists and as lovers, their enthusiasm radiated from their paintings -- always with humor and affection, often with a touch of satire, sometimes playing good-natured mind games with their viewers. Never hampered by convention they continued to seek creative uses of color and light while developing their individual styles that were rooted in postimpressionism, cubism, semi-abstraction, and Synchromism.

Edouard was recognized not only for his work in oils, but for the groundbreaking techniques he brought to his watercolors. The freshness and freedom with which he used the medium inspired a Southern California watercolor movement. Luvena's paintings, including portraits, figures, landscapes, flowers and still lifes -- were almost exclusively in oil. She considered herself an uncompromising realist with the utmost desire for directness and simplicity. Luvena's still lifes were described as "rich and juicy."

In addition to their painting practices, Edouard became a beloved instructor at the Otis Art Institute after teaching at the Los Angeles Art Students' League, while Luvena wrote "Counterfeit Presentments" under the pseudonym "Benjamin Blue" -- a series of pen portraits of well-known individuals in the art community, challenging the readers to identify the subjects -- that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The couple was also active in many conservative and progressive art associations, including the California Art Club, the Laguna Beach Art Association, the California Watercolor Society, the California Progressive Group, the Group of Eight, and The Modern Art Workers.

Edouard Vysekal died suddenly in 1939, leaving a devastated Luvena, who never recovered from her loss. She opened the Vysekal Studio Gallery in 1942, holding exhibitions of their works and those of their contemporaries until it closed in 1950. Although the richness of her life diminished dramatically with Edouard's death, she found strength in her memories of their life together and their accomplishments. In less than a quarter of a century after they arrived on the scene, Edouard and Luvena established themselves as vital components and left their imprint on the early development of modernism in Los Angeles.

Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, curator

©June 2011

(above: Edouard Vysekal, A Figure in Shadows, 1927, 36 x 34 inches, Oil and Canvas, Irvine Museum)


(above: Edouard Vysekal, Brick Yard, 15 x 19 inches, Oil on Canvas, Collection of Casebier Family Trust)

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