February 21, 2016


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Lot 38: Hans Burkhardt

Lot 38: Hans Burkhardt

My L.A.

Oil on panel
Signed and dated lower left
Panel (vis.): 27.25" x 17"; Frame: 28.5" x 18.25"
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
Price Realized: $11,875
Inventory Id: 21037

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Born in Switzerland, trained in New York, and a longtime influential presence in Los Angeles art circles, Hans Burkhardt (1904–1994) developed a singular painting style that merged elements of representation, abstraction, and surrealism. One keynote of Burkhardt's paintings is the careful balance and strong underlying structure of his compositions–a precept learned from his teacher Arshile Gorky, a seminal figure in the advent of Abstract Expressionism. Other hallmarks of Burkhardt's work are his humanism and his facility for conveying deep emotions. Burkhardt has been called "Goya's spiritual heir," and his body of work encompasses some of the 20th century's most compelling artistic indictments of the brutality of war. At the same time, few painters have been more successful in their depictions of happiness, hope, and human tenderness.

Burkhardt's empathy stemmed from the privations of his childhood. When he was three years old, Burkhardt's father left the family to go to America. Three years later, Burkhardt's mother died of tuberculosis and he was sent to a city orphanage. He worked menial jobs until 1924, when he joined his father in New York and found work in a furniture factory painting decorative motifs. To improve his skills, Burkhardt studied at the Cooper Union. Discovering a talent for art, he took instruction from Gorky at the Grand Central School of Art. From 1928, alongside his fellow student Willem de Kooning, he painted in Gorky's downtown studio. Relatively well paid during the Depression for his furniture making, Burkhardt supported Gorky–an archetypal impoverished starving artist–for several years.

Burkhardt moved to Los Angeles in 1937. His work was soon championed by the prominent artist Lorser Feitelson. Burkhardt's first solo show was in 1939, and in 1945 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art became the first public institution to purchase his art, which now sits in the collections of numerous major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum. Burkhardt taught at several schools in the Los Angeles area, among them the University of California at Los Angeles, the Otis College of Art and Design, and California State University at Northridge.

Karlstrom, Paul J., ed. On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900–1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. 43-50. Print.Rutberg, Jack. "Hans Burkhardt in the 1960s – A Provocative Presence." ArtweekLA – Art Here Now. ArtweekLA, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.