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Anders Aldrin


Fauvist, Expressionist, Modernist

by Julie Armour

Anders Aldrin was a Swedish immigrant who began painting at the late age of 34. He studied at Otis Art Institute with Edouard Antonin Vysekal (1890-1939), before continuing on to the Santa Barbara School of Fine Arts and San Francisco. He worked under Frank Moreley Fletcher and among contemporaries Millard Sheets (1907-1989) and Milford Zornes (b. 1908). His modernist paintings of cityscapes, portraits and landscapes demonstrate a Fauvist impulse carried out by strong brushwork and a distinctive palette.

Table of Contents

I. Biography

Born in 1889 in Stjernsfors, Sweden, Aldrin grew up in a family of little means. As a youth, he showed artistic promise but was not encouraged to pursue his creative interests. At age 22, after working for 12 years to support his family, Aldrin immigrated to Chicago. Soon after, he moved to Minneapolis and joined the growing population of Swedish farmers. There, he met and married Mabel Esther Lindberg, the daughter of a Swedish Baptist minister. In 1918, he traveled to France to serve in World War I. After a year, he contracted tuberculosis and was sent to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Prescott, Arizona. While healing, he returned to his childhood interest of painting. This convalescence served as a turning point for Aldrin. After his recovery, he moved to Los Angeles and enrolled for study at the Otis Art Institute where he studied under Edouard Antonin Vysekal. At the relatively late age of 34, he dedicated his life's work almost entirely to painting.

From Otis, he received a scholarship and was described as “one of the best trained and most promising students.” Aldrin moved to Santa Barbara in 1927 with a scholarship to study at the Santa Barbara School of Fine Arts under Frank Morley Fletcher (a Japanese color woodblock specialist). After completing his studies at Otis, he interspersed work in oils, watercolors, and woodcuts with courses at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. In 1935, the Los Angeles Museum featured his work in his first solo exhibition.

Thereafter, Aldrin's work was featured in many shows and received high critical praise. In 1940, Arthur Millier called his Echo Park “perhaps the only profound job of painting in this best show the society has ever put on." Despite this praise, he never achieved a high level of commercial success. The reality of life as an artist was difficult for Aldrin, but he managed his time and money to paint.

Through the 1940s, Aldrin exhibited his work in group shows, receiving prizes and critical acclaim. He painted his surroundings; friends and family, and scenes from the burgeoning city of Los Angeles. He spent six months in New England in 1945, exhibiting his works in a solo show at the Pasadena Art Institute. In 1952, his solo show in Hafgors, Sweden, was a great success. Both artist Lorser Feitelson and Aldrin himself felt his art would have "sold like hotcakes" in Europe.

Although he participated in exhibitions, Aldrin always rejected the commercialization of his art in favor of his own unique style. When he wasn’t working in Los Angeles, he painted in Japan and Sweden, focusing intently on the use of color to reveal the essence of his subject. Aldrin’s techniques were never static, in fact, in 1969, a year before his death, he maintained his independent and modern spirit by painting in acrylic, calling it “a marvelous medium in which you can get any color you wish."

c. 1935
6.625" x 36.125"
Exhibited: Scenes of American Labor
Private Collection

This engaging oil painting on wood illustrates the development of infrastructure on the West Coast. It is one of a few surviving WPA murals.

II. An Analysis of the Artist's Work

Anders Aldrin never forgot the difficulties of his youth and realized his dream fully. His expressionistic, lively, and colorful style was a purposeful rebellion against Sweden's typically bleak landscape. The paintings are perhaps a response to the joy and freedoms he found in California: it was a new world characterized by dramatic light, a sensual landscape, and an intriguing urbanity that he found deep satisfaction in painting for over 60 years.

The late start of his art career and immigrant heritage heavily influenced Aldrin's nonconformist style. His thick accent and Swedish cultural idiosyncrasies prevented him from fitting into the popular Los Angeles art scene. Aldrin had no pressure to paint conservatively or within the parameters of commercial art. Because he never had a group with which to identify, he was free to develop a highly original and personal style. Aldrin painted instinctively; his confidence gave his art a distinct style that poetically captures the essence of his subject.

Beginning with the exuberant brush strokes of his first still life in 1923, Aldrin took a Fauvist approach. His renderings featured strong, sure brush strokes driven by emotional, evocative color. His style of bold brushwork and thin impasto is apparent in his oils, watercolors, and pastels. He was equally talented in woodblock printing, using color blocking rather than detail to create interest in his compositions. (He learned Japanese woodblock technique under Frank Moreley Fletcher at the Santa Barbara School of Fine Arts.) Although Aldrin was always able to paint in a representational manner, he was never content to paint traditionally and used his talent to push boundaries with his unique sense of color.

Aldrin's compositions are complex without being overwhelming. His early woodblocks, such as Zabriskie Point from 1933, reflect his skill in creating refined, dramatic scenes. His varied colors could appear busy, but Aldrin's easily move one's eye into the heart of the painting. Oils like Big Pine, California (ca. 1944), Hollywood Ravine (1943), and Elysian Park (1940) use rounded, undulating lines to define the relationships between forms within a composition. His portraits have a similar feeling. Vincent, a portrait from 1942 alternates light and dark very specifically - almost mathematically - on either side of the picture. The same is true for Woman with Flower in Her Hair (ca. 1935), in which Aldrin paints a woman seated on a brightly printed chair. Color permeates the painting but does not overpower the subject because of the balance of vivid greens and deep blues.

Critic and historian Bruce Kamerling aptly described Aldrin's paintings as "emotional, sometimes mystical, reactions to the things around him expressed in terms of form and color as distilled through his personal vision. Aldrin's landscapes often feature rolling hills that use strong in lieu of fine detail. He creates rhythm by covering large areas in boldly colored broken brushwork. Although Aldrin painted identifiable landscapes with correctly proportioned trees and houses, they lost their representational quality in the emotional use of color. Forms are abstracted, giving compositions a simple, folk art appearance. Horses, trees, and especially people are stripped down to their most basic shapes. Bulky figures such as the large dancing woman in Woodbox Dancers (1933), the stylized horses of Kellogg Ranch (1931), and big, chunky clouds are common to many of his landscapes.

Color is the driving force of Aldrin's artwork. Arthur Millier praised his distinctive blend of expressionistic, fauvist, and modernist style for its ability to "make... colors sing". Aldrin himself referred to color as the most important part of his work; subject matter was secondary. His ability to capture the essence of a scene through the emotional use of rich, unusual color gave his paintings their compelling interest.

Elysian Park, Los Angeles (1956) is a beautiful example of Aldrin's expertise in capturing the exact light of late afternoon in his sunny fields, deep green eucalyptus groves, and lightly colored clouds. He uses simple palettes of complementary hues to capture romantic scenes, as in San Francisco Ferries (1928); composed entirely of burnt orange and baby blue. In Aldrin's later pieces, virtually every color is unrealistic, but when seen in the context of his compositions, they seem natural. Swedish Landscape (1962-63) is a composition that exemplifies his Fauvist use of color. The fields leading up to the forest are intense strokes of whites, bronzes, reds, pinks and purples. The forest trees themselves are bright pink with deep brown and black leaves. Even when defining objects, he uses colors instead of plain lines. Playa Del Rey (1951) relies on a bold line of red to create the clear division of the composition. The bright waves create a secondary boundary and both strokes of color are so natural that one almost forgets the colors he uses.

Besides his focus on color, Aldrin's work is of great social and historical interest. He concentrates on unique depictions of a city on the verge of mass industrialization. Aldrin had a love of all things mechanical and a craftsman's mind. He painted subjects, most often bridges and power plants that dealt with the technological growth of the period. While traditionalists might use their artistic license to omit unattractive power lines or plumes of factory smoke, Aldrin transforms them into focal points because of their visual impact on the landscape. In Power Station, he bathes the power station in a soft palette of oranges and blues so it appears more like an exotic Moroccan palace than a gritty industrial institution. His fascination documented the fleeting moments of a rapidly changing landscape at a critical juncture in time: early Los Angeles glamour giving way to power stations, neighborhoods, and the city we know today. Aldrin's accuracy becomes an interesting document for capturing and preserving early Los Angeles.

Aldrin was never afraid of stylistic experimentation and was influenced by many great artists of his generation. He sought "all the glow of the primitives, and mystery of Rembrandt." He drew inspiration from Matisse's Fauvism, Cezanne's formalism, and Van Gogh's use of the brush stroke as a compositional tool. He shared an affinity with more modern artists such as Birger Sandzen (1871 - 1954) and fellow Otis alum Milford Zornes (1907 - 2008).

Although Aldrin's work was featured alongside that of Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Childe Hassam (1859-1935) and Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), his style was always his own. Fellow artist and inspirational friend Millard Sheets called his work "a declaration of independence from the style and manners of his contemporaries", and described the artist himself as "an extremely sensitive painter, not preoccupied by the need for constant public attention. Aldrin worked furiously to find his special qualities of expression...Today I realize even more clearly the importance of his work...unique qualities in color chords, depths of insight into nature and sheer delight for life are unclouded by superficial style."

14" x 18"
oil on canvas
Exhibited: Anders Aldrin: The Bridge, 2006
Private Collection

"Aldrin worked furiously to find his special qualities of expression...Today I realize even more clearly the importance of his work...unique qualities in color chords, depths of insight into nature and sheer delight for life are unclouded by superficial style."

III. Collections (selected list)

  • Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
  • Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • Chaffey Community Art Association Museum of History and Art, Ontario, CA
  • CPLH
  • Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
  • Library of Congress
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
  • Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
  • IV. Chronology

  • 1889 Born August 29th in Stjernsfors, Varmland, Sweden
  • 1911 Immigrates to the United States, first to Chicago and then Minneapolis
  • 1918 Marries Mabel Esther Lindberg August 18th. Drafted to serve in World War I, serves 1 year in France
  • 1919 Sent to Veteran's Administration Hospital in Prescott, Arizona to recover from tuberculosis
  • 1923 Moves with family to Los Angeles. Enrolls in Otis Art Institute
  • 1926 Awarded scholarship from Otis
  • 1927 Moves to Santa Barbara to attend School of Arts. Studies printmaking with Frank Morley Fletcher
  • 1928 Studies at California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco for 6 months
  • 1930 Moves back to Los Angeles. First 1 person Show at Hollywood Library Art Gallery
  • 1938 Paints in Oregon and Washington
  • 1945 Lives on East Coast with daughter Inez and husband. Paints in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts
  • 1945 Shows work to New York dealer Frank Rehn
  • 1950 Work is juried into exhibition American Painting
  • 1951 Travels to Europe and Sweden (First trip home)
  • 1952 Exhibition in Hafgors, Sweden, great success
  • 1956 Wins purchase prize for watercolor at 41st National Orange Show, San Bernadino, CA
  • 1958 Travels to Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Wake Island, and Hawaii
  • 1961 Receives purchase prize in oils, California State Fair
  • 1962 Travels to Sweden and Russia
  • 1963 Receives First Prize at Scandinavian American Art Society of the West
  • 1964 Receives Gold Medal at Scandinavian American Art Society of the West
  • 1964 Receives Pottinger Merchandise Award for Painting Outstanding in Color, 44th Nat'l Exhibition CA Watercolor Society
  • 1966 Hospitalized at Veteran's Administration Hospital in Sylmar
  • 1968 Travels to Sweden
  • 1970 Dies at Veteran's Hospital, Sylmar on February 24th.
  • 1970 Tribute Exhibition at Los Angeles Art Association

    9.5" x 12"
    watercolor on paper
    To be exhibited in "Anders Aldrin's Los Angeles 1924-1944" in 2007
    Unavailable prior to exhibit

    Aldrin's watercolors are distinctive for their mastery of using the medium's transparency and for their bold colors, but they fit well into the California Watercolor school. This example documents a landmark of early Los Angeles with the vertical smoke stacks echoing various ideas of the Precisionists.

    IV. Awards

  • 1924 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1942, 1944 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1946 California Watercolor Society
  • 1941, 1950 Pomona Fair
  • 1949, 1954 National Orange Show
  • 1950 Los Angeles County Fair
  • 1956 San Bernadino Orange Show
  • 1957 California State Fair
  • 1962 Pomona State Fair
  • V. Exhibitions

    Solo Exhibitions (selected list):
  • 1930 Art Gallery, Hollywood Library, Hollywood
  • 1935 Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, Los Angeles
  • 1940 Florence Rand Lang Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, CA
  • 1941 Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles
  • 1941 Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, Los Angeles
  • 1942 Chaffey Community Art Association, Ontario, CA
  • 1943 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara
  • 1944 Foundation of Western Art, Los Angeles (watercolors)
  • 1945 Pasadena Museum, Pasadena
  • 1948 Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena
  • 1950 Glendale Art Association, Glendale
  • 1952 Hafgors, Sweden
  • 1958 Mount St. Mary's College, Westwood
  • 1961 Pacific Ocean Park Gallery, Santa Monica, (retrospective)
  • 1970 Los Angeles Art Association, Los Angeles
  • 1983 Chaffey Community Art Association, Museum of History and Art, Ontario, California
  • 1983 Syntex Gallery, Palo Alto, California (retrospective)
  • 1983 Zeitlin and Ver Brugge, Los Angeles (woodcuts)
  • 1984 Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA
  • 1991 Coos Museum, Oregon
  • 1992 Monterey Peninsula Museum, CA
  • 1992 Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach
  • 1992 Holloway Howard 20th Century American Art Gallery, San Francisco
  • 1994 Los Angeles Art Association, Los Angeles
  • 1995 Riverside Museum, Riverside
  • 1996 Palos Verdes, CA
  • 2001 Orebro, Sweden
  • 2006 "Anders Aldrin: The Bridge", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2008 "Anders Aldrin", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2010 "Coloring Outside the Lines: The Art of Anders Aldrin(1889-1970), Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2012 "Anders Aldrin: The Red Line", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2014 "Anders Aldrin: Color Seeking Form", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Group Exhibitions

  • 1924, 1939, 1942, 1944 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
  • 1927- 65 California Watercolor Society, Los Angeles
  • 1930- 34 Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles, Los Angeles
  • 1931 Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena
  • 1931 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara
  • 1931 San Diego Fine Arts Society, San Diego
  • 1931 Pomona Fair, Pomona
  • 1931 Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland
  • 1936 National Exhibition of Woodcuts and Prints, New York
  • 1939 Golden Gate Exhibition
  • 1939 Scandinavian - American Art Society, Los Angeles
  • 1939 New York World's Fair, New York
  • 1941, 1950 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
  • 1941 Chaffey Junior College, Ontario
  • 1941, 1950 Pomona Fair, Pomona
  • 1944 Pennsylvania Association of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
  • 1946 Pennsylvania Association of Fine Arts, Philadephia
  • 1949, 1954 National Orange Show, San Bernadino
  • 1950 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1950 Los Angeles County Fair, Los Angeles
  • 1955 South Bay Community Association
  • 1956 San Bernadino Orange Show, San Bernadino
  • 1957, 1961 California State Fair
  • 1962 Pomona State Fair, Pomona
  • 1992 Laguna Museum, Laguna Beach
  • 2005 "Scenes of American Labor", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2007 "Curator's Choice: The American Dynamo", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2007 "The Montecito Salon III", Sullivan Goss, Montecito, CA
  • 2007 "Urban Myth: Visions of the City", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2007 "The Art of Living Well", Sullivan Goss, Montecito, CA
  • 2009 "Los Angeles Art Show", Los Angeles, CA
  • 2009 "American Moxie", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2010 "LA Art Show", Los Angeles, CA
  • 2010 "Spring Salon", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

    32" x 34"
    oil on canvas
    Exhibited: LA ART SHOW, 2006
    Private Collection

    Aldrin's figurative paintings exhibit a particular emotional sensitivity. The pocket book clutched in her hand, the shopper at left seems determined to enjoy the day out shopping - even in the middle of the Depression. Aldrin's unusual color sensibility shines brilliantly in this painting.


    1. 1. Aldrin, Anders to Margret Cromer, 10 April 1969.
    2. 2. Aldrin, Anders. Personal Statement, Feb. 4, 1964.
    3. 3. Aldrin, Anders. Personal Statement, Aldrin Family Archives.
    4. 4. Aldrin, Betty. Biography of Anders Aldrin.
    5. 5. "Anders Aldrin, 1908, 1928, 1942".
    6. 6. "Anders Gustave Aldrin." .
    7. 7. Blake, Janet. "Anders Aldrin: 1889 - 1970."
    8. 8. Blake, Janet. "Anders Aldrin: An Independent Vision." 9 September 2005. .
    9. 9. Dominique, John. Taped memoir, 7 December 1981.
    10. 10. Falk, Peter Hastings. "Who Was Who in American Art." Sound View Press: 1999. p.78.
    11. 11. Fietelson, Lorser. Personal Letter, Nov. 11, 1974.
    12. 12. Hench, Elizabeth A. "A Brief Personal History".
    13. 13. Hernandez, Jo Farb. Forward to Monterey Peninsula Art Exhibit, 1992.
    14. 14. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California 1786-1940. Crocker Art Museum: Sacramento. Thrid edition, Volume II.
    15. 15. Kamerling, Bruce. Unpublished Essay, Aldrin Family Archives.
    16. 16. Line, Mr. and Mrs. Francis R. Personal Letter, Dec. 2, 1974.
    17. 17. Millier, Arthur. Los Angeles Times, 25 February 1940, part 3, p.8
    18. 18. Millier, Arthur. Los Angeles Times, 13 October 1940, part 3, p.8
    19. 19. Millier, Arthur. Los Angeles Times, 24 November 1940, part 3, p.9
    20. 20. Millier, Arthur. Los Angeles Times, 12 September 1948, part 4, p.4

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