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BELLE BARANCEANU

(1902-1988)

AMERICAN MODERNIST; LINEAR EXPRESSIONIST

by Anastasia Agapoff

American artist Belle Baranceanu was a printmaker, painter and muralist. She was educated at the Minneapolis School of Art as well at the Art Institute of Chicago where she was greatly influenced and encouraged by her mentor and companion, Anthony Angarola, a fellow linear expressionist. In 1933, Baranceanu moved to San Diego, California, where she remained for the rest of her life, as an artist, teacher and President of the San Diego Art Guild. The artist passed away in 1988.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

As an artist, Belle Baranceanu was always somewhat speculative of art theories, believing that they linked too closely to art trends. Although her style was not consistently in public demand, Baranceanu continued to paint according to her own vision. She recognized that as a Jewish woman from an immigrant family, she was a minority in both the arts and America in general. Throughout her career, Baranceanu held steadfast to her style of linear expression-esque distortion and flattened picture planes. Wedged between realists and abstractionists, you can find Baranceanu.

On July 17, 1902, Belle Goldschlager (she would later take on the name Baranceanu) was born in Chicago to Jewish Romanian parents. When Belle and her sister, Theresa, were very young, their parents separated. The two sisters, raised by their grandparents on a farm in Williston, North Dakota, both took a liking to the arts. Belle described her family as having an appreciation for music, an awareness that she celebrated through dance, and Theresa through the piano. Belle also expressed a love for drawing. She would later recall in an interview from 1980, that as a child, she enjoyed "scraping chalk into hoofs of horses and various sculptured things.” Belle and Theresa remained on their grandparent’s farm until their parents remarried in 1920.

In 1921, Belle graduated from West High School in Minneapolis, and continued her education at the Minneapolis School of Art, where she stayed until 1925. During her time there, she studied under Anthony Angarola, a young artist who was popular for his linear expressionist paintings. Angarola would later prove to influence her career and life immensely. In 1925, Belle followed Angarola to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was here that she learned from her mentor about modern European styles, which were already visible in much of her own work though she had never been to Europe. She also mastered the technique of linear expressionism, in which Angarola himself excelled at and had become one of the leading painters in the Chicago area.

A newcomer on the Chicago art scene, Belle proved herself quickly. In 1926, she submitted her painting, Riverview Section, Chicago, to the jury of the prestigious Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first submission was a success and was displayed later that year. While her popularity in Chicago was rising, her father took notice of the growing romance between his daughter and Angarola. Disapproving of their relationship, he sent Belle to live with an uncle in Los Angeles, hoping the two, young lovers would forget about each other.

At first, her father’s attempts where a success. While separated, Belle came to develop her own mature artistic style, and Angarola traveled to Europe. However, the two young lovers did not forget one another, and soon after, Angarola visited Belle in California. In 1929, Belle returned to Chicago, where she became engaged to Angarola. Tragically, Angarola's life was cut drastically short in August of that year, when he died of complications suffered from a car accident that had occurred months earlier in Paris. Belle was devastated, and subsequently, never married. In 1932, Belle Goldschlager had her name officially changed to Baranceanu, her mother's maiden name. This was most likely a reaction to her father's forcing of her to separate from Angarola.

In 1933, Baranceanu moved to San Diego, where her family had previously relocated to because of the lack of work in the East during the Great Depression. She soon found work at the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the Federal Art Project (FAP), and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), all created as a part of Roosevelt's New Deal, which promoted work for artists. Baranceanu found her niche in creating Regionalist art for public buildings such as, San Diego at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, 2 (Spanish Soldiers; Indians) at Roosevelt Jr. High School in Los Angeles, California Landscape at the La Jolla post office, and a mural decorating the auditorium of La Jolla High School entitled The Seven Arts, which was one of the works she was most proud of.

After World War II, with the growing dominance of American Abstract Expressionism in the international art world, artists who were once praised for their attention to the figure a few decades earlier were no longer popular. This included Baranceanu, who no longer received commissions for public works. Nevertheless, she remained a prominent member of the San Diego art community. Baranceanu taught art at the Francis Parker School in San Diego for twenty three years, from 1946-69, where she was known by her students simply as "Miss B." In 1950, she was elected president of the San Diego Art Guild.

Unfortunately, like many other public works brought about by the New Deal, one of Baranceau's projects, The Seven Arts mural at La Jolla High School, was destroyed in 1975. The auditorium that housed the mural was deemed unsafe, and in turn, a favored work of hers was lost forever. This was no doubt a devastating blow to the artist. A few years before passing away on January 10, 1988, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. In her lifetime, Baranceanu managed to become influential to both the Chicago and San Diego art communities. Today, the San Diego Historical Society handles the remains of her estate.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

By the time Baranceanu's oil on canvas, Riverview, Section (1926) had been accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago's 1926 Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, the artist herself was only 24. The confidence exhibited in this work could easily have been the result of an artist who had been painting for decades. While this painting retains a hint of youthful exuberance, it succeeds in demonstrating her innate talent.

Riverview, Section is an eventful composition depicting a Chicago neighborhood. At first glance, the painting appears to be made up of a series of straight, exact lines; however, a closer look reveals that the lines are actually rough and imperfect. Paired with the similar, uneven placement of color, these lines add a soft touch to what easily could have been an austere, urban landscape. Similar to her other works, the colors used in Riverview, Section are earthy and muted. The presence of various beige, brown, gray and pale blue hues add a simplicity to the work, yet a touch of panache.

By the mid 1920s, the young artist had already established her personal style. With tones of linear expressionism, Baranceanu flattened, distorted and managed to gently soften her figures, leaving remnants of their former mass behind. Though she never traveled abroad to study European art, she credited artists such as Cezanne, Giotto and El Greco as her influences. However, the artist that influenced her the most was Anthony Angarola. It was through him that she learned of the European masters. Under Angarola’s mentorship she grew artistically, developing a style that would make her a young celebrity on Chicago’s art scene.

One of Baranceanu's strongest opinions throughout her career was the rejection of art theories. Considering them to be limiting to the artist, she painted regardless of the trends within the art community. Baranceanu's works were largely community oriented and painted for others as much as they were for her. As a woman and a minority herself, Baranceanu understood how hard it was to find a niche in society, and she often chose to paint African American women. She also painted a number of public murals in and around San Diego, California. To her, these works represented and were created for everyone to enjoy. Today, they continue to work in this manner.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1902 July 17, born Belle Goldschlager, Chicago
  • 1921 Graduated from West High School, Minneapolis
  • 1924 Graduated from Minneapolis School of Art
  • 1924-25 Completed post-grad work under Anthony Angarola at the Minneapolis School of Art
  • 1925-26 Studied with Angarola at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1926 Riverview Section, Chicago accepted into Annual Exhibition of American Paintings at the Chicago Art Institute
  • 1927 She is sent to live with an uncle in Los Angeles. Exhibited with the Painters and Sculptors of Southern California at LACMA
  • 1929 Moved to Chicago and agrees to marry Angarola. In August, fiancé dies from injuries received in a car accident.
  • 1932 Changed last name to Baranceanu
  • 1933 Moved to San Diego
  • 1933-34 Painted first mural, San Diego, for the PWAP
  • 1936-39 Used linoleum printing for the first time. Made cover designs and illustrations for WPA Curriculum Projects books.
  • 1939-40 Created The Seven Arts, her largest and last mural
  • 1946-51 Taught at San Diego School of Arts and Crafts
  • 1946-69 Taught at Francis Parker School, San Diego
  • 1950 Elected President of San Diego Art Guild
  • 1959 Taught at California Western University, San Diego
  • 1975 Mural, The Seven Arts, in the auditorium of La Jolla High School is destroyed
  • 1988 Jan. 10 Baranceanu died in La Jolla, CA
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • San Deigo Historical Society
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1926, 1928, 1931, 1938 Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1927 Kansas City Art Institute, MO
  • 1927, 1928 Painters and Sculptors of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 1928 Illinois Academy of Fine Arts, Chicago
  • 1931 Little Gallery, Chicago
  • 1932 Chicago Women's Aid
  • 1933, 1934, 1937, 1939 Exhibition of Southern California Art, San Diego
  • 1934 Modern Lithograph Exhibition, San Diego
  • San Diego Art Guild Spring Exhibition
  • 1934, 1936, 1940 San Diego Art Guild Annual
  • 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego
  • 1935 California Pacific Exposition, San Francisco
  • 1936 San Diego Art Guild Winter Exhibition
  • 1937 International Exhibition of Water Colors, Chicago
  • 1937, 1938 International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving, Chicago
  • 1940 Golden Gate International Exhibition, San Francisco
  • 1941 Escondido Annual Art Exhibition
  • 1942 Artists for Victory, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1943 Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh PA
  • 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946 Library of Congress, Washington D.C
  • 1943-46 National Academy of Design, New York City
  • 1944 San Diego Art Guild Portrait Exhibition
  • 1945 Denver Art Museum, CO
  • 1947 University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • 1956 Silvermine Guild of Artists, New Canaan
  • 1980 San Diego County Administration Building (retrospective)
  • 1980 Junipero Serra Museum, San Diego
  • 1985 Mandeville Gallery, University of California, San Diego
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • Chicago Society of Artists
  • La Jolla Art Center
  • San Diego Art Guild
  • WPA/Federal Arts Project
  • VII. AWARDS

  • 1931 Clyde M. Carr Prize, Art Institute of Chicago for Wabash Avenue Bridge
  • 1931 San Diego Art Guild Annual, Honorable Mention for Wabash Avenue Bridge
  • 1936 Silver Medal for Achievement in Art, California Pacific International Exposition
  • 1937 San Diego Art Guild, Second Prize for linocut, Deer
  • 1940 San Diego Art Guild Annual First Prize in Graphics for Drill Baboon
  • 1941 Escondido Annual Art Exhibition, First Honorable Mention for Brick Factory
  • 1945 Denver Art Museum, First Honorable Mention for Drill Baboon
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. "Belle Baranceanu," www.askart.com, 7/19/06.
    2. 2. Dijkstra, Bram and Anne Weaver. Belle Baranceanu - A Retrospective. La Jolla: University of California, San Diego, 1985.
    3. 3. Dijkstra, Bram. On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art. Ed. Karlstrom, Paul, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. pp. 170-71.
    4. 4. Heller, Jules and Nancy G. Heller, eds. North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995. p. 49.
    5. 5. Jacobson, J. Z., ed. Art of Today: Chicago, 1933. Chicago: L. M. Stein, Publisher, 1932. pp. 42, 43, 139.
    6. 6. Kammerling, Bruce. "Belle Baranceanu: (1902-1988)," www.sandiegohistory.org. (The Journal of San Diego History Summer 1994, vol.40 no.3)
    7. 7.Kennedy, Elizabeth, ed. Chicago Modern 1893-1945: Pursuit of the New. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004. pp. 58, 59, 87.
    8. 8. New Deal Art: California. de Saisset Art Gallery and Museum, University of Santa Clara, 1976.
    9. 9. Belle Baranceanu Interview, manuscript. 1980. Courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society Oral History Collection.
    10. 10. Claudia Leos, Senior Curator, San Diego Historical Society. Interviewed 8/22/06.

    IX. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST