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FRANCIS DE ERDELY

(1904-1959)

West Coast Modernist

by Alissa J. Anderson

Francis De Erdely was a principal figure in the development of the West Coast Modernist School. He completed his training in Europe before returning to the U.S. where he began a long career as an instructor at USC. His highly stylized paintings evidence his genuine interest in both Mexican and African cultures.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Born in Hungary in 1904, Francis De Erdely grew up during the first World War. Depicting the atrocities of war in his sketches and early paintings, the artist was eventually banished from Hungary by early Gestapo members. After his studies were completed at the Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest, De Erdely studied at the Real Academie de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid and at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

In 1944, the artist made his way west, settling briefly in New York and then, finally in Los Angeles. It was in the West Coast city of Los Angeles where he found his place as an American artist. Depicting the regional minorities of African and Mexican heritage, De Erdely was interested in conveying a sense of strong social commentary.

After serving as Dean of the Pasadena Art Museum School in 1945, he became a faculty member at the University of Southern California until his death in 1959. Exhibiting across the U.S. as well as in Australia and Belgium, he gained local as well as international recognition. His work is in the collections at the Chicago Institue of Art, The Melbourne National Museum, and the Carnegie. Along with fellow Modernist painters Bentley Schaad, Sueo Serisawa, and Richard Haines, De Erdely became instrumental in the West Coast Modernist movement.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Francis De Erdely was highly sophisticated in his draftsmanship, use of color, and composition. Incorporating Cubist qualities of flatness and augmentation, his figurative subjects were often known for their elongated, awkward limbs. Just as the Nineteenth century French Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres became known for his eloquently disproportionate portraits -- De Erdely reinvented the traditional figurative image.

A sense of angst and darkness consumed many of De Erdely's paintings as the artist experimented with themes of death and turmoil. Explicit and honest, De Erdely created powerful renditions of life and human struggle. As said by the artist, "I have reached the conclusion that art which is purely fashioinable is also short-lived, that only that art has survived the passage of time which has mirrored the cosmic problems of its era, and that art is an organic part of life and not a thing apart from it." He goes on to say, "Thus in my work I seek to document the times in which I live and to indicate the shape of things to come . . . and to awaken [my students] to complete awareness of thoese stirring social forces which created and will continue to mold the monumental history of America."

III. WEST COAST MODERNISM

De Erdely was a principal figure in the West Coast Modernist school. As an instructor in the Los Angeles art community, he was highly respected and instrumental in training younger generations of artists. He is still considered one of the most influential artists to have worked on the West Coast. The artist Millard Sheets, a contemporary of the artist, once said "A master of our day, he draws or paints with equal spirit -- neither is the lesser in his estimate. He knows the importance of the arts to life. Through him, his students find new meaning and understanding of their profession. His work, his spirit and his enthusiams are a real contribution to our muddled world."

Artists like Francis De Erdely, Sueo Serisawa, Richard Haines, Rico LeBrun, and the other West Coast Modernists followed the tradition set by Stanton McDonald-Wright, Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson. As said by art dealer Frank Goss, "They were part of the 1st generation of artists released from the requirements of completely representational paintings. Perhaps they accomplished what they did because no one in this 'new world' cared about the maintenance of artistic traditions. This group was uniquely free to pursue an artistic spirit which was fresh, chalenging and explosive."

IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Brussels Moderne, Brussels, Belgium
  • Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown , OH  
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.  
  • Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
  • Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI
  • De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
  • Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, UT
  • Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, CA
  • Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena, CA
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
  • Seattle Museum of Art, Seattle, WA
  • Springville Museum of Art, Springville, UT
  • USC Fisher Gallery, University of California, CA
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1925 Budapest, Hungary
  • 1940-44 Detroit Art Institute, Detroit, MI
  • 1939 Hungarian Relief Library, New York, NY
  • 1940 De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
  • 1940 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 1941 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
  • 1942 Vancouver Musuem of Fine Art
  • 1942-45 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • 1942-43 The Scarab Club, Detroit , MI
  • 1943 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • 1945-46 Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
  • 1945-46 San Francisco Fine Arts Association, CA
  • 1946 Pasadena School of Arts, Pasadena, CA
  • 1950 Laguna Beach Art Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA
  • 1950 Crocker, Sacremento , CA
  • 1950 San Joaquin Pioneer Museum and Haggin Art Galleries, Stockton, CA
  • 1950 Oakland Art Museum, Oakland, CA
  • 1960 Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, CA
  • 1960 Los Angelels County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA


  • COVER & INTERIOR OF DE ERDELY'S MEMORIAL EXHIBITION CATALOG AT LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART, 1960

    This catalog illustrates a rare self-portrait by Francis De Erdely. This catalog came from a private collector who owned the self-portrait.

    VI. AWARDS

  • 1925 Budapest, Hungary (prize)
  • 1940-44 Detroit Art Institute (prizes)
  • 1942 Scarab Club (medal)
  • 1943 Scarab Club (medal)
  • 1946 Scarab Club (prize)
  • 1946 Pasadena School of Arts (prize)
  • 1947-51 Oakland Art Gallery (prizes)
  • 1949 Arizona State Fair (award)
  • 1954 Audubon Association (medal)
  • VII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

    1. 1. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California, 1786-1940, p. 289. San Fran.: Hughes Pub., 1989.
    2. 2. Papillon Gallery. Francis De Erdely. AskArt.com.
    3. 3. Arthur Millier. Francis De Erdely: 1904-1959. Pasadena Art Musuem, 1960.
    4. 4. Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media, pp. 287-295. Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998.
    5. 5. Cummings, Paul. A Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, p. 97. New York: St. Martin's Press.
    6. 6. Falk, Peter Hastings, Ed. . Who Was Who in American Art, p. 155. Sound View Press, 1985.
    7. 7. McClelland, Gordon T. and Jay T. Last. California Watercolors 1850-1970, p. 104. Hillcrest Press.
    8. 8. Falk, Peter Hastings, Ed. Record of the Carnegie Institute's International Exhibitions 1896-1996, p. 106. Sound View Press, 1998.

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