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Painter, Draftsman, Sculptor & Educator

by Tim Abraham

Jules Engel was a devoted teacher, painter, sculptor, filmmaker and printmaker. He was a key contributor to the early success of both the Disney and United Productions of America (UPA) studios, having worked on the film classic--Fantasia and creating such enigmatic characters as “Mr. Magoo.” He also exhibited widely with exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the De Young Museum.

Table Of Contents


Born in Budapest Hungary in 1915, Jules Engel immigrated to the US in the early 1930s. He initially settled in Evanston, Illinois where he went to school. In 1937 he moved to Hollywood for work and continued his education at the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1938 his artistic ability in several mediums included animation, painting, and sculpture. This earned him a job with Disney Studios. There he worked on animation for the Disney classic “Fantasia”. Inspired by the ballet and modern choreography, Engel was a major contributor for the famous dance scenes in the film.

After WWII, Engel would find work as part of a creative team for the United Productions of America (UPA) Studios. There he would help create animated characters such as Gerald McBoing-Boing, Madeline, the Chipmunks and Mr. Magoo. Around the same time he became serious about painting, lithography, and independent film making. His early paintings, as opposed to his mainstream animations, were mostly non-figurative and non-representative. Inspired by abstract artists such as Wasilly Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Alexander Calder, he was able to combine his deep sense of color he learned as an animator together with geometrical and abstract constructions. In 1949 his works were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In the 1950s, his style shifted slightly away from the non-representational geometric paintings toward expressive compositions. His work still remained entirely abstract. During the early 50s he exhibited works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the De Young Museum in San Francisco. By 1958, Engel shifted his concentration solely to painting and independent film making. For twelve years this was his main focus. In 1970, he founded the Abstract Experimental Animation on Film Department for the California Institute of the Arts and taught many of today’s animators.

For the next thirty three years, Jules Engel would be consumed by teaching, painting, sculpture, and print making. An active artist all throughout his life, he would work well into the late years of his life, until his death in 2003.


Jules Engel was proficient in many mediums of artistic expression. Painting and printing were . His early works, such as “Big Top” (1945), show his interest in other European Abstractionists. Engel grew up in Eastern Europe and felt a connection towards modern artistic forms that were being expressed in early 20th century Europe. In “Big Top” one can see the influence from Mondrian and Kandinsky. Like Mondrian, Engel’s composition looks non-representational even though its title suggests something figurative. Also, Engel uses red, blue, and yellow, the primary colors that Mondrian and other artists and architects that were part of the De Stijl movement used. According to Gerald Nordland who wrote on Engel for the Paul Kantor Gallery, Engel’s early influences were very much biased by De Stijl and the Bauhaus. The influence from Kandinsky, who was connected to the Bauhaus school, is apparent in “Big Top”. While the painting is still geometrical, it is not geometrical in the sense that a Mondrian is. The bright shapes appear towards the front of the painting while the darker ones shadow them complementarily. The expression of the shapes may have also had something to do with Engel’s animation career where he was known to make abstract figures take on real movement to music.

Later in his career, one sees Engel’s paintings moving away from the biases of his early influences. His maturity as an artist can be seen in his paintings from the 1950s and 60s, which were more expressive and less geometrical. According to Nordland, the compositions are brought more towards the front of the canvas, whereas the early works take a deeper sense of space. One can see this in his use of techniques such as collage and forms of synthetic cubism. Furthermore, the paint appears thicker on the surface.

As his career progressed into the 70s, Engel had to share his time between teaching, filmmaking, and painting. He was also prolific with his lithographs at this time. One can still see the geometric forms and the sophisticated knowledge of color that Engel used all his life. His personal energy and exuberance made him a great teacher and mentor to young animators at California Institute of the Arts.

Throughout Engel’s career there is a direct relationship between the various mediums he utilized. Critics have said his paintings have a musical rhythm similar to his work for Fantasia or his abstract films. To those critiques, Engel said “Whether discussing color or sound or any of the components, it is necessary to test, to heighten what is known, and to move forward”. Engel’s knowledge of color and artistic skill was always connected to his belief that abstraction is the strongest form of expression.


  • 1915 Born in Budapest, Hungary
  • 1937 Moved to Hollywood, California and enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute
  • 1938 Began work for Walt Disney
  • 1970 Founded the Abstract Experimental Animation on Film Department for the California Institute of the Arts
  • 2003 Dies at age 88

  • 1945 Frederick Kann Circle Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1947 American Contemporary Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1949 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ill
  • 1949-1957 Los Angeles County Museum Annuals, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1949-1953 M. H. De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
  • 1951 Denver Museum of Art, Contemporary Painting in the United States, Denver, Co
  • 1951 Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, NY
  • 1952 Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, NY
  • 1952 Texas Wildcat Exhibition, TX
  • 1952 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 1952 Pasadena Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA
  • 1952-1957 Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
  • 1955 Pacific Coast Art: United States, Third Biennial, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • 1955 Fifteen American Painters University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
  • 1955 Saidenberg Gallery, NY
  • 1960 Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1961, 62, 63, 64 Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1962 Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art, Dallas, Texas
  • 1962 Wight Art Gallery, U.C.L.A, CA
  • 1963 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1963 The Art Institute, Chicago, IL
  • 1963 “Contemporary Masters” Kane Memorial, Providence, RI
  • 1963 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1964 Galleria Zero, Verona, Italy
  • 1964 Cornell University Galleries, Ithaca, NY
  • 1965 “Contemporary Print Exhibition”, The White House, Washington, DC
  • 1966 Ruth White Gallery, NYC, NY
  • 1967 Gemini GEL Graphics, LTD, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1967 Syracuse University Galleries, Syracuse, NY
  • 1967 Downey Museum of Art, Downey, CA
  • 1968 Artist in Residency Exhibition, Ogden, Utah
  • 1970 Martha Jackson Gallery, NYC, NY
  • 1971 Comsky Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
  • 1974 California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
  • 1976 Montgomery Art Center, Claremont College, Claremont, CA
  • 1977 Landfall Press, Chicago, Il
  • 1990 Turning the Tide: Los Angeles Modernists 1920-1950, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
  • 1992 American Cubism, Sid Deutsch Gallery, New York
  • 1994 Tobey C. Moss Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1996 On the Edge of America-California Modernist Art, 1900-1950, JackRutberg Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1997 Donnell Media Center, NYC, NY
  • 1999 Spacial Concerns A Retrospective, Tobey C. Moss Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2001 Anything but Still, Tobey C. Moss Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2003 Films, Paintings, Drawings, Constructions, and Lithographs, Tobey C. Moss Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

  • 1950 San Francisco Museum of Art, Purchase Prize
  • 1951 San Francisco Museum of Art, Purchase Prize
  • 1951 Los Angeles Country Museum, Purchase Prize
  • 1951 Caravan Gallery, New York, First Prize: Art Digest Award
  • 1955 California Watercolor Society, Purchase Award
  • 1956 California Watercolor Society, Purchase Award
  • 1957 California State Fair, Prize Award

  • Los Angeles County Museum
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • San Francisco Museum of Art

    1. 1. Http://
    2. 2. Http://
    3. 3. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California. Shirdan Books, Michigan, 2000
    4. 4. Jules Engel. Exhibition at the Paul Kantor Gallery, May 1958
    5. 5. Jules Engel. Exhibition at Esther Robles Gallery, November 1964
    6. 6. Http://
    7. 7. Tobey Moss Galleries: Jules Engel

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