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  • by Jennifer Gunlock, Collections Manager

Theodore Lukits: An Aesthetic Realist

As the caretakers of a proud collection of early California Impressionist art, it has been our mission to share this treasure with the community through the lending of artwork to local institutions. Last year, we were a prominent lender of art to the California Center for the Arts in Escondido and to the exhibition California Light at Sturt Haaga Gallery in Descanso Gardens. Now, we are proud to be sharing works for the exhibition, Theodore N. Lukits (1897-1992): An Aesthetic Realist, at Palos Verdes Art Center. On exhibit will be 28 pastels highlighting the artist’s phenomenal, atmospheric plein air landscapes, as well as a few of his captivating portraits.

Lukits’ oil and pastel landscapes are startling for their acute rendering of color, vibrating with almost neon sunsets and glimmering moonrises. Born in 1897 in Hungary, at the age of two Lukits immigrated with his family to the United States. After his 1918 graduation from the Chicago Art Institute, he took up portraiture painting as a means of income. In 1922 he painted screen star Theda Bara, and it was her encouragement that led to the artist’s move to Los Angeles and his successful career painting the Hollywood elite. In 1924 he established the Lukits Academy of Fine Arts, where he trained and mentored artists in the classical Western tradition for many decades to come.

In between portrait commissions, from 1923 to the 1970’s, Lukits made numerous trips into the wilderness of California and Arizona, sketching the landscape in pastel. At times he used a miner's type helmet with a light on the front to allow him to work outdoors at night. Executed rapidly en plein air, Lukits originally considered these small landscapes as only a resource for composing larger oil paintings in the studio. Therefore, the majority of the pastels are left untitled and with no indication of location or date. Of the more than twelve hundred sketches he did, just a few were sold to his students and close friends.

On August 31, 1932, Lukits was admitted to Artist Member of the Jonathan Club, and in 1949 he was granted Artist Life Membership. In July 1990 the artist and his wife, Lucille, made a gift to the Art Foundation of many of his pastels and oils, comprising over 360 works of art. You can view a large number of his works throughout the Club.

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