People who are interested in Jonathan Club and Los Angeles history will have heard of the artist Theodore Lukits, but many new visitors may not know his name. This is a pity, as he was a brilliant and multi-talented fine artist who became the sixth Life Artist Member of the Club. Thanks to the Jonathan Art Foundation’s founder, Paul Chevalier, Lukits left a large part of his estate to JAF in 1990. If the Depression had not started just as he was entering his creative peak, it is likely that he would be far better known today.
Lukits was a child prodigy who came to the US from Transylvania in 1899. After classical art training at the Chicago Art Institute, he came to LA in 1921 after encouragement from silent movie screen siren Theda Bara. Details of his career as a portraitist of movie stars and Los Angeles socialites; pioneer back country plein air and western landscape artist extraordinaire; muralist and Atelier founder are fascinating. A full testament by Jeffrey Morseburg to his prodigious work ethic and artistic brilliance can be found at the back of our book, Art at the Jonathan Club. JAF has several hundred pieces of his work, and several dozen grace the walls of the Town Club. The magnificent panorama of The Grand Canyon is familiar to all of us as it hangs behind the front desk on the ground floor.
To fill out our knowledge of Lukits, JAF’s Collections Manager Jennifer Gunlock and I sallied forth to meet and interview Peter and Elaine Adams, who run the California Art Club and American Legacy Fine Arts. Peter is a highly accomplished professional artist who studied with Lukits as a young man between 1970 and 1977. Peter has a respectable collection of the artist which includes works in oil and pastel. Probably the highlight of the discussion revolved around Lukits’ participation in the “Prix de Rome” competition at the Chicago Art Institute. Entrants had to submit a painting about a specified subject, and using live models complete it in 20 supervised days. In 1919 the subject was “Human Sacrifice,” a rather curious choice after the industrial death toll of WWI and the even more deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. JAF owns his submission which won the prize, a one year scholarship to study in Rome. His painting was intended as a denouncement of the war and is shown on page 147 of our book. What we learnt during our visit was that Lukits also came second in 1918 for his submittal on “Prisoner Exchange,” another highly charged subject given the times. Much to our delight, Peter’s assistant was sent off and returned with the rolled up canvas in hand.