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Dan Lutz (1906 – 1978)

Revival Church, c. 1937, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, signed and dated (indistinctly) lower left, exhibited 1) 11th Annual Exhibition of the Santa Cruz Art League, February, 1938 (first prize for oils - $100) (see Dungan, H.L, Exhibition and Program Reviews and Schedules of Attractions Santa Cruz Exhibits Its Eleventh Annual, Oakland Tribune, February 13, 1938 (illustrated); Dan Lutz to Teach In Chicago This Summer, The Decatur Daily Review (Decatur Illinois), February 20, 1938; and Exhibit Opens Today At Women’s Club, The Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), February 22, 1938); 2) Annual Exhibition at the Oakland Art Gallery, March 6 to April 3, 1938 (honorable mention) (see Dungan, H.L, News and Comment About Art and Artists, Music and the Dance Oakland Art Annual to Open Today, Oakland Tribune, March 6, 1938 and Dungan, H.L, Exhibition and Program Reviews and Schedules of Attractions Logan Wins Prize at Annual, Oakland Tribune, April 3, 1938); and 3) Solo Exhibition at Gump Gallery, San Francisco, August, 1945 (see Watercolors Best, San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1945. Provenance: Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles (label verso); George Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood (label verso); remnants of other labels verso


About the Painting

Revival Church is a well-reviewed and prize-winning example of Dan Lutz’s unique take on California scene painting of the late 1930s. In reviewing the 11th Annual Exhibition of the Santa Cruz Art League, H. L. Dungan, art critic for the Oakland Tribune, described Lutz’s first prize-winning Revival Church as “a night scene of a church doorway, a somewhat dramatic arrangement of poor architecture, touched with a dash of sentiment.” Later, Dungan noted that going into the Oakland Art Gallery’s Annual Exhibition later that Spring, Revival Church was the jurors’ favorite work. From over 320 entries, it was one of only 78 works selected by the jury and the only work to receive a unanimous vote from all the judges. Revival Church went on to win an honorable mention at the exhibition. Later, in 1945, the art critic for the San Francisco Examiner praised Revival Church as “superb” and among the best of Lutz’s oil paintings. Lutz likely captured the attention of the California art world in the late 1930 and early 1940s because he was different. Unlike his regionalist and plein air impressionist contemporaries who often employed a bright and sun-drenched palette to glorify California’s rural landscape, Lutz’s best work from this period (i.e. 1937 and 1938) relied on a narrow range of colors centered around black, white, and gray with touches of deep blue and green, more urban subject matter and mysterious, haunting compositions. In Revival Church, Lutz uses a single dim light at the front of the building to illuminate the space, as electric poles, trees, and a post office letter box lurk in the shadows. Although the exact location is not known, the scene is likely from one of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods which housed recently arrived Black communities of the Great Migration from the Jim Crow Era American South to the promised land of California. In addition to his artistic practice, Lutz had studied music and became particularly interested in Black American music in the late 1930s which led him to explore more deeply Los Angeles’ gospel music scene. Soon after Revival Church, Lutz began a series of “Negro Spiritual” paintings, including Swing Low from 1939, which won First Honorable Mention at the Painters and Sculptors Exhibition at the predecessor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. During the 1920s and 1930s, California had become a locus of Christian fundamentalism across many communities, as both Black and white churchgoers found comfort in “old time” religion during the depths of the Great Depression. In contrast to Lutz’ humble church front, evangelists like Aimee Semple McPherson, started the country’s first “mega-churches” in Los Angeles which pioneered modern broadcast techniques to spread the gospel and raise money in the process.

About the Artist

Born in Decatur, Illinois, Dan Lutz was an accomplished painter who worked in both oils and watercolors. Between 1928 and 1931, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Conservatory of Music. After graduating from the Art Institute, Lutz spent nine months traveling and studying in Europe supported by the James Nelson Raymond European Traveling Fellowship. During this time, he visited major museums and studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and with Andre L’Hote, both in Paris. Upon his return to the United States in 1932, Lutz moved to Los Angeles where he taught at the University of Southern California. His paintings during the early 1930s explored the American Scene, but as Susan Anderson noted in an essay for a 1989 exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum, Lutz work was “characterized by an undeviating emotional intensity and by a strange melancholy or curious pathos that were all his own.” Lutz was widely praised during the period between the two world wars, particularly by the Los Angeles Times art critic, Arthur Miller, who reflected, “When Dan Lutz was very, very sad during depression days he used to paint picture of back streets with loafers, of rundown streetcars, twilit pool halls, sway-backed horses and melancholy hills – and I loved ‘em.” Beginning in the late 1930s, Lutz built a national reputation based on his “Negro Spiritual” series of paintings and in 1940 he gained representation which would last over three decades with Los Angeles’ most important art dealer, the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries. During the 1940s, Lutz taught at USC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. As his career progressed and he explored jazz-inspired scenes and images of Mexico, Lutz work became more colorful, abstracted and expressionist. Lutz exhibited widely and won many awards including at the National Academy of Design (1941), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1942), Carnegie International Exhibition (1943) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1945).


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