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Ruth Powers Ortlieb (1893 – 1982)

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Bird on Thermos Bottle, c. 1939, oil on canvas, signed lower right, 27 x 22 inches, exhibited: Art Exhibition by California Artists Golden Gate International Exhibition, California Building, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California, May 25 – September 29, 1940, #86 (label verso and listed in catalog); provenance includes Michael Johnson Fine Arts (Fallbrook, CA) and Estate of Spencer Jon Helfen (Los Angeles, CA); presented in a newer high quality frame by Jerry Soloman (Los Angeles)


About the Painting

Ruth Powers Ortlieb’s Bird on Thermos Bottle is an extraordinarily rare and beautiful example of California modernism from the late 1930s. Although the State was best known during the Great Depression for California Scene watercolors, small groups of artists working mainly in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco pushed the boundaries of convention to produce strikingly different art. With its combination of unexpected volumetric natural and manmade shapes, clear delineation, meticulous craftsmanship and stark shadows, Bird on Thermos Bottle offers a compellingly designed alternate reality. Perhaps the best of Ortlieb’s entire oeuvre, Bird on Thermos Bottle compares favorably to the Magic Realist and Post-Surrealist works of the better-known female California modernists, Henrietta Shore and Helen Lundeberg. Ortlieb must have been proud when the work was accepted into the prestigious Golden Gate International Art Exhibition, in 1940, the West Coast’s answer to the New York Worlds Fair.

About the Artist

Ruther Powers Ortlieb was a California modernist. Born in Riverside, Ortlieb was raised and lived most of her life in San Diego. Her early training consisted of studies with Anni Baldaugh before Ortlieb began exhibiting her work in the late 1920s. In 1931, she earned a bachelor of arts degree from San Diego State, where she later taught. Although Ortlieb was a member of several conservative painting circles, she joined Dorr Bothwell, Donal Hord, and Everett Gee Jackson among others to form a group known as the “San Diego Moderns.” She received a masters of art degree from Claremont College while studying under Millard Sheets. Ortlieb traveled extensively and exhibited widely during the 1930s, including at the San Diego Fine Art Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Pasadena Art Institute, the forerunner of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the California Pacific International Exposition, and the Golden Gate International Exhibition. Ortlieb is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.


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