Highlights, circa 1928 signed 'Joseph Kleitsch' (lower right) and signed, titled and inscribed 'Highlights Joseph Kleitsch / Still Life' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 38 1/4 x 46 1/4in overall: 47 1/4 x 55 1/4in
PROVENANCE: Purchased from the artist by collector Mr. James M Tyrell, Los Angeles, before November of 1931. James Manderson Tyrell, a noted art collector in Southern California, resided in Los Angeles and later retired to Laguna Beach, where he died in January, 1956 (quoted to the author by Tyrell's nephew Jim Flood, June, 09, 2007). Inherited by Mrs. Vivian Tyrell, Paradise, California Private collection, Los Angeles, California
EXHIBITED: Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Art Association, 1930 Los Angeles, Exposition Park, The Los Angeles Museum presents a Memorial Exhibition of the work of Joseph Kleitsch, June 1 30, 1933, L.1557.33.22 Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum, California Light: 1900-1930, , June 23, 1990 August 26, 1990. Traveled to Laguna Beach, Laguna Art Museum, October 11, 1990 January 7, 1991, Memphis, Dixon Art Gallery and Gardens, February 7, 1991 March 15, 1991 (catalog/book). San Jose, San Jose Museum of Art, The Not-So Still Life, a Century of California painting and sculpture, November 22, 2003 February 15, 2004. Traveled to Pasadena, Pasadena Museum of California Art, March 6 June 27, 2004 (catalog/book).
LITERATURE: Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1928, III-16:3-5 Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1933, II, 4:7-8: "Arthur Millier, "One of the most sumptuous pictures in the [Memorial] show" SCN June 23, 1933: "One of the most sumptuous pictures in the [Memorial] show, a still life called 'Highlights' was, he told me, painted after hearing a disciple of Cezanne in a Paris café inveigh against high lights as a form of visual superficiality which should never be reported by an artist." Patricia Trenton and William H. Gerdts, California Light: 1900 1930 (Laguna Beach and Memphis, TE: Laguna Art Museum in association with Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 1990), 151-152, #158, ill. Patricia Trenton, Joseph Kleitsch: A Kaleidoscope of Color, (Irvine, California: The Irvine Museum, 2007), 182-183, pl. 184, ill. Susan Landauer, William H. Gerdts, and Patricia Trenton, The Not-So-Still Life, A Century of California Painting and Sculpture (San Jose, California: San Jose Museum of Art, 2003), 37-38, #33, ill.
Joseph Kleitsch, wrote art critic Sonia Wolfson, in 1931, "Is the most perverse person I've ever met. Artistically and personally. . . .He can't be labeled, classified, pigeon-holed or otherwise definitely and securely rubber-stamped, which is to his credit. "Wolfson continues: "Kleitsch's artistic appetite . . . happen[s] to be remarkably discriminating, active, vastly and diversely absorbing! . . . Because of his perversity, which spells diversity, he gives infinite joy."
Recognized for his amazing portraits and colorful impressionist landscapes of Laguna Beach, Kleitsch became a consummate artistic explorer who also produced extraordinary still lifes, like Highlights. Rarely has a painting of this quality come on the market, which can be considered at the top of his oeuvre.
During his two years abroad in 1926-27, Kleitsch's exposure to the European masters and to the visual complexity of their work began to show itself in several compositions completed after his return. In the most astounding of Kleitsch's still lifes, the autobiographical Highlights, the artist extends his artistic skills in a complex composition that brings to mind the traditions of seventeenth-century European still-life painting. Highlights is exuberantly baroque in its color and dazzling light.
Probably one of the most freely painted of Kleitsch's works, it abounds with vigorous gestural brushstrokes, rapidly applied to sculpt both the three-dimensional forms and the decorative patterning. Using unctuous pigments, applied with brush, brush point, palette knife, and thumb, Kleitsch achieves one of the most personal statements. Amid the profusion of objects piled and strewn on the table are his violin, flute, accordion, and sheet music. Painted canvases are propped against the wall, one of landscape and the other a Matisse-like subject (paying homage to modernism), and there are of course his palette and pigments. Remnants of wine and fruit suggest an evening of conviviality among intimate friends. Highlights is over-whelming in its virtuosity, as compared with the simple trompe l'oeil still lifes of his transitional years. His homage to modernism with cubist-like painted masks suggests the direction he was taking his art, which is seen in the abstract qualities of his later landscapes. Revelation and discovery were part of his creative process, and he stretched his own boundaries as he paid greater attention to abstract patterning, first evident in Highlights.
The button accordion in the background is a fairly deluxe version with three bellows (according to J. Kenneth Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to William H. Gerdts). Kleitsch played his accordion sitting alongside the road in front of his Laguna house on Saturday nights; Mrs. Katherine Petty, daughter of Nicholas Isch, who lived in Laguna in the 1920's, shared this anecdote with this author. His violin is in a private collection but the present whereabouts of his flute is unknown.
We are grateful to Patricia Trenton, Ph.D. for her assistance with this essay.