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 Lyla Vivian Marshall Harcoff  (1883 - 1956)

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Lived/Active: California/Indiana      Known for: still life, landscape, portrait and Indian figure painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Lafayette, Indiana on October 6, 1883, Lyla Harcoff, a painter of floral and fruit still life as well as scenes of northern Arizona and native American themes, studied art at Purdue University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and at Académie Moderne in Paris.  She married Constantine Harcoff.

By the 1920s, she had settled in Santa Barbara, CA.  During the Depression, she was employed by the Federal Art Project.  Harcoff also painted in Arizona as early as 1913.  She died in Santa Barbara on July 22, 1956. 

Exhibitions:
Santa Barbara Art League, 1928; Public Works of Art Project, So. Calif., 1934; California State Fair, 1937; All-Calif. Exhibition, 1939; Montecito Country Club, 1940; Santa Barbara Museum, 1944 (prize), 1949 (solo).

Collections:
Santa Fe Railroad; Santa Barbara Museum; Ynez Valley High School; Lafayette Museum.

Sources:
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, The Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West


Biography from Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery (Artists A-H):
Although Lyla Harcoff started her art studies with masters who were influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, she soon developed her own very stylized, color-rich, modernist style.  Born Lyla Marshall in Layayette, Indiana on October 6, 1883, she had artistic interests from her earliest years.  She attended Purdue University where she graduated in 1904 as one of eight women in a class of 218..  She continued her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and later made two trips to Paris studying a full year at Academie Moderne.  In her later years, she was heard to say that her major influences were Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and the German Expressionist Karl Hoffer.

In the early 1920’s, the artist was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad to paint Native American settlements in New Mexico and Arizona.  Lyla Marshall met and married Constantine Harcoff in the late 1920’s while she was living in Chicago.  The family moved to Santa Barbara, California in the early 1930’s where she was employed by the Federal Arts Project.  She remained a Santa Barbara resident until her death in 1956.

There are no examples of her student studies or other early work, but there are reports that her early efforts were primarily focused on floral and fruit still-lifes.  It is said that from her days at the Chicago Art Institute, she was seen as a colorist and that her strength of palette marked these developing years.  In the surviving canvases completed during her middle years, it can be seen that she was a competent landscape painter, portraitist and figurative artist.  Most of these paintings from her middle years are in private collections.  The earliest extant piece is a studio portrait “drinking man”; dated 1932, painted when she was nearly 50 years old.  It demonstrates a robust mature style.  It also shows the influence of the masters of her youth.  In her later years she recollected that the artists whose work most influenced her were Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and the German Expressionist Karl Hoffer.

Drinking Man depicts a character that is representational, strong, heroic and reminiscent of the wonderful portrait painters of the American Scene Painting School.

Lyla Harcoff worked on a number of themes over her artistic career, of which one of the most sustained and pronounced was her “Bathers” series.  This theme was rendered in small sketch, medium format and larger, exhibition-size pieces.  One of the largest of these pieces has been selected for inclusion in the “Work of Women; The Nicholson Collection.”

In early 2002, Sullivan Goss assembled eleven of the Bather paintings.  These paintings are distinguished by their simple, reductive color palettes, and simple, reductive figurative features.  Arms, legs and torsos are flattened into planes of color depicting multiple figures entwined in a sensual and suggestive grouping.  The figures are definitely relating to one another and yet there is only the slightest suggestion of romantic or sexual relationship between figures.  All of these paintings show groups of Bathers standing and reclining on the beach.  None are shown in a solitary composition and there is always a conversational arrangement of the models. The simplification of form and palette makes these paintings striking. Most of the figures are draped or covered in part by towels.  All appear trim and healthy.  For Harcoff it would seem that these works show a Spartan, bold and open statement about the essential desire for companionship as a requisite for the human tableau. These works were painted from the late 1930’s until early 1950’s.

A partial list of her exhibitions: Public Works of Art Project (1934), California State Fair (1937), All California Exhibition (1939), Santa Barbara Museum (1944) in which she received an award, and a solo exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1949).

Lyla Harcoff died in Santa Barbara, California in 1956.


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