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 Helen Inez Seibert  (1914 - 1987)

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Lived/Active: California/New York      Known for: abstract landscape painting, surrealism

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Ad Code: 3
Helen Inez Seibert
An example of work by Helen Inez Seibert
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Richmond, VA on Feb. 16, 1914. Seibert studied at the ASL in NYC and privately with Arthur Dove before her marriage to Charles Brooks in 1936. In 1940 the couple moved to Marin County, CA. A plein-air painter during her early years, she later experimented with abstraction and other modern art forms. By 1949 she was schizophrenic and then spent her remaining years hospitalized. She died in Queens, NY in March 1988. Exh: CPLH, 1946.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Denenberg Fine Arts, Inc.:
An exemplary American modernist, Helen Inez Seibert (Brooks) was initially tutored in George Oberteuffer's New York City academy in the early 1930's, inspired by the rich surfaces and architectonic structures of Cezanne.  For one incredibly fruitful year, 1936-1937, she nestled under the wing of Arthur Dove--his only student?benefiting as well from the presence (and occasional absence) of the other Helen, Helen Torr (Mrs. Dove.)

Helen Seibert's fortunate position in society derived from her husband, Charles Van Wyck Brooks, son of the distinguished literary lion of New England, Van Wyck Brooks, who was the best friend of Duncan Phillips of the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.   Through these connections, and with ample funds, the attractive young couple headily explored the European expatriate scene, at a moment perilously close to the outbreak of war.

In France from 1937 to 1939, Seibert was to meet some of the most brilliant literary and artistic personalities in Europe, including Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gertrude Stein and her circle including Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Cocteau.  Moreover, once they returned to the United States, there would often be lunch in Westport, Connecticut, with Sinclair Lewis, Randolph Bourne, and many others.

Helen Seibert thus readily associated in New York with An American Place, Alfred Steiglitz's nexus of American modernism.  Her work registers the presence of Mondriaan on the scene in two paintings from 1944, Composition and Rock by the Shore.  Dudensing Gallery had been selling Mondrian's pictures before he had visited New York in 1938.  He made a final move from London to New York in October of 1940.  In that year the Brooks family decided to move to California, and on the way they stayed at Mabel Dodge's Taos "Salon."

They eventually settled in Marin County in Northern California in 1941, where Helen was to create a body of modernist pictures uniquely her own.  She was becoming a successful and recognized painter; two *neoplasticist paintings, Composition, 1944, and French Vase and Italian Scarf, 1945, are shown here for the first time since their exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, in a spring 1946 group exhibition.

Her career seemed full of promise. However, these productive years in California were cut short in 1949 by a tragic diagnosis of schizophrenia, untreatable at the time. Helen was 35 years of age, and had just given birth to a son, Peter.  Charles institutionalized his wife in a New England hospital where she remained until her death on a park bench almost 40 years later.

Arnold Genthe, the renowned society photographer of San Francisco and New York, took two photographs of the radiantly beautiful young woman around the time of her marriage.  These are reproduced here for the first time, one showing her with her eyes open, and one, in a tender prefiguring of her eventual mental decline, with her eyes closed.  Nevertheless, Seibert's work from 1932 to 1949 is a bright discovery in the history of arts and letters in the United States by virtue of her sophisticated aesthetic achievement.  Hers is a fresh voice of exploration and synthesis of abstraction and figuration at the dawn of post-war America.

* Neo-Plasticism, also called "De Stijl," was a Dutch movement in painting and sculpture founded by Theo van Doesburg, characterized by a reversion to the basic fundamentals of art: color, form, the plane, and the line. Artists used mostly straight horizontal and vertical lines in black, white, gray, and primary colors completely devoid of realism and the artist's emotion. In 1917, the magazine "De Stijl" was published.  Another leading figure of the movement was Piet Mondriaan who published the manifesto, Neo-Plasticism in 1920. The Neo-Plasticism movement ended formally in 1931, but was very influential in the development of the Bauhaus and International Style.

Biography from Cline Fine Art:
A female modernist painter in the early 20th century, Helen Seibert did work that reflected art movements of her era ranging from academic portraiture to Cubism.  She seemed to have a tremendous amount of potential, which sadly was negated by her schizophrenia that became apparent when she was in her mid 30s. 

She was the wife of Charles Brooks, whose father was Van Wyck Brooks, then the "preeminent American man of letters."  She spent much time at the home of her in-laws in Westport, Connecticut where she met numerous luminaries including writer Sherwood Anderson and painter Arthur Dove. 

Dove was much impressed by the painting talent of Seibert and invited her to study with him on Long Island on his home.  She was his only student, and under his influence, her painting became increasingly abstract.  After that, Seibert and her husband lived in France and socialized extensively with the avant-garde of the art world.

In 1949 at the age of 35, she was institutionalized in California for the remainder of her life, which was thirty-eight more years.  After her death, her son, Peter Brooks, opened her storage vault and said: "It was like opening up King Tut's tomb."

He began to sell several hundred of the paintings through auctions, and in 1996, Dennenberg Fine Art of West Hollywood and Cline Fine Art of Scottsdale, Arizona held a joint exhibition of her work.  The show was described as marking "the first chapter of the story of Seibert's rediscovery."

Submitted by Jerre Lynn Vanier
Penelope Rowlands, "A Posthumous Rediscovery", ARTnews, April 1996.

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