Dr. Will South Essay

Mabel Alvarez

I stand on the edge of a crater.
I gaze down into a curved moonlight void.
In the center is a strange shining world.
It floats in frightening space.
One could fall off the edge of this world.

Mabel Alvarez from undated poem “Pale Abalone Shell”
Mabel Alvarez, c. 1915
Photograph Courtesy of the Archives of American Art Smithsonian Institution

In 1913, at the age of twenty-two, Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985) received recognition for mural designs that were termed “half realistic and half idealistic and wholly out of the ordinary.”1 Here was, as perceptive critic Alma May Cook noted (Los Angeles Express, September 13, 1913), a “promising young artist” from whom the community could expect “something ‘different’ – tall and slim, she is of the pronounced brunette type with dreaming eyes, just the type of artist to enter into all myths and legends that are so dear to the mural painter.”

Mabel Alvarez exceeded expectations. For the next six decades, she remained a provocative and productive painter – more adventurous than the Impressionist-oriented instruction that formed her and less radical than most emerging Modernist trends around her – but always sensitive, seductive, and searching

She was born on November 28, 1891, on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, the youngest of five children (fig.1). Her father, Luis, was a Spanish-born physician; her mother, Clementine Setza, came from a prominent St. Paul, Minnesota, family. Luis and Clementine Alvarez relocated to Berkeley, California, in 1906, and then in 1909 to Los Angeles, where their daughter was a star pupil at the Los Angeles High School. Her art teacher there, James Edwin McBurney, was responsible for her early mural work: he had received a commission to create murals for the Panama-California Exposition to be held in San Diego in 1915, and engaged his former student to work for him. Alma May Cook wrote that “demure, little Miss Mabel Alvarez” had created a mural in which “every stroke spells the poetry of springtime in California.”2 Indeed, Alvarez’s work at that time was marked by both an interest in Symbolism and Art Nouveau and in the high-key color and atmospheric effects derived from Impressionist painting, a style then highly influential in Southern California that she learned directly from her second important teacher, William Cahill (1878-1924).

Academic Portrait Head (Female)
Charcoal on paper
22 x 18 inches
Estate of Mabel Alvarez

Cahill had moved to Los Angeles in 1914 with fellow- Bostonian John Hubbard Rich (1876-1954), and the pair founded the School for Illustration and Painting. Here, Alvarez again found herself in the role of outstanding student: a drawing of hers reproduced in the school’s 1916 brochure shows extraordinary skill in academic rendering (fig.2). The ability to draw well, to represent the illusion of three dimensions accurately, was prized by American artists and was retained even by those who, like Cahill and Rich, gradually adopted the surface techniques of French Impressionism, such as bright, outdoor color applied with loose, broken brushstrokes.3 American Impressionists rarely sought to dissolve form the way the French had done, and Alvarez’s youthful mix of careful rendering with an Impressionist-inspired palette is typical of plein-air methods practiced in California early in the century.

Portrait of Mrs. H. McGee Bernhart
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
Collection of Joseph Moure

This mix is clearly seen in Alvarez’s 1919 Portrait of Mrs. H. McGee Bernhart (fig.3), first shown at the Tenth Annual Exhibition of the California Art Club.4 The sitter’s features are definite and solid, while light and color flicker around and on her in a manner derived from Cahill’s well-known 1919 painting Thoughts of the Sea, featured in the same California Club show.5 Had Alvarez focused on the development of a personal style of California Impressionism, she might have become one of the movement’s premier practitioners. Los Angeles Times critic Antony Anderson wrote in his review of this show that “This young artist, always an earnest student, is advancing with much rapidity, doing better and more distinguished work from year to year.”6

However, her temperamental openness to new ideas and her willingness to experiment kept her from fixating on one style or one teacher; Alvarez was moving in different directions even as she embraced aspects of popular regional painting.

While a student of Cahill’s, Alvarez was also taking singing lessons, attending concerts and local exhibitions, meeting fellow artists (including those with experimental tendencies like her own, such as Henrietta Shore), and discovering the writings of Will Levington Comfort (1878-1932), which would prove to be hugely influential on her thinking. Comfort was at the center of a spiritualist colony in the Hollywood Hills, where he lectured and monitored group meetings. There was a temple and a lotus pond on the grounds, as well as a Greek theater. Alvarez attended many meetings at the colony, as well as events in Comfort’s home in Highland Park.

Comfort advocated meditation as a way of beginning an inner journey leading ultimately to a sense of harmony.7 His ideas were essentially Theosophical in content, blending aspects of different world religions and taking the concept of karma as a central principle, that is, that one’s future depends on events and attitudes in his or her past. Linked to the belief in karma was the belief in “world teachers” who come to earth in order to preach divine messages. Alvarez found Comfort’s message “so much more practical than most church sermons.”

Indeed, for Mabel Alvarez, even something as mystical and mysterious as Theosophical thought had to have a “practical” appeal. Her father was not only an esteemed doctor, but a shrewd businessman as well. Her elder brother, Walter, became a well-known physician like his father, one of many in the Alvarez clan to distinguish themselves in the sciences. Mabel was not immune to the strong humanist inclinations of her family, and seems to have balanced throughout her life a desire for the transcendental with an unshakable conservatism that kept her rooted in the realities of time and place. Her later retreat from Theosophy (though not from spirituality) may have been linked to the scientific revelations of this century, well-known to Alvarez through her father and brother, that directly contradicted the more esoteric beliefs embraced by Theosophists.8

From 1917 to 1920, many influences crowded into Alvarez’s life in addition to the teachings of Cahill and Comfort. She kept meticulous diaries from 1909 until her death, and recorded that in 1917 she read forty books, including poetry by William Butler Yeats and short stories by August Strindberg. Her first exhibition as a professional artist occurred at the San Francisco Art Institute’s annual show in 1918;9 she joined the ranks of the powerful California Art Club (an unabashed promotional vehicle for California Impressionist painting) the same year, winning an honorable mention in her debut exhibit with that organization;10and she received regular positive press for her painting (critic Pauline Payne likened her color work to “mosaic”).11 In 1919 she saw the canvases of modernist painter Birger Sandzén, whose brilliant color so thrilled her that she wrote him a letter; she declined membership in Henrietta Shore’s Modern Art Society; she saw the paintings of one of California’s most visionary painters, Rex Slinkard, which she called “dream worlds”; and, in 1920, at the age of twenty-nine, she was part of a three-person (with Loren R. Barton and Paul Lauritz) exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Of this last achievement, an unidentified critic for the Los Angeles Evening Express noted:

Women are honored with ‘one-man exhibitions’ – and you never heard of a ‘one-woman’ exhibition. However, the work doesn’t suffer and both Mabel Alvarez and Loren R. Barton are winning new laurels in these exhibitions. Miss Alvarez, although a young woman, has been known in the art exhibitions of Los Angeles for several years. She has been doing some conscientious , as well as stunning work, and her canvases hung on the end wall are all interesting.12

In 1919 Mabel Alvarez met the man who would have a profound influence on early Modernist art in California, Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973). She became his student, and her own words from 1928 describe the effect of his teaching:

My idea of painting is so different now from the formless idea of it I had when I started. Then so much of our strength was just used up in learning to handle this medium with all its difficulties. With Bill [Cahill] we learned to paint in the Impressionistic manner with broken color. We were never allowed to use black. As I remember he limited us at that time to red, yellow and blue. I struggled for months with the “direct” method – a most difficult process. I suppose it was a good thing and gave us a certain foundation and a certain amount of fluency. When I started painting for myself alone, I gradually forgot all “methods” in my interest in getting the feeling of things I wanted to do….Then came the study in color and drawing with Macdonald-Wright. That opened up a whole new world. I haven’t come to the end of it yet.13

Macdonald-Wright had left Los Angeles for Paris in 1909, and it was there in 1913 that he and Morgan Russell (1886-1953) founded Synchromism. The first avant-garde art movement started by Americans in Europe. He returned to New York to exhibit at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery and in the Forum Exhibition of 1916, but, tired of “chasing art up back alleys” in the city, he went back to California in the fall of 1918. He began lecturing and plotting the promotion of Modern art almost instantly – by 1920 he had engineered the first exhibition ever of avant-garde painting in Southern California, an event that paralleled (in a more modest way) the furor of New York’s Armory show in 1913. Macdonald-Wright’s fiery rhetoric, aggressive intellectual probing, and sheer artistic talent inspired students such as Alvarez not to mimic him, but to find their own voice by way of being introduced to a larger world of ideas and approaches than regional Impressionism embraced.

In 1922 Macdonald-Wright took over the Los Angeles Art Students League, where in 1924 Alvarez took notes and typed verbatim his rambling lectures on aesthetics, which included ideas on ancient and oriental art.14 One of the first things students were told was that imitation by itself did not make art: “Imitation thus approximates but one world – that of objectivity, and if we consider the work of art to be the entire expression of the man, it must be an equally balanced manifestation of man’s existence in this dual world.”15 In short, art needed the world of feeling, subjectivity.

Self Portrait
Oil on Canvas
23 1/8 x 19 1/2 inches
Alvarez Family Collection

It was in 1922 that Alvarez became a part of the “Group of Eight,” painters who banded together to promote their art which was veering further and further away from the predictable standards of the California Art club. The Eight included Alvarez, her former teacher John Hubbard Rich, Henri de Kruif, Luvena and Edouard Vysekal, Donna Schuster, Roscoe Schrader, and Clarence Hinkle. Critic Antony Anderson observed that the group had “some decidedly modern tendencies,” and they did in relation to standard California Impressionist fare. Just how “Modern” Mabel Alvarez was at this time is best revealed by one of the major paintings of her career, her Self-Portrait of 1923 (fig.4).

Alvarez’s image of herself is defined by broad areas of flat paint. The composition is simple, symmetrical, and focused – a lean description of her face in basic terms. The black line around the rim of her hat, which also appears on her shoulder, is a device to frame color, picked up in Macdonald-Wright’s class (one he himself adapted from Cézanne). The psychological presence of the self-portrait declares itself in large measure by what it is not – clever, formulaic, prettified, or imitative. It arrests the viewer’s imagination by virtue of its relentlessly honest transcription. For Alvarez, and her audience, this was Modernism in the tradition of Robert Henri’s economical, but deftly painted, realism. This was not academic art or Impressionism as locally practiced, with its careful drawing, pasted palette, and routinely picturesque compositions – this was focused, abbreviated, enigmatic.

Alvarez’s self-portrait won the Women’s Federation Prize that year, and was much reproduced in magazines and journals. In 1995 it graced the cover of Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, (1890-1945).16

Alvarez went to New York in 1924 and when she saw some of the more experimental painting, she wrote in her journal (without naming names), “Queer modern stuff.” The pragmatic side to Alvarez resisted extremes – she never attempted Cubist, Surrealist, or nonobjective painting. Nonetheless, true to her experimental impulses, she created her own “queer modern stuff” the very next year, a series of Symbolist canvases. She even joined the most radical of art groups extant in Los Angeles at that time, the Modern Art Workers. Macdonald-Wright wrote the group’s manifesto, which declared in part: “We feel the time is ripe to get a more cosmopolitan atmosphere into the art life here, build up some real vitalizing competition, and tear down a few “taboos.”17

Dream of Youth
Oil on canvas
58 x 50 1/4 inches
Courtesy of Adamson-Duvannes Galleries, Los Angeles

Alvarez’s large-scale 1925 painting Dream of Youth (fig. 5) is a fusion of the teachings of Will Levington Comfort, Theosophy, Macdonald-Wright, with her own impulses toward the transcendent. It is an arcadian vision where a Madonna-like woman blue hair and yellow halo occupies the center, where an angel and two doves fly overhead, and where two lovers touch in the upper right corner. It is at once an image of peace and of desire, of attainment and longing. Just prior to painting Dream of Youth, she copied the following passage from author D. H. Lawrence into her diary:

That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.”18

Color plays an important role in Alvarez’s symbolic paintings. Green tinged with blue is the pervasive hue of Dream of Youth, an image of stillness and stability stemming from the central figure’s columnar saintliness. In 1924 Macdonald-Wright had privately published his Treatise on Color, distributing copies mainly to his students. Alvarez owned one. In his Treatise, he discussed the emotional meaning of each color in the spectrum and called green “a disciple of non-action, of calm and of quiet.”

In addition to her knowledge of Macdonald-Wright’s Treatise, Alvarez no doubt knew the work of German artist and spiritualist Wassily Kandinsky, who called green “the most restful color that exists.”19 And of course her own studies in Theosophy that had begun years before taught about color as symbol: noted Theosophists Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater published Thought-Forms in 1902, which described blue-greens as showing “some of the grandest qualities of human nature, the deepest sympathy and compassion, with the power of perfect adaptability which only they can give.”20

Green is the color of growth, of spring and of newness as well as of calm and stability. Alvarez’s Dream of Youth may be an expression of her own feeling of newness and growth. She may be the Madonna in the center of the canvas, ready to accept change and to be a receptacle for new life or perhaps a new way of living, as the Annunciation scene in the painting’s lower right suggests.

In the Garden
Oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches
Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art,
LAM/OCMA Art Collection Trust;
Promised Gift of Nancy Dustin Wall Moure

Less overtly symbolic, Alvarez’s In the Garden (fig. 6) of the same year depicts a beautiful young woman surrounded by blossoming flowers, the most conspicuous of these in bright red, the color of passion. Mabel Alvarez’s inner search, a search guided by her mentors and expressed in her art, seems to have been seeking a resolution to her unanswered desires. It is tempting to think of the female models in these paintings as stand-ins for the solitary, yearning artist herself.

In 1927 Alvarez was introduced to the work of Morgan Russell when that artist had a joint show with Macdonald-Wright at the Los Angeles Museum. She became more excited about the possibility of harmony in and through art. “The more I think about it,” she wrote in 1928, “the more I think that is the great thing to work for – beautiful color relationships… Thoughtless painting won’t do anymore.”21 In 1931 Russell came to Los Angeles for an extended visit, taught at Chouinard, and, as if by fate, befriended her. Arriving on the cusp of Alvarez’s spiritual odyssey, Russell may have seemed to her to be akin to a “world teacher” who appeared to give her divine advice.

Oil on canvas
40 x 30 inches
Alvarez Family Collection

Morgan Russell talked to Mabel Alvarez about artists of common interest, such as Henri Matisse, and he told her to become like a “cork that floats downstream while painting,” to let the process take her where it would. It was at this time, whether or not as a direct result of contact with Russell, that Alvarez’s subject matter became less decorative, mystical, and ambiguous, and more frankly sexual. She turned away from the symbolism of the mid-to-late-1920s work to a series of realistic semi draped figures, most of them of her friend and favorite model Arabella. One entitled simply Morning (fig. 7) won the one-hundred-dollar first prize at the California Art Club’s 1933 Annual Exhibition. In this painting the female figure is seen from the front, seated, with her head resting on her hand and her face turned away from the viewer. She wears a white slip, her hand rests lightly between her thighs. It is an image of restrained eroticism of quiet passion in subdued tonalities. If every poem, painting and song is in some way autobiographical, this lightly dressed figure evokes Alvarez herself, floating downstream as per the advice of Morgan Russell and finding herself adrift in sensual reverie. Indeed, her painting may have been the substitute for the relationship in life she always craved but never found.

In 1931, the year she met Russell, Alvarez wrote a brief article for the California Art Club Bulletin wherein she described in no uncertain terms the importance of putting one’s self into the act of painting:

Organization alone does not make a work of art. There should be a balance between the emotional content and the pure form. Without a rich emotional and spiritual life, with roots deep in nature, form alone is barren.22

Mood (Portrait of Arabella)
c. 1934
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches
Courtesy of Maureen Murphy Fine Arts, Santa Barbara

Another striking image of Arabella is called Mood (fig. 8) , and features the woman in the same white slip, seated at a table and looking away with no particular focus. Again, the model’s hand rests softly on herself, this time upon the arm. This painting was selected s one of only six to represent the City of Los Angeles in New York’s Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Painting and Sculpture from 16 American Cities.”23 Alvarez had arrived on the national stage. Further confirmation of her recognition came in 1934 in Art in America, In Modern Times, edited by Holger Cahill and Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Mabel Alvarez was one of just three artists from Southern California mentioned, the other two being Conrad Buff and Clarence Hinkle.

In the 1930s Alvarez’s experimental searching nature continued to manifest itself. Perhaps inspired by her friend Conrad Buff, one of California’s most accomplished printmakers, Alvarez made her first lithographs. Though never prolific in this medium, she took lithography seriously and exhibited her prints locally and in national shows. She also made ceramic tiles and figures, working with her friend and fellow-artist Maxine Albro. And her most experimental foray during the decade was her effort to become a writer. Alvarez hired a professional writing teacher/consultant, and produced numerous short stories. Despite her enthusiasm for the craft and a disciplined approach, her stories are largely prosaic and remained unpublished.

The political images of he 1930s did not influence Alvarez to create socially conscious art, though she very much admired the work of Mexican muralists José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Her attitude may have stemmed in part from the fact that the Great Depression never affected Mabel Alvarez financially, as she was supported by her father. When Luis Alvarez died in 1937, however, her life did change in significant ways. Financially secure from her inheritance, she left the large family home, moved to an apartment, and began to experience bouts of depression.

Her sadness at this time may have been exacerbated by frustrations related to her romantic relationship, begun in 1933, with Robert Kennicott.24 She came very close to marrying Kennicott, and the end of their courtship must have been difficult. When it ended, she wrote: “My life aimless now. Needs more contacts.” In 1939, at the invitation of a friend, Alvarez returned to the land of her birth, Hawaii. There, she made colorful portraits, still lifes, and landscapes, and experienced a degree of spiritual rejuvenation.

In 1940 the artist was back in Los Angeles and was the subject of a one-woman show at the Los Angeles Museum in August 1941 featuring the work she had done in Hawaii. During the Second World War, she volunteered for the Red Cross.

Into the 1950s Alvarez’s interest in discovering harmonious color relationships continued unabated, though she now worked toward that goal with subject matter derived from her travels, notably to the Caribbean and Mexico: pictures of fruit markets, churches, and festivals became her staple product. Stylistically her palette moved in a decorative direction, exploiting the possibilities of bright pastels layered over each other with ethereal brushwork. So enthusiastic was she for her new mode of working that she willingly painted over some of her earlier canvases using her new approach. 25

Two Women in a Field
c. 1965
Oil on masonite
24 x 60 inches
Estate of Mabel Alvarez

Typical of her late work is Two Women in a Field of Flowers (fig. 9), which alludes to stylistic influences from Milton Avery to Gustav Klimt. Here, any vestige of the dark side of her earlier palette is gone as forms shimmer and dissolve in fields of iridescent color. This painting also restates her long-time interest in women as subject matter, and in themes of youth, growth, and regeneration – all that flowers represent. However, these thematic impulses that found expression in the Symbolist paintings of the 1920s and in the fleshy, realistic painting of the 1930s are here an echo of that earlier searching passion, a formal rearrangement of things remembered. Alvarez certainly borrowed creatively from a variety of sources to keep her picture-making fresh, but her inner journey, the one that had begun so long ago with Impressionist seascapes and faces, had come to rest at a place where only the thoughtful application of color – the “great thing to work for” as she had written in 1928 – mattered. This enthusiasm for color, deeply genuine and always carefully crafted, never waned.

Alvarez continued to paint through her sixties and seventies, and to exhibit regularly, including with the Women Painters West organization. The later years of her life were spent in a retirement apartment and then in a nursing home. She died on March 13, 1985, at the age of ninety-three.

Zinnias and Fruit with Madonna
Oil on canvas
30 x 35 inches
Collection of Drs. Frank and Julia Tan

Mabel Alvarez will be remembered for her contributions to California Impressionism a well as to figure, still-life (fig. 10) , and portrait painting. Collectors and scholars will continue to study the significant role she played during the fitful and sporadic emergence of Southern California Modernism, when there were so few willing to extend the boundaries of locally accepted painting. Finally, the art of Mabel Alvarez will be admired and enjoyed by generations to come for its sensitive and thoroughly professional legacy on canvas, one of sensual variety, quiet contemplation, exuberance, and joy.

— Will South

The author dedicates this brief essay to Pauline Khuri-Majoli, former professor or art at Loyola Marymount University, who brought both her own formidable talent as well as the work of Mabel Alvarez to class for her students to experience.


1 Alma May Cook, “Promising Young Artist Has Exhibit Particularly Beautiful,” Los Angeles Express, September 13, 1913, in Mabel Alvarez Scrapbook, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (cited hereafter as Alvarez Papers AAA).

2 Alma May Cook, “War Brings New Era in Art – America for American,” Los Angeles Tribune, August 30, 1914, Theater, Music and Art section, (photo of Alvarez and her mural), p. 3.

3 For an in-depth overview, see Will South, California Impressionism, with an introduction by William H. Gerdts (New York: Abbeville Press, 1998).

4 Formally untitled, this painting is clearly described, though not titled, in a review of that exhibition. See Alma May Cook, newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Express, October 11, 1919, in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art Scrapbooks, on file at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The title is then given to Antony Anderson’s review of the same show: see his “Of Art and Artists,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1919.

5 William V. Cahill, Thoughts of the Sea, 1919, oil on canvas, 40X391/2 inches, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald D. Gallop, is reproduced in South, p. 64. Alvarez saved a photograph of Cahill painting Thoughts of the Sea in her scrapbook, Alvarez Papers AAA.

6 Anderson, “Of Art and Artists”.

7 Of his beliefs, Comfort wrote: “My love for the Bible today and for the Sacred Writings of the Father East, as well as the uncommon inner tendency of my work as a modern American novelist are all directly traceable to that first little book of Mrs. Besant’s, Thought Power, my greatest reading experience.” Quoted in The International Theosophical Year Book 1937 (Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1937), p. 196. The author thanks Lakshmi Narayan, head librarian of the Krotona Library, Ojai, California, for assistance in finding information on Comfort.

8 In Annie Besant’s Thought Power, a standard work among Theosophists first published in 1903, and most certainly known to Mabel Alvarez, Besant describes the curing of alcoholism by sitting next to the sleeping patient and concentrating on images that would “vibrate” into the victim, thus effecting cure. Such unscientific methods would have been anathema to Luis and Walter Alvarez, and, as Mabel Alvarez had great confidence in both her father and her brother, one can imagine their influence chipping away at her own faith in this particular system.

9 The San Francisco Art Association’s Annual Exhibition by Contemporary American Artists, March 22 – May 22, 1918, at the Palace of Fine Arts, Alvarez exhibited The Breakfast Room and The Brass Bowl .

10 California Art Club’s Spring Exhibition, April 4-30, 1918, at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Exposition Park. Alvarez showed two works, Portrait of Miss C. and Blue and Gold. Honorable Mention was for Miss C., and carried a twenty-five dollar prize. Alvarez also showed in the club’s fall exhibition, and received the following notice in the Los Angeles Times: Mabel Alvarez shows ‘Above the Sea’ and has caught the vastness of the ocean and the brilliant sunshine” (November 22, 1918). Alvarez became a very active member of the California Art Club, serving on various committees (including chairperson of the Art Committee), serving as a juror, and acting as a sometime editor and contributing writer to the Club’s Bulletin.

11 Pauline Payne, “Paintings pf Wide Variety Displayed to Advantage at Liberty Exposition,“ Los Angeles Evening Herald, December, 1918, clipping in Alvarez Papers AAA.

12 “L.A. Girl Artists Win New Laurels by Display at Exposition Park Gallery,” Los Angeles Evening Express, November 26, 1920.

13 Alvarez Papers AAA

14 Stanton Macdonald-Wright, “Lectures to the Art Students’ League of Los Angeles” (hereafter ASL Lectures) recorded and transcribed by Mabel Alvarez, Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. Xerox copy from the original in possession of the author, courtesy of Pauline Khuri-Majoli, Los Angeles.

15 Ibid., p. 1.

16 Patricia Trenton, ed., Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the West, 1890-1945 (Los Angeles: Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association of the University Of California Press, 1995). In this catalogue Alvarez is authoritatively discussed in context by Ilene Fort in her essay “The Adventuresome, the Eccentrics, and the Dreamers: Women Modernists of Southern California.”

17 Macdonald-Wright, “An Open Letter From a Modernist,” Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1925, p. 35. In this letter, Macdonald-Wright noted that George Stojana was president, Mabel Alvarez was vice-president, and Eduoard Vysekal was treasurer.

18 Alvarez Papers AAA. Lawrence’s quotation is from Studios in Classic American Literature.

19 Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (New York: Dover Publications, 1977, reprint of original 1914 edition) p. 38.

20 Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, Thought Forms (Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1925, first published 1902), p. 69.

21 Alvarez Papers AAA.

22 Mabel Alvarez, “More About Organization,” California Art Club Bulletin 6, 3 (March 1931), p. 6.

23 New York, The Museum of Modern Art, “Painting and Sculpture from 16 American Cities,” 1933. The other artists representing Los Angeles were Conrad Buff, Clarence Hinkle, John Hubbard Rich, Edouard Vysekal, and William Wendt.

24 It has been suggested by more than one person interviewed for this essay that Mabel Alvarez’s relationship with Kennicott dissolved when she discovered he was homosexual. Reared to be socially prim and proper, she may have been naïve enough not to intuit Kennicott’s orientation. In her diaries Alvarez does not discuss her own sexuality. An in-depth study of Alvarez’s life, sure to come given her growing stature in Californian art, may clarify certain aspects of her private life that remain, for now, speculative. The author thanks Glenn Bassett for his invaluable assistance in providing insights into and information on the artist’s life for the present study.

25 She was admonished for this practice in a 1960 letter to her from Earl Rowland of the Pioneer Museum & Haggin Galleries in Stockton, California. “Now I have a few things to say that might be interesting to you. You greatly shocked me when you said you are painting over some of your old canvases and doing things in your new style on top of them. This worries me. Such a practice could only arise from two causes. One, that you fail to appreciate your older work sufficiently and two, that the purchase of materials is a problem with you which I think is not likely to be the case.” Alvarez Papers AAA.

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