LAMA BLOG

Millard Sheets: An L.A. Icon

September 6, 2013

This week in 1781, forty-four Spanish settlers established the pueblo named, the Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River. Over 230 years later, Los Angeles has grown to become the second-most populous and the most diverse city in the United States. In the past century, it has also been transformed into a cultural epicenter of modern art and design, thanks in large part to the visionary artists, architects, designers, collectors, museum directors, and business people who recognized — and continue to recognize — the unique potential of this city.

One of these visionaries was artist, painter, and educator Millard Sheets, the Pomona native responsible for some of the most iconic buildings in the Los Angeles area. Gallery owners Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield discovered Sheets as a young painter, and over the course of their 30-year relationship, the Hatfields helped Sheets become an internationally acclaimed artist. In the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction, LAMA will be offering five lots of paintings, works on paper, and screenprints by Millard Sheets that come directly from the Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield Estate.

Millard Sheets Portrait, Photographed by Edward Weston, 1935, Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield

He championed the incorporation of artwork into architectural plans, resulting in the Scottish Rites Temple, dozens of Home Savings and Loan banks, and the Garrison Theater, each of these lined with mosaics, stained glass, murals, sculpture, and furniture all created by Sheets. Originally from Pomona, Sheets graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute in 1929, having already established a reputation as a California Style watercolor painter. Beginning in 1932, Sheets became the assistant head of the art department at Scripps College, and only four years later he was named the full-time head. It was here that Sheets explored innovative ways to integrate various art disciplines such as architecture, art, dance, and music. Additionally, as commissions for murals, frescos, and buildings piled up, Sheets maintained an impressive and successful output of watercolors and oils.

Millard Sheets, Patricia Bowen, and Ruth Hatfield in Monterey Bay
as they finalize plans for a one man show at the Perry House Gallery

In 1926 during Sheets’ first year at Chouinard, the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery opened on 7th Street near MacArthur Park, just a few blocks away from the art school. Opting to save his money for paint supplies rather than lunch, Sheets would frequent the gallery to view the latest in European art, including his first Matisse and van Gogh. One year later, after seeing the young painter’s works in local exhibitions, Hatfield offered to represent Sheets, explaining, “We’ve seen it [Sheets’ painting], and we think that you have potential. We don’t know whether it’s going to be practical to handle it, but if you would put everything that you’ve got into it for five years, we’ll do the same.” His first one man exhibition opened at the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery one year later in 1929, and the day the exhibition opened, a telegram arrived announcing that Sheets had won the $1,750 prize for his painting Goat Ranch (1929) he entered in a national competition at the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, Texas. These events marked the beginning of a 30-year relationship in which Hatfield sold at least 3,000 of his paintings and prints, “practically all that I’ve produced,” according to Sheets.

The King’s Tent (1928), Millard Sheets, Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield

Ruth Hatfield in front of The King’s Tent, Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield

Early in his career while he was still a student at Chouinard, Sheets painted primarily in oils. The King’s Tent (1928), one of his earliest oil paintings, displays a sophistication of color, brush stroke, and composition for such a young artist and remains a precursor to some of his most famous paintings, Angel’s Flight (1931) in LACMA’s permanent collection and Family Flats (1933-34) in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s permanent collection. For The King’s Tent, Sheets skipped class to attend the election of a new Gypsy queen at the Whittier Narrows, just east of Los Angeles. Over 1,400 Gypsies set up tents that remained for six weeks. Sheets recalls, “I went out there with these big canvases, scared to death, because I was so young and some of these people looked pretty tough to me. At first they didn’t particularly like to have me around, but they became intrigued.” Sheets eventually painted 15 canvases while sitting in the middle of the Gypsy encampment. That same year, Sheets’ professor at Chouinard encouraged him to paint in watercolor, a medium he quickly mastered. One of these watercolors, Below Half Moon Bay (c. 1935), was exhibited at the “17th International Exhibition of Watercolors” at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 and again in 1941 at the Faulkner Memorial Gallery of Art in Santa Barbara.

Below Half Moon Bay (c. 1935), Millard Sheets, Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield

These exhibitions were regular occurrences for Sheets thanks to Dalzell Hatfield, a visionary who fostered the modern art scene in Los Angeles by taking chances on young, talented artists such as Millard Sheets.

Stay posted throughout September for more information on lots from the Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield.

Lot Information:

Lot 309
Millard Sheets
Below Half Moon Bay
c. 1935
Watercolor on paper
SignedImage/Sheet (vis.): 22″ x 30″; Frame: 32″ x 42″
Provenance: The Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Exhibited: 17th International Exhibition of Watercolors, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1938; “Millard Sheets,” Faulkner Memorial Gallery of Art, Santa Barbara, June-August, 1941
Estimate: $7,000 – 9,000
To be offered in the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 310
Millard Sheets
The King’s Tent
1928
Oil on canvas
Signed “Millard Owen Sheets” lower right; bears the inscription in pencil “The King’s Tent” with Dalzell Hatfield Galleries label on upper canvas stretcher verso
Canvas: 32″ x 36″; Frame: 38.5″ x 42.5″
Provenance:  The Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist); Thence by descent
Estimate: $30,000 – 50,000
To be offered in the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 311
Millard Sheets
Hindu Nude
1944
Charcoal on paper
Signed, dated, and inscribed in ink lower left “Millard Sheets/India 1944/to Ruth and Dal/Christmas 1944″; retains Dalzell Hatfield Galleries label verso
Image (vis.): 26″ x 9.375″; Frame: 35.75″ x 16”
Provenance: The Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Estimate: $1,500 – 2,000
To be offered in the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 312
Millard Sheets
Birds of a Feather & Three Gay Birds
c. 1947
Color screenprint
A: #104 of 150; B: #228 and 370
A: Signed lower right; title in pencil lower left margin; edition lower center; B: Signature in pencil lower right; initials in plate lower right; titled with edition lower left margin beneath image
Together with copy of exhibition catalogue
A: Image: 20.125″ x 12.5″; Sheet (vis.): 21″ x 13.125″; Frame: 30″ x 22.25″; B: Image: 13.125″ x 18″; Sheet: 22.5″ x 28.5″
Provenance: The Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Estimate: $500 – 800
To be offered in the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 313
Millard Sheets
Various Sketches and Prints (14)
Provenance:  The Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Estimate: $2,000 – 3,000
To be offered in the October 13, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

To inquire further about these works, please contact a LAMA representative.

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