Artist Spotlight: Hilda D. Levy

February 4, 2020

Hilda D. Levy’s Fine Spun Abstractions

Over the course of her twenty year-long career, Hilda D. Levy (1908–2001) cultivated a complex vernacular in which textured linear arrangements gave rise to a “spectacle” of “unrest.”

Born in Pinsk, Russia in 1908, Levy immigrated to the United States with her mother and siblings shortly after World War I. In the late 1930s, Levy left her adopted home in Boston to earn her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completing her certificate in Social Service in 1938, Levy pursued social work in San Francisco. After relocating to Southern California with her husband and two children, Levy set out to fulfill her “urgent desire,” arising from childhood, “to express [herself] in some way” and to “[make] some little contribution” to history. In 1947 Levy began studying art at the University of California, Los Angeles, and went on to attend Pasadena City College and the Jepson Art Institute.

Levy first began exhibiting her works in 1953, and by 1957 she broke into the boys’ club of Ferus Gallery and received her own solo show, a feat achieved by only two other women, Jay DeFeo and Sonia Gechtoff. Critic Jules Langsner described the works that she exhibited there as “inventive, poetic, sensitive” and “entrancing.” In refining her lace-like motifs, Levy placed increasing emphasis on the role of the viewer. She stated that the “fulfillment” of her paintings emerged from the viewer’s personal recognition of the works’ “flow of truth.” Extending this idea, the orientation of her paintings are often left entirely up to the presenter, in a way “[giving] the work a life of its own.”

Levy exhibited her work actively and was widely well-received between the early 1950s and late 1960s, but the artist ceased painting upon the passing of her husband in 1972. While over the past four decades Levy’s work has largely gone unseen, in early 2019 Levy’s Movement (1956) was included in the second phase of the Pasadena Museum of History’s exhibition, “Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960.” Joseph Morsman, one of the exhibition’s curators, stated that Levy was already attracting renewed attention and appreciation from art collectors and dealers based on the strength of her single work in “Something Revealed.” Levy stands as a star among female artists who “defied gender and expectation,” and her work represents some of the finest Abstract Expressionist ideals of her period.

Hilda D. Levy’s biography, exhibition history, and personal journal entries provided courtesy of the artist’s son, Jack N. Levy, and daughter, Debra F. Levy.

“2019 Past Exhibitions.” Pasadena Museum of History, 2019,

Cascone, Sarah. “A Show of More Than 130 Women Artists From California Is Bringing a Once-Sidelined Group Into the Spotlight. See Their Works.” Artnet News, 22 Apr. 2019,

Howell, Betje. “Hilda Levy, Santa Monica Art Gallery.” Artforum, Jan. 1965, p. 46.

Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” ARTnews, 1957.

Reep, Edward. The Content of Watercolor. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1969.

Lot Information:

Lot 69
Hilda D. Levy
Pulsation VIII
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right; retains California Palace of the Legion of Honor, McNay Art Institute, Junior League Art Center, and “Art Museum Council/Los Angeles County Museum of Art” Art Rental Gallery labels verso
Canvas: 32.875″ x 50″; Frame: 34.125″ x 51.25″; (Canvas: 83 x 127 cm)

Estimate: $8,000-$12,000
February 16, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 70
Hilda D. Levy
Cosmic Cleavage I
Casein on paper
Signed and titled frame verso; retains unknown information label frame verso
Composition/sheet (vis.): 29″ x 20.875″; Frame: 41.25″ x 31.5″; (Composition/sheet: 74 x 53 cm)

Estimate: $3,000-$5,000
February 16, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

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