Irises, (The Sentinels), 1936
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches
Signed lower left
Born in Chicago, Helen Lundeberg moved to Pasadena with her family whe she was four. A family friend sponsored Lundeberg’s attendance at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena in 1930. There, she was a pupil of Lorser Feitelson, a New York artist recently returned from Paris. Eventually, Feitelson and Lundeberg married and remained lifelong artistic collaborators. Together they founded postsurrealism, one of the first American responses to the European style. While the Europeans explored the chaotic confusion of the subconscious, postsurrealists employed a more classical approach that invited viewers to develop a rational understanding of a work through recognizable symbols in readable narratives.
In Irises (The Sentinels), Lundeberg addresses themes of life and death. The position and stature of the two purple irises suggest their role as sentinels over the empty desert landscape, while the withering stalks and dead leaves remind the viewer of the tenuous nature of life. Further, Iris is the mythological Greek goddess who transported women’s souls to the underworld. The dreamlike, transcendental nature of the subject and setting suggests the influence of Georgia O’Keeffe.