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Erle Loran papers, 1912-1999

Erle Loran papers, 1912-1999

Loran, Erle, 1905-1999

Art historian, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 12.6 linear feet

Summary: The papers of California painter and teacher Erle Loran measure 12.6 linear feet and date from 1912 to 1991. Found are biographical materials; two linear feet of personal and professional correspondence; personal business records; writings which include extensive drafts and notes for Loran's book "Cezanne's Composition"; over 400 items of artwork that include watercolors, drawings, charcoal, and pastel studies; printed materials; photographs of Loran, family, and friends, and artwork; and one audio recording of a lecture by Loran on Cezanne.

Biographical materials include biographical sketches, curriculum vita, a will, notes and a notebook, and an appointment book for 1987. Also found is an anniversary invitation, a certificate from the University of California, and the Pepsi-Cola award for 1948.

Two linear feet of correspondence is with artists, critics, galleries, and universities. Correspondents inlcude Romare Bearden, Andrew Dasburg, Clement Greenberg, John Haley, Dalzell Hatfield, Hans Hofmann, Harry Levinson (president of Permanent Pigments), Sam Sabean, Bertha Schaefer, Clyfford Still, and Ulfert Wilke. There is also correspondence with the University of California.

Personal business records include exhibition files, price and consignment lists, teaching materials, University of California Press records, and records relating to the publication of his book on Cézanne. Some of these records also document Loran's involvement with the Fine Arts Museum, Friends of Ethnic Arts, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Also found there are records related to Loran's role in a donation of forty-five paintings by Hans Hofmann to the University Art Center. Also found are materials related to Loran's activities as an art collector including sales receipts, auction catalogs, and photographs of artwork owned by Loran.

Writings by Loran include a complete manuscript version of "Cézanne's Composition" along with additional notes and drafts, and numerous other short essays on Cézanne's life and art. Loran's other writings include essays about Hans Hofmann, Marsden Hartley, symbology in abstract art, and contemporary art.

Loran's career as an artist is extensively documented by four linear feet of original artwork, mostly preliminary sketches. The work demonstrates a variety of techniques including watercolor, pastel, pencil, pen, gouache, and oil sketches. Content includes landscapes, portraits, fantasy scenes, urban scenes, and rural scenes.

Printed materials include extensive newsclippings from seven decades, exhibition announcements, and exhibition catalogs. Photographs are of Loran, his second wife Clyta, the Loran family, friends and colleagues, artwork, and source materials. Also found within the papers is an audio recording on cassette of a lecture by Loran on Cézanne.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter, writer, and teacher Erle Loran (1905-1999) was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but spent most of his life painting and teaching in California. Loran attended University of Minnesota (1922-1923) and Minneapolis School of Art (1924-1926), where he received the Chaloner Foundation Prize (1926) which enabled him to study in France for three years. Particularly interested in Cézanne, he had the good fortune to live in his studio where he immersed himself in Cézanne's world, an experience that was crucial to the development of his artistic vision. Upon his return to the U.S., he published many articles on Cézanne that developed into his pioneering book, "Cézanne's Composition" (1943). In 1937, he joined the art department of the University of California, Berkeley, retiring emeritus professor of art in 1981.


Material donated 1975 by Erle Loran and in 1999 by Mrs. Ruth Schora-Loran, Loran's widow. Material on reel 906 was lent for microfilming by Loran in 1975.

Related Materials

Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Erle Loran conducted by Herschel Chipp, June 18, 1981, and a 1981 interview with Erle and Clyta Loran in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Interviews With Artists collection; and a letter from Loran to Richard Wattenmaker, 1975.


Funding for processing of the Erle Loran papers provided by the Getty Foundation.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 906: Originals returned to Erle Loran after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Erle Loran Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
California painter, writer, and teacher Erle Loran was born on October 2, 1905 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended the Minneapolis School of Art and graduated in 1926. That same year, Loran won the Paris Prize from the Chaloner Foundation which enabled him to study in France for the next three years. Here, he immersed himself into the world of Paul Cezanne. He lived for two years in Cézanne's studio, meeting many who knew Cezanne, including painter Emile Bernard, and art dealer Ambroise Vollard. This experience was critical to the development of Loran's artistic vision and his later writings and lectures about Cézanne.
In 1929, Loran returned to the United States, and published the article "Cézanne's Country" in
The Arts
in 1930. He then spent the early 1930s in Minnesota, after returning to Minneapolis to be treated for tuberculosis. There, Loran began to paint in a regionalist style, producing landscapes and scenes of life in rural Minnesota. In 1931, Loran was given his first one-man show at the Kraushaar Gallery in New York. During the depression, Loran began teaching art and was given painting commissions as part of the federal arts programs of the WPA.
Loran moved to California in 1937 and accepted a position as professor in the art department at the University of California, Berkeley. There he taught until retiring in 1973, serving as the department's chair in the 1950s. He established a program to invite east coast artists to teach at the university, and participants included Conrad Marca-Relli and Milton Resnick. Loran's students included Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, and Sam Francis. In 1941 Loran began to write the synthesis of his research and interpretations about Cézanne's work, culminating in his pioneering book
Cézanne's Composition
published in 1943 by the University of California Press.
During this period Loran associated himself with modernist Hans Hofmann. Loran's early paintings were lyrical abstractions in primary colors; however, his style constantly changed with the times. Watercolor was Loran's medium of choice because it lent itself to his often-remote plein air locations, such as the ghost towns of California and Nevada. With John Haley and Worth Ryder he formed the "Berkeley Group," whose paintings consisted of scenes of the California and southwestern landscape painted in flat, open areas of color. During the war, painting in the open became increasingly difficult and Loran transitioned from plein-air painting to studio work. Shortly thereafter he began to focus his painting on abstraction.
Loran's artwork during the 1950s consisted primarily of abstractions based on natural forms like crystal and driftwood. In 1955, he spent six weeks studying with Hans Hofmann, whom he later called, along with Cézanne, a second "great father figure." In 1960, he was instrumental in securing a gift of forty-five paintings by Hans Hofmann for Berkeley's University Art Center. In the late 1960s, his work became a fusing of Op, Pop, and Hard Edge. From this he moved to figurative painting and later to geometric designs and symbols.
Loran continued to paint throughout the rest of his life in a variety of styles, including nudes, abstractions, and landscapes. Besides being an artist and a teacher, Loran was also a lifelong collector of ethnic art who specialized in African, Asian, Native American, and pre-Columbian tribal art. Many works from his collection are presently housed at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Loran died in 1999 in Berkeley, at the age of 93.
The collection is arranged into 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1930s-1990s (Box 1; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1912-1992 (Boxes 1-3; 2.0 linear feet)
Series 3: Personal Business Records, 1930s-1992 (Box 3; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings, 1921-1999 (Boxes 3-4; 1.25 linear feet)
Series 5: Artwork, 1920s-1980s (Boxes 4-8, 13-14; 4.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1925-1999 (Boxes 8-10, 14; 2.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographs, 1910s-1990s (Boxes 10-12, 14; 2.5 linear feet)
Series 8: Audio Recording, 1982 (Box 12; 1 folder)
Material donated 1975 by Erle Loran and in 1999 by Mrs. Ruth Schora-Loran, Loran's widow. Material on reel 906 was lent for microfilming by Loran in 1975.
Location of Originals
  • Reel 906: Originals returned to Erle Loran after microfilming.
Processing Information
The earliest accessions were microfilmed on reels 1716-1717, 1818, and 2814; no longer in circulation. All previously filmed accessions were merged with later additions and processed by Michael Yates in 2007-2008 with funding provided by the Getty Foundation.

Additional Forms Available

A small loaned portion of the collection is also available on microfilm reels reel 906 available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.

How to Cite This Collection

Erle Loran papers, 1912-1999. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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