Classic Painting: "Picnic"
Henrietta Berk (1919-1990), “Picnic,” c. 1962-1964, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. The Hilbert Collection.

With ‘Henrietta Berk: In Living Color,’ Hilbert Museum Revives the Legacy of a Forgotten Artist

The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University presents a collection of works by Henrietta Berk (1919-1990), on view from August 28, 2021, through January 15, 2022. “Henrietta Berk: In Living Color,” curated by Gordon McClelland, will introduce museum patrons to this gifted (and unjustly overlooked, until now) California artist whose paintings dazzle with bold, brilliant color and brash, vigorous application of paint.

Berk had no formal professional art training at the outset. In a typical 1950s-era “traditional marriage” with two children and a husband—all of whom were ambivalent about her art leanings—she merely dabbled in painting at first. Then, increasingly entranced by the medium, she began taking evening painting classes at California College of the Arts in Oakland, where she was twice the age of many of her classmates.

Berk observed the “boys’ club” mentality of the professional art scene. She soon decided to sign her paintings “H. Berk,” using her first initial only — as had many women artists before her, obfuscating their gender to forestall any prejudice from potential buyers.

Belana Beeck