December 2017 and Beyond  

The artists featured in this exhibition include:

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Gift Ideas for Now and Later

Here at Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts we have some wonderful ideas of artworks that make for cherished gifts and memories.

Each of the artworks that we have selected are historically important and make for valuable art collection additions for art collectors and appreciators alike. Each artwork is aesthetically beautiful and makes for wonderful gifts either for yourself or your valued special person.

We have provided pricing that is heavily discounted for this opportunity.

Among the artists included on our Gift List are Robert Ingersoll Aitken, Dorr Bothwell, Helen Clark Oldfield, Otis Oldfield, Nina Saemundsson and Henrietta Shore.

We look forward to hearing from you with your Gift Selections!



Robert Ingersoll Aitken

Gift Ideas for Now and Later

Dorr Bothwell

Helen Clark Oldfield

Otis Oldfield

Nina Saemundsson

Henrietta Shore






December 1, 2017 - Ongoing


The artworks featured in this exhibition include:

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Nina Saemundsson - Five Exceptional Sculptures

We are proud to present five large-scale sculptures by Icelandic-born artist Nina Saemundsson – the first such grouping by any artist we have represented in our Gallery’s nearly 15-year history. The final five sculptures presented to our Gallery by the Estate of this highly accomplished artist are not only significant in scale, but are historically important and of great aesthetic beauty.

Once one of the most well-known and sought-after sculptors among Los Angeles collectors, celebrities, and socialites, and in 1942 said to be “among the very few good sculptors working west of the Mississippi” by Arthur Millier in the Los Angeles Times, Nina Saemundsson was as comfortable creating large-scale public figural works as she was sculpting smaller, more personal portrait busts and figures. Today Saemundsson remains one of Iceland’s most revered artists; and she has left the indelible marks of her skill in the U.S. as well, among them works created for the Federal Works of Art Project.


Head of a Woman – White

Nina Saemundsson – Five Exceptional Sculptures

Hedy Lamarr



Swan of Tuonela










Head of a Woman – White is an elegant portrait of a woman of poise and strength, and a fine example of Saemundsson’s sensitive yet uncompromising depictions of the human face.

Saemundsson’s granite bust of actress Hedy Lamarr is not only dramatic, but of exceptional beauty. The starlet posed for Nina during her filming of Lady of the Tropics, and the sculpture is among many likenesses of Hollywood celebrities Saemundsson created during her years in Los Angeles. The bust was chosen for exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, the only statue of a Broadway or Hollywood notable to be accepted. The piece was later exhibited in Saemundsson’s 1941 solo show at the Grace Nicholson Galleries in Pasadena and at the Municipal Art Center in Long Beach in 1952. Besides being admired by critic Arthur Millier in the Los Angeles Times, the sculpture is also mentioned in Stephen Michael Shearer’s book Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2010).

Mermaid is an almost life-sized magnificent bronze sculpture that has become the hallmark of Saemundsson’s artistic career. It is both regal and a stunning depiction of this legendary creature. Another example of Saemundsson’s bronze Hafmeyjan (Mermaid) sculpture was located in Reykjavík’s Tjörnin lake, on a pedestal submerged in the water. The sculpture was blown up by vandals in 1960, but it was subsequently replaced with a copy; and today it is the most prominent work in Hljómskálagarður park at the southwest corner of the lake, an area that the Reykjavík city council dedicated to the work of female sculptors in 2014. Reminiscent of Edvard Eriksen’s famous The Little Mermaid (1913) in Copenhagen, Saemundsson’s sculpture alludes to both Iceland folklore and the Hans Christian Andersen story.

The next sculpture is Prometheus, an affecting and handsome head in black granite, and also the subject of Saemundsson’s nine-foot concrete statue Prometheus Bringing Fire to the Earth, created under the aegis of the Federal Public Works of Art Project, and dedicated in what is now Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park. In Greek mythology, the gods gave Prometheus the task of creating man; and Athena breathed life into the clay figure Prometheus made. Prometheus also decided to make man stand upright, and to give him fire. Zeus subsequently took fire away from man, but Prometheus defied him by lighting a torch from the sun and bringing fire back to humankind.

The title of Saemundsson’s life-sized swan with wings spread, standing on a soldier’s helmet, Swan of Tuonela (Tuonelan joutsen), is from an 1895 tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, based on the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology. Said to be the artist’s favorite of her sculptures, it was included in Saemundsson’s ca.1939-1940 solo show at Gump’s Galleries in Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel. The exhibition’s opening was a gala event, and among the attendees were many of Saemundsson’s celebrated friends, including Cole Porter. The sculpture was also illustrated in Western Woman magazine, carrying the caption: “The legendary swan of the ancient Finnish saga, ‘Kalevala,’ is shown voicing a cry of sorrow for a warrior whose dented helmet bears witness to his death in battle.”

These sculptures are not to be missed!



June 2017 - October 31, 2017  

Newly Discovered Vidar Artworks:

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Frede Vidar - New Discoveries

We can hardly express our surprise and delight at the discovery by the Estate of Frede Vidar of six previously unknown artworks: two oil paintings and four works on paper!

Frede Vidar immigrated from Denmark to San Francisco with his parents at a young age. He studied at the California School of Fine Arts, as well as the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.

After studying with Matisse and Dufy in Paris in 1933, Vidar returned to San Francisco.

In 1934, he was one of the artists selected under the Public Works of Art Project of the Roosevelt Administration to produce murals for San Francisco's Coit Tower. 

Soon after his work on Coit Tower, Vidar traveled extensively in Western Europe where he created most of these newly discovered artworks.  Each of the works on paper are exquisitely rendered images of foreign locations.  The oil paintings reveal Vidar's unique interpretation of people and places.

With respect to all of these artworks, we have tried to keep them in their original condition by retaining the original frames and by only replacing the mats and Plexiglas for the works on paper.

We hope you enjoy these new discoveries.



Brooklyn Social

Frede Vidar – New Discoveries

Firenze Italia


La Grande Lavra, Mont Athos


Tower of Tears, Amsterdam


Artworks No Longer Available




Special Announcement


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Victor Arnautoff - A Political Biography

We are extremely pleased to announce the publication of “Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art” by Robert W. Cherny, professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University. This important work about one of California’s foremost Modernist artists helps solidify Arnautoff’s place in California as a prominent leader in the arts community during the tumultuous period that our Gallery has showcased and represented since our inception.

We are proud to represent the Estate of Victor Arnautoff, and have sold many important works by the Artist with powerful expressions of his social realist consciousness. To view many other works available by Victor Arnautoff, please visit his gallery page: Victor Arnautoff: Selection of Works.

Below is the publisher’s description of Robert W. Cherny’s groundbreaking work, along with methods by which you can acquire the book. And, of course, you can always contact the Gallery with questions about the Artist and his work by contacting us by email or phone.

Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art – Robert W. Cherny
A political biography of the great California muralist

A leading West Coast modernist, Victor Arnautoff reigned as San Francisco’s leading mural painter during the New Deal era. Yet that was only part of an astonishing life journey from Tsarist officer to leftist painter that reflected a century of tumult in politics and art.

Robert W. Cherny’s masterful biography of Arnautoff braids the artist’s work with his increasingly leftist politics and the tenor of his times. Delving into sources on Russian émigrés and San Francisco’s arts communities, Cherny traces Arnautoff’s life from refugee art student and assistant to Diego Rivera to prominence in the New Deal’s art projects and a faculty position at Stanford University. As Arnautoff’s politics moved left, he often incorporated working people and people of color into his treatment of the American past and present. In the 1950s, however, his participation in leftist organizations and a highly critical cartoon of Richard Nixon landed him before the House Un-American Activities Committee and led to calls for his dismissal from Stanford. Arnautoff eventually departed America, a refugee of another kind, now fleeing personal loss and the disintegration of the left-labor culture that had nurtured him, before resuming his artistic career in the Soviet Union that he had fought in his youth to destroy.

Cherny tells a spellbinding story that is at once illuminating and authoritative in its depiction of the Russian diaspora after the Bolshevik Revolution, the cultural politics of San Francisco from the Twenties through the Fifties, the intersection of individual artistic creativity, patronage and philanthropy, and public arts policy in California in the context of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. His book establishes a new gold standard in the field of California cultural history in the twentieth century.

–William Issel, author of Church and State in the City: Catholics and Politics in Twentieth Century San Francisco.

Please contact us at with any questions about the art of Victor Arnautoff or any other artworks that you may find on our website: We look forward to hearing from you!

Please visit the Gallery to see important California Modernist artworks included in our ongoing exhibition: California Modernism 1910 - 1950. We are open anytime by appointment.

The exhibition includes works by Mabel Alvarez, Victor Arnautoff, Ferdinand Burgdorff, Ralph Chessé, Francis de Erdely, Pele de Lappe, Boris Deutsch, Karoly Fulop, Robert Gilbert, Robert Kennicott, Knud Merrild, Jerre H. Murry, Irving Norman, Helen Clark Oldfield, Otis Oldfield, Abraham Palansky, Stan Poray, Edna Reindel, Nina Saemundsson, Frede Vidar, Bernard Zakheim, and many others.



Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art

Ordering Information

University of Illinois Press

Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art

A volume in the series The Working Class in American History, edited by James R. Barrett, Julie Greene, William P. Jones, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Nelson Lichtenstein

Robert W. Cherny is professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University. His publications include five books on American politics.

384 PAGES. 6.125 X 9.25 INCHES
HARDCOVER, 978-0-252-04078-8. $95.00
PAPER, 978-0-252-08230-6. $34.95

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New Acquisitions – 2016