Francis De Erdely


Francis De Erdely was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1901. De Erdely’s traditional academic training was conducted at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, at the Real Academie de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, and at the Sorbonne and Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Trained in Europe, De Erdely’s technique, draftsmanship, and compositions were steeped in classicism. But his exposure to the devastation of both World Wars strongly informed the content of his work. As his career developed, he became less interested in history painting and the themes of classical Antiquity. He became increasingly more interested in depictions of the human condition and themes of memory, loss, and struggle began to permeate his work.

He immigrated to the United States in 1939. It was after his move to the City of Los Angeles where his most mature work developed and where he found his inspiration, identity, and impact as an American artist. He is best known for his figure-based paintings done in Los Angeles during the 1940's and 1950's of immigrants, and other ethnic or social outsiders. It can be argued that the subjects of these paintings relate directly to De Erdely’s own experience as an immigrant in a new country.

As guest curator of the exhibition "Striking Figures: Francis DeErdely", I recently gave a lecture on why the artist consistently painted figurative works and portraits even during a period of post-war American art that began to favor abstract expressionism and non-representational painting.

A classical trained European artist, DeErdely moved to California and did not fall into one distinctive group of artists but explored social realism, expressionism, and cubism all in the same extraordinary painting. 

His portraits of people, often the ones who aren’t typically depicted, are eloquent painterly mediations on the human experience.

Whether  relating to war, immigration, labor, or class, the purpose behind De Erdely’s art was to capture the universal struggles of the human condition.

The artist's social commentaries were done in a subtle yet critical manner“ and allthough his paintings were sympathetic to outsiders and immigrants, they were never overtly political

One reviewer of De Erdely’s 1953 exhibition at the de Young Museum said "His works are not only magnificent in their technique but also in the tragic, lyric and epic insights which they provide.

It was through his superior artistic insight that he was able to successfully explore such themes in a manner that stood out from the artists around him. The artist’s own experience with war, personal identification as an outsider and his artistic ingenuity allowed his timeless narratives to resonate beyond his own lifetime.

De Erdely consistently painted the people of California as a means of discussing race and immigration, topics still relevant today.

His paintings and drawings of everyday people in and around Los Angeles are particularly poignant.

De Erdely’s decision to move to California was well suited to the artist’s radical political views and interest in social issues and It was here that his own position as an outsider would instigate his most insightful period of work.

De Erdely is an artist whose career was prolific during his lifetime and exceptional work was known by California art historians and collectors of the time— but who was largely forgotten after his death in 1959.  

DeErdely never had a single book written about him until the exhibition catalog for "Striking Figures: Francis DeErdely" which is now available at"

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