Her art survives
by HENRY NULL
I have discovered the lost paintings of a prominent portrait artist who lived and painted here almost 100 years ago. Very few people have seen these paintings.
The unsold paintings of Antonia Greene's lifetime, acquired from her estate by a Santa Barbara art dealer in the early 1960's, were damaged in the 1992 flood. Since then, they mostly were forgotten, living in art maintenance poverty on a dusty shelf in a downtown storage shed.
I found these paintings and had them cleaned and restored. Zoomed, framed photos of Antonia Greene's artwork can be seen on this website's main gallery. Click the gallery thumbnail to see close-ups.
The art dealer, Robert Livernois, died in 2013 and I had permission from Wanda Livernois to go through hundreds of paintings supported next to each other on steel shelving. I did this with Thomas Van Stein an artist who is an authority on the art history of Santa Barbara, and especially the 1930-1940 years.
She was born Antonia Joanna Clara Mauruschat in 1881 in Germany and came to New York City in 1900 and to Santa Barbara in 1929. So says the 1910 US Census and AskArt. She married Winfield Wardwell Greene in the Bronx in 1913, and brought a son Winfield Kurt Greene into the world in 1919. This info came from the US Census of 1920. Two paintings of her son, one at aged 10 and one at 20 and then in the US Army testify to her thoughts as a mother and artist. Both paintings are unfinished.
The 1929 painting that probably says the most about her is her self-portrait on this page. It's signed "Antonia Greene" in black on dark blue in the lower right hand corner. She also titled it "Antonia Greene" in red, curving it with the shawl or blue wrap. The spelling-out of Antonia was significant. The title meant "this is the real person, the person I think I am." The signature means "I painted it." Most of her paintings were signed Ant. Greene or A.J. Greene. Most female artists through history initialed their art rather than spelling out their names. Not showing their feminine name was a strategy to protect their work from a social bias slighting women in the workplace.
Faulkner Gallery 1930 Opening
She came to Santa Barbara in 1929 and first showed in the 1930 grand opening of the Faulkner Gallery, This alone would identify her work to a sophisticated talent level because the Faulkner opening was an enormous artistic event. Just to show in the opener was by invitation only. From newspaper accounts saved at the Santa Barbara Public Library, the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery grand opening was an art celebrity event with the likes of Ed Borein, Clarence Hinkle, Rico LeBrun, Fernand Lungren, Wright Ludington, DeWitt Parshall, Douglas Parshall, Channing Peake and Colin Campbell Cooper. These are names that 87 years later still resonate in Santa Barbara's and international art world. There is a photo image of this exhibition, courtesy of the Public Library, on this page. The Greene entry is a portrait of a black woman called A Study. However The Santa Barbara Daily News of Oct. 16, 1930 (later the News-Press) calls the study "The Ethiopian." and describes the painting as " a fine characterization of the race." I don't know exactly what that means, but if it is like anything else of the Greene paintings I've seen, there is strength and depth within the characterization. Exhibition photos show some awesome paintings displayed and I mean that in the 1930 definition of awesome. The Colin Campbell Cooper interior of St. Mark's cathedral and the Fernand Lungren Grand Canyon both are in the overwhelming category.
Not much is known about her life here. She did exhibit her work at subsequent Faulkner events, a 1931 summer exhibit noticed by the News Press. Another was a 1939 show that produced "The Leghorn Hat " displayed on this page. In 1940 she had a one-person show at the Montecito Country Club.
In the 1990's I bought a couple of her paintings from Robert Livernois, Brinkerhoff Avenue art dealer. I noticed her work when I went to his shop and always liked them. Once I asked Robert about her and he told me he knew nothing except he bought her entire art estate. Which was in the early 1960's. Robert died in 2013.
This year, when I began thinking about selling my collection, I remembered her paintings in Robert's storerooms. Then I called Wanda Livernois, who took me through the storage shed and I bought all the Greene art I found, something like 12 paintings, all portraits, one still life. Wanda sold separately an additional Greene, this of a woman in purple cloche cap looking quite self absorbed. And I've come across a Greene portrait for sale for $1500. at Early California Antiques, in Los Angeles. Incidental: the owner told me he was moving his business to Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara Historical Society told me she was divorced and had a son Winfield, who was 20 years old in 1940. I own two unfinished paintings I believe are portraits of her son. One paints him as a young man in US Army uniform; the other as a 10-year old boy.
Her last address here was 2410 State Street. I saved the remaining shreds of her official ID show-sticker that was on the back of her self portrait You can see ARTIST "Antonia" then torn paper, then TITLE "Port." Then more torn paper.
My interest in her expanded from four paintings I owned for years, to 18, mostly in the last six months. I changed from roadside observer to an unthinkable role of artist authority. I can't shake it: I am very probably the only person in the world who knows about the artwork of Antonia J. Greene. I didn't want this kind of responsibility, I just wanted to be an old garden designer But here I am paying conservators, restorers, cleaners. I remain uncertain about where this will lead, as I am uncertain about a lot of things. I'm doing it anyway.
The 1920 census says Antonia Mauruschat from East Prussia had become Antonia J. Greene in 1913 and was living with her husband, Winfield Wardwell Greene in East Orange NJ. Since we know her son was born there in 1920, I am assuming she spent at least a decade and maybe more, living and painting in Essex County NJ. I am getting nowhere attempting to track down art and artists in East Orange in that time zone. Any help on the East Coast would be appreciated.
Santa Barbara artist 1929-1957
NOTE — Exhibition catalogue is at end of this website section
Her self portrait: mystery
The camera isolated and enlarged Ms Greene's painting of herself to show head and shoulder as a target of myriad brush strokes and colors that created a veil of lights. These are hither-thither, jiggly-jaggly spots of color and random lines. Her blond hair drifts into so many dark shadows you can't count them. There even is a patch of green, a reflection of something green in the background. She painted this at age 49, new in town and from a background of East Prussia, with later stays in New York City and East Orange NJ. I believe she saw middle age beginning to compete with the beauty of her youth. Her penetrating eyes picked up the fine details of a life that even today says mystery. The bare shoulder was covered slightly by the shawl that had nothing underneath. It meant then what it means now. Only more so. She kept this painting all her life.