Otis Oldfield (1890-1969)

“Otis Oldfield is an artist of unusual temperament. In his art as well as in his personality, there is a curious combination of the practicability of a small-town American, and the gay abandon of a Parisian metropolitan. His various experiences abroad, where he lived and studied for sixteen years, combined with a distinctly American point of view, which he has never forsaken, provide him with a philosophy of art that has strongly influenced the younger artists of Northern California. (…) When there is poetry in his work, it is that of homely American genre, and when drama is present, it is the drama of the American scene, both countryside and city rhythms. He portrays the rustic realism and the stark mechanical realism with equally strong brush control (…).

His recent landscapes are intensely American. They might be compared to those of Charles Burchfield, without Burchfield’s self-conscious and Intellectual effort. Oldfield’s approach is easy and his feeling for typical American subject matter has resulted in many canvases and drawings that record today, without wishful statements, rationalization, romantic embellishment or extraneous imposed moods. Oldfield’s still-life studies do not search the world for precious art objects, nor rare fabrics and textural beauty. His model may be only a humble kettle boiling on an old iron stove, portrayed in its natural state, Its forms and tones stressed into his own interpretation of the theme, and the whole resolving into an exciting work of art. As a painter and as a teacher he has his own carefully evolved convictions on art matters.”

Read Otis Oldfield biography in California Art Project, volume 19.

At a glance

Birth : July 3, 1890 in Sacramento, California (United States)
Death : May 18, 1969, in San Francisco, California (United States)
Arrival in San Francisco Bay area : 1909
Married to : Helen Clark
Skills : Printer, painter and teacher at the California School of Fine Art


Art education, teachers : Arthur Best’s Art School in San Francisco, Académie Julien (Paris, France) with Tony Robert Fleury and Dechnaud, with Jules Pages and Georges Rochgrosse
Relations : John Allison, Dorr Botwell, Ruth Cravath, Andre Digannte, Lucile Duff, Frank Dunham,  Parker Hall, Helen Horst, Robert Howard, Walter Kuhn, Rosalie Maus, Miss Mayoux, Ward Montague, Moya del Pino, Julius Pommer, Marcel Roche, Ottorino Ronchi, Beatrice Judd Ryan, Ralph Stackpole, Marion Trace, Don Work, Ignacio Zuloaga
Patrons : Charles Pepper, James D. Phelan
Clubs, venues : Salon d’Automne (Paris, France), Société des Artistes  Indépendants (Paris, France), San Francisco Art Association, Federation of Western Artists (Los Angeles)

Resources in the Bancroft Library

Pictorial archives

Pictorial material from the Albert Israel Elkus papers [graphic] (ca. 1900-ca. 1969?). 1 painting by Otis Oldfield BANC PIC 1983.107. Catalog record 


Ferbraché, Lewis. Interviews with Bay Area artists : typescript, 1964-1965. Includes an interview with Otis William Oldfield. BANC MSS 85/168 c. Catalog record
Oldfield, Helen (1982). Otis Oldfield and the San Francisco Art Community, 1920s to 1960s.  Interview conducted by Micaela Du Casse and Ruth Cravath in 1981. Regional Oral History Office. Catalog Record – Online
Oldfield, Otis (1931). Log of the Louise. Otis Oldfield on a windjammer to Alaska. [Mar. 28-May 1, 1931]. Catalog record
Oldfield, Otis (1969). A pictorial journal of a voyage aboard the three masted schooner Louise, last of the sailing codfishermen out of San Francisco / as recorded in 1931 by the artist Otis Oldfield with 19 pictures of life at sea under sail ; introd. by Karl Kortum. San Francisco : Grabhorn-Hoyem. Catalog record
Oldfield, Otis (1990). Otis Oldfield centennial, 1890-1990. San Francisco : Inkwell Pub. Catalog record

Data Visualization : mapping of Otis Oldfield biography

Representative Work

Otis Oldfield. Telegraph Hill. In California art research. [Monographs] First series. San Francisco, Calif., 1936-1937 and in California art research. Microfiche edition. La Jolla, Calif. : L. McGilvery, 1987. Vol. 17.

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