IRVINE, Calif. — The table Wendy Van Wyck Good saw in her design magazine was unlike anything she’d seen. Traversing eras and styles, the librarian wanted to know more about the unique piece. So she started digging and discovered the Bruton sisters, Helen, Margaret and Esther, San Francisco artists who pushed each other across mediums and styles over nearly five decades.
There wasn’t much within easy reach in 2018 when she first began her journey, so she kept looking.
The more she read, the more she wanted to know, leading her to write a book and now present a guest-curated selection of 18 works by the sisters at the University of California, Irvine Langson Institute and Museum of California Art.
“People don’t realize how respected they were, particularly in the 1930s,” she said.
Coming from a well-to-do family, the sisters were able to focus on their art in Depression-era California and beyond, living together for a large portion of their careers.
“They were always trying something new, and when one sister found a new approach, the others often tried it as well,” Good said. “There was no ego. No rivalry.”
The exhibit, “The Bruton Sisters: Modernism in the Making,” opened Saturday and will run through May 6.
It’s the first group exhibition of their work in more than 50 years, with some pieces on public display for the first time.
The Bruton sisters’ work shows off a range of styles, covering some pivotal years of American history.
Among the pieces on display is “Barns on Cass Street” by Margaret Bruton, a painting from 1925 that represents a starting point of her career.
Good said it shows her roots in impressionism before moving into other schools of painting, like cubism, eventually giving up the medium in 1930 in favor of new modes of expression.
Each sister drove the innovation of the other two as they all gained fame and recognition. But their fame waned as the times changed.
“After World War II, their popularity began to decline and, unfortunately, were largely forgotten by the 1980s,” Good said.
The memory of their work returns in the new exhibit. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the show is at 18881 Von Karman Ave., Suite 100.