Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu, W. P. A. Mural Artist

Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu

Baranceanu in front of mural entitled The Seven Arts

Riverview Section Chicago 1926 by Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu

Riverview Section Chicago, 1926, Oil on Canvas

Self-portrait by Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu

Self Portrait, 1929-30

Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu (Bare-an-cha-nu) was a muralist, printmaker, teacher and portrait artist who experimented with modern abstraction. She was born on July 17, 1902 from Romanian Jewish parents but because they separated when she was very young, she and her sister were raised by their grandparents on a farm in North Dakota. Baranceanu’s body of work evolved after the death of her fiancé and when she started working for the W.P.A’s New Deal when she moved to California. Over the years, she produced numerous mural works and paintings that contained strong elements of cubism, angled perspectives, and decorative styles. In her late artistic career, she decided to focus on teaching based in San Diego, California.

Baranceanu attended and graduated from the Minneapolis School of Art in 1924 and continued her post-graduate studies under Anthony Angarola. Baranceanu’s art style became heavily influenced by Angarola’s teachings when she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her color palette is mostly muted which historians have said that one can tell it is a Baranceanu painting because it had a lot of greys. Her style closely resembled Post-Impressionists and Cubists artists like Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and Pablo Picasso but also some elements from Angarola’s personal influences including Giotto and El Greco. Her painting titled Riverview Section, Chicago, 1926 was entered at a prestigious annual American Paintings Exposition that was held at the Art Institute of Chicago. This painting was heavily “grounded in cubism, using fractured perspective and cleanly defined geometry” which highlights Baranceanu’s understanding of compositional arrangements along with cubism.[1] She was the youngest ever to be accepted.

Baranceanu and Angarola developed a close relationship that was far more than as a teacher and student. In 1929, they were set on getting married but unfortunately Angarola was hit by an automobile in Paris months prior and was found dead with a brain aneurysm in his apartment; the two were supposed to meet. Devastated by his death, Baranceanu stayed in Chicago for three years and taught at the Midwest Art Students League and on the side continued to produce work. She had solo exhibitions and one for her other work, Wabash Avenue Bridge which won the Clyde M. Carr landscape prize at the institute in 1931. After Angarola’s death, Baranceanu’s paintings became more pure, simple, and pleasing.[2] Her change in attitude and demeanor is seen in her Self Portrait, 1929-30 as it contains a small portrait of Angarola on the top right. Her painting her fiancé’s face memorializes his continuing influence on her, however there is no tenderness shown here as “she looks straight forward with strength and the determination to take control of her life.”[3] The portrait showed her grieving over his death and it was also a way to self-motivate herself to move on in her life.

Soon the Great Depression started to affect many art careers and funding so to make a living, Baranceanu decided to move to California with her family to Los Angeles to secure a teaching job; the job didn’t work out so she moved to San Diego afterwards. Baranceanu evidently became involved in government art programs and became employed to paint murals for public buildings. Baranceanu made several murals during the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935-36 and other public works held at the La Jolla Post Office and La Jolla Senior High school. She not only made work for the government but she had private clients for portraiture and on the side, in 1944, she designed posters to help with the war which illustrated war scenes at Marston’s Department Store and linocuts and woodcuts of animals. When the war ended, Baranceanu continued to pursue teaching again. She taught at the San Diego School of Arts and Crafts in La Jolla for five years and at Francis Park School in Mission Hills for twenty-three years. In 1975, Baranceanu’s murals she painted at La Jolla High and Roosevelt Junior High were demolished but fortunately, two murals were painted on canvas which are now located in the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park. 

Baranceanu’s style is described as decorative along with using elemental linear designs, space, and in well composed compositions. While she was in Los Angeles, she was attracted to Los Angeles architecture, shrubbery, and winding roads rather than Chicago’s urbanization in contrast to her late ‘20s paintings when she traveled to California which included elements of a “dizzying elevated perspective that suggests the congestion and growth of the Southern California suburbs.”[4] Because she lived in California, her late works focused on styles she learned in Los Angeles which included “clarity of composition and a purification of color.”[5] Overall, her painting style showed a lack of architectural precision but it had an exaggerated style and quality about it that made it look more organic, despite it being a subject matter that is strongly static. 



[1] Robert L. Pincus, “‘Belle Baranceanu’ makes the case for a local here,” Union Tribune (San Diego, CA), Nov. 12, 2006.

[2] Bruce Kamerling, “Belle Baranceanu (Bare-an-cha-nu),” The Journal of San Diego history 40, no. 3 (1994): 116.

[3] Ibid, 118.

[4] Susan Landauer, William H. Gerdts, and Patricia Trenton, The not-so-still life: a century of California painting and sculpture (San Jose: University of California Press, Ltd., 2003), 63.

[5] Bruce Kamerling, “Belle Baranceanu (Bare-an-cha-nu),” The Journal of San Diego history 40, no. 3 (1994): 119.


Kamerling, Bruce. “Belle Baranceanu (Bare-an-cha-nu),” The Journal of San Diego history 40,

   no. 3 (1994): 112-127.

Landauer, Susan, Gerdes, William H., and Trenton, Patricia. The not-so-still life: a century of

   California painting and sculpture. San Jose: University of California Press, Ltd., 2003. 

Pincus, Robert L.. “‘Belle Baranceanu’ makes the case for a local here,” Union Tribune (San

   Diego, CA), Nov. 12, 2006.



Belle Goldschlager Baranceanu, W. P. A. Mural Artist