National Museum of Women in the Arts
Helen Forbes
February 03 1891 - May 27 1945
Helen Forbes, Self-Portrait, (Presumed), n.d. Watercolor on paper. 14 x 16 inches (35.5 x 40.5 cm). Courtesy of Kim Barnes and Don Bryant
Place of Birth:
San Francisco
Phonetic Spelling:
HEHL-ehn forbz
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Etcher, Muralist, Painter, Portraitist, Printmaker, Still life Painter, Watercolorist
American Regionalism
Artist's Biography:
Muralist and painter Helen Forbes is best known for her paintings of California and other Western subjects. Her mountainous landscapes, painted in vibrant colors, consist of flowing contours and semi-abstracted forms that capture the grace and beauty of the Southwest.

Forbes was born in San Francisco in 1891. She studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco with Frank Van Sloan and Armin Hansen, at the Akademic der Bildenden Künste in Munich, with André Lhote in Paris, and with Ernst Leyden in Amsterdam.

An avid traveler, Forbes lived and worked throughout Europe and the United States, but home was always California. While she painted and etched portraits and still lifes early in her career, starting in the 1920s, her work began to focus on rugged Western themes, including Death Valley, the Sierra Nevadas, and remote regions of California. The Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Cedar Peaks, and the mining town of Guanajuato, Mexico, which she visited in 1925 and 1926, were also great sources of inspiration. Her murals, many of which were done under the Works Progress Administration, also depicted these motifs. Forbes was commissioned to paint murals for the post offices in Susanville, Monrovia, and Merced, California. Her mural in Monrovia depicts California grizzly bears and manzanita shrubs.

Forbes was a member of the San Francisco Art Association and was president of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists from 1928 to 1930. She died in San Francisco in 1945.

Other Occupation(s):
Teacher, Traveler
Place(s) of Residence:
San Francisco
Palo Alto
Where Trained/Schools:
Akademic der Bildenden Künste, Munich, Germany (1921-1925) Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, San Francisco, CA, USA (1912-1915)
Related Visual Artists:
student of Armin Hansen student of Frank Van Sloan student of Hermann Groeber student of Alexander Doerner student of André Lhote student of Ernest Lyden
Fellowships, grants and awards:
First Prize, San Francisco Society of Women Artists, San Francisco, CA, USA (1934) First Prize, California State Fair, Sacramento, CA, USA (1934) First Prize, San Francisco Society of Women Artists, San Francisco, CA, USA (1930)
Earliest exhibition:
Annual Spring Exhibition, San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco, CA, USA (1913)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, USA (1931)
Related places
San Francisco (died at)
Manley's Beacon, Death Valley