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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Albert Henry Krehbiel

Traffic at the Link Bridge - Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 1922, Albert Krehbiel                  
Chicago traffic, the more things change, the more they stay the same.                 

Albert Henry Krehbiel, 1910
Once you've visited a place, especially a major city, paintings encountered later of that place, mean more than before. For one thing, you can judge pretty accurately the authenticity of the painter's vision--how much comes from within, how much from the environment. Also, cities change, but paintings done decades ago don't. It's fascinating to compare the "now" and "then." On our trip out west this spring (2014) we visited four major cities beloved by painters, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago. There were others but those are the most common ones chosen. The American Impressionist painter, Albert Henry Krehbiel painted in two of those four locales, and though his style could only be called severely impressionistic, bordering on Expressionism, there's little doubt he knew his subjects intimately.

...Yesterday, 1930, Albert Krehbiel--painting his mid-western roots.
Evening Rush Hour in the Chicago Loop,
 1926, Albert Krehbiel
Albert Krehbiel was born in Denmark...Iowa. Despite his German heritage, that makes him about as American as corn-on-the-cob. Born in 1873, his family moved to Kansas when he was six. His father was a lay preacher of the Mennonite faith who also built buggies and helped found colleges (Bethel College North Newton, Kansas). When he was nineteen, Albert and his younger brother rode their bicycles to Chicago so they might attend the city's famed Art Institute. Four years later Albert graduated with a scholarship to study abroad, in Paris, at the Academie Julan. During the next three years, his work won four gold medals and numerous cash prizes, topping them off with the ultimate prize for any young art student in Paris, the Prix de Rome. This allowed him an additional year of free study in the eternal city. Later, in 1905, two of Krehbiel's history paintings were accepted into the Paris Salon. He became the most highly decorated American painter in the history of the French city.

Black and white archive photo, Illinois State Supreme Court Mural, 1907, Albert Krehbiel
California Village Along Coast,
 Santa Monica, 1922, Albert Krehbiel
Back in Chicago, Krehbiel immediately won a commission to paint a mural for the wall of the city's new Juvenile Court. A year later, that led to the prestigious commission for eleven wall murals and two ceilings in the state's new Supreme Court Building in Springfield. Begun in 1907, that kept him busy for the next fears. During the next several years, Krehbiel spent his summers painting in Santa Monica, California (left), and Sante Fe, New Mexico. (Gees, summering in the desert Southewest...before air conditioning?) There Krehbiel rubbed shoulders with big names from New York's Ashcan School--Robert Henri, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, John Sloan, and Stuart Davis, all of whom apparently lacked the good sense to go north in the summer, not south. Krehbiel's "day job" during this period was teaching at the AIC where he helped organize the school's summer program. It should be noted, summers in Chicago are only slightly less miserable than in New Mexico.

Ferry Boat Landing, Saugatuck, 1940, Albert Krehbiel
Shaded in Red and Blue, 1939,
Albert Krehbiel
Despite the Great Depression, Krehbiel opened his own school in Saugatuck, Michigan (just across the lake from Chicago) while dividing his time between classes there and at AIC. Other than time spent guiding students, Krehbiel painted incessantly, working from his Park Ridge home, often spending an entire day completing two or three works in pastels, oils, or watercolor before returning home by nightfall. Moreover, he painted outside regardless of the seasons, often painting more during the winter than during the summer, including a considerable number of Chicago street scene such as the Link Bridge - Michigan Avenue (top), from 1922, with particular emphasis on the movement of people and traffic at rush hour. Late in life, Krehbiel's work became more and more abstract, bordering on Cubism as he experimented with highly simplified human figures in a style he called "synchromistic." Krehbiel died of a heart attack in June of 1945 at the age of seventy-two while preparing for yet another painting excurstion, this time through Illinois and Kansas.

Contemplation, 1941, Albert Henry Krehbiel--Synchromistic painting--Guernica with color.

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