Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Elmer and Marion Wachtel

Lone Pine--Cypress Point, Marion Kavanagh Wachtel
There are surprisingly few husband-wife art couples either now or in times past. One would naturally think, inasmuch as artists tend to congregate, painting in groups, or in just socializing, that boy meets girl, they paint a few pictures together, they fall in love, they get married, and live happily ever after. That does happen of course, but not as often as one might think. And inevitably the wife usually works in the shadow of her more famous husband--Willem and Elaine de Kooning, for example, or Josef and Anni Albers, or Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, to name just a few. Two Californian painters, Elmer and Marion Wachtel, break that mold.
California Mission, Elmer Wachtel
Though Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel did all she could not to overshadow her husband during his lifetime, after his death in 1929, her oil paintings of the rugged western landscape became much more collectible than her late husband's work ever was. Inasmuch as he painted in oils, she chose watercolors so that their work was not as likely to be compared. She was born in 1872 (or 1877, you know how women are about their age). He was born in 1864. She was from Milwaukee; he was born in Baltimore. Her mother and grandfather were also artists. Elmer Wachtel went to California in 1882 where he was employed as a ranch hand, who worked his way up to become a furniture store salesman. He saved his earnings enough to study art at the Art Students' League in New York for two months and then briefly at the Lambeth School of Art in London. Otherwise he was self-taught. Marion Kavanaugh trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later under William Merritt Chase in New York. Later, she taught in public schools and at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Two talented artists, painting the California landscape
while it was still largely pristine.
The couple met n 1903 When Marion journeyed to California, where she had an offer from the Sante Fe Railroad which changed the direction of her life. They commissioned her to paint murals for the Sante Fe Railroad ticket office in San Francisco. The railroad trip west brought Marion to Sante Fe and to the Grand Canyon, places she would return to paint later on. While in California she took the opportunity to study under William Keith. It is said that Keith introduced Marion to his good friend and former student, Elmer Wachtel. While a student of Keith herself, Marion and Elmer fell in love. They married in 1904 and settled in the Arroyo Seco section of southern Pasadena.

These are not watercolors but oils, painted after her husband's
death in 1929.
Marion Wachtel had painted primarily figures and portraits in the east (bottom), but changed to landscapes of the dramatic Californian and Southwestern terrain. Elmer Wachtel was likewise best known for painting California's landscapes, rather than European scenes. Elmer painted mostly in oil while Marion painted watercolors. In the 1920s Marion was honored with two one-woman exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Her works might best be described as Tonalist in inspiration but with Art Nouveau overtones in her lyrical interpretations of nature. She exhibited in New York City as well as in California. In 1911, she became an elected member of the New York Watercolor Club, and a year later, an associate member of the American Water Color Society. She was a founding member of the California Water Color Society in 1921.

His landscapes. Compare them to his wife's.

During World War I, Elmer Wachtel became an informant for the U.S. Justice Department by reporting to federal authorities alleged pro-German and antiwar statements by militant socialists and fellow artists. It has been said, in speaking of the work of these two painters, the one in oil, the other in watercolor, that the classification of oils as epic and water colors as lyric in quality, can hardly be made In this case. Very often we see both qualities in both artists work.

Pueblo at Walpi, Marion Wachtel
The couple traveled throughout the Southwest, painting as they went. Marion became known as the best watercolorist in California with her masterful control of tone and color. On August 31, 1929, Elmer Wachtel died suddenly while on a painting trip in Guadalajara, Mexico. After her husband's death, Marion Wachtel's interest in painting waned temporarily. But in 1931, she picked up her brushes again; switching to oils, she began painting the hillsides of the San Gabriel Mountains near her Arroyo Seco neighborhood. Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel died at her Pasadena home in May, 1954. Depending upon which of her two birth dates you believe, she was either seventy-five or eighty years of age.

At Play, Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel


No comments:

Post a Comment