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ANDREW HARTMANN American Impressionist painter 1868 - 1953


ANDREW HARTMANN

American Impressionist painter

1868 - 1953


Biographical data compiled in 2008.  Sources include personal memories, my notes from family discussions, biographical notes from Andrew’s son Ernest (my father) and a  family genealogy dated October 14, 1989, by my cousin, Andrew’s granddaughter, Mary Lee Kissinger Smith, who utilized materials from Andrew, his wife Adele, and his children Ernest, Elizabeth and Marie (my aunts). Thanks also to Robert J. Garvin for contacting me in 2010 with memories of Andrew’s career in Decatur, Illinois.

  — William K. Hartmann, grandson of Andrew Hartmann.

ALL MATERIAL ON THIS SITE IS COPYRIGHTED BY WILLIAM K. HARTMANN OR SPECIFIED OWNERS OF THE PAINTINGS.


Andrew Hartmann was a Swiss-born painter who came to America as a youth and painted widely across the United States.  He supported himself throughout the first half of the 1900s primarily by house painting and decorative painting.  He painted hundreds of oil and water color paintings in a post-Bierstadt, American impressionist style. Taken as a whole, his work presents a pageant of America in the first half of the 20th century.

Swiss Roots

Andrew Hartmann was born September 20, 1868, in Switzerland.  His granddaughter Mary Lee Kissinger Smith states that “in his own words” he was born in the village of “Butz, sometimes known as Castiel…in the valley of the Praetagau  River, in the Canton of Grisson, which the Germans called Graubunden.”    

Various other family records say the town was once called Castel or Castels or Castiel, and later called Butz (or Bretz?).   It was said to be near where the Praetagau (there are different spellings including Prättigau)  River flows into the Rhein from the east, between Chur and Bad Ragaz.  This is gorgeous alpine mountain country, no more than about 20 miles from the famous resort and international meeting place of Davos.

Andrew was the son of Christian Hartmann (1843-1915), who was a cabinet maker, wood finisher, and carver – an occupation characteristic of alpine Switzerland. His father made most of their household furniture.   Andrew learned many of these skills. (Many practical woodworking skills were passed on to my father, Ernest, who became a civil engineer.)  His mother was Margareth Aebli, his father’s first wife. 

Born Andreas Hartmann, the immigrant painter changed his name to Andrew when he came to the U.S., to sound more American. He signed his paintings “A. Hartmann.”

Lake and mountain ca 1945
Lake and mountain ca. 1945. Oil.
[Collection of Robert and Sue Hartmann]
Swiss scene watercolor 1930s
Swiss scene.
A view near Prattigan, the artist's boyhood home in Switzerland. This watercolor was painted, possibly in the 1930s, from a postcard labelled "Motiv aus Bucher, Prattigan" probably painted as a recollection of the countryside of his youth.

Childhood

There are numbers of stories about his childhood, and many of them are notable for characterizing, between the lines, the hard mountain life of that period.  His granddaughter Mary Lee Kissinger Smith remembers him saying he was “very fond of his father, and often said of him, ‘He worked so hard…so hard.’”  He said that when he was a small child the family “lived up in the mountains,” and were very poor, having goat's-milk, goat-cheese, along with occasional chicken eggs and vegetables from a garden.  He described how his mother would make up a “good broth” which was placed in a big bowl in the middle of the table.  Each child in the family had a personal wooden spoon carved by their father which hung on a wall rack (also carved by him).  At dinner time they each had a chunk of bread and cheese and a cup of goat’s-milk and ate the broth from the common bowl. 

In later years, Andrew recalled that his father, along with other men, placed “great big heavy rocks” on the roof of the house to protect against the terrible Alpine winter winds, which frightened Andrew as a boy.   The family moved to Buchen, Switzerland, in 1874, or at least Andrew (age 6) was moved there, so he could attend the Swiss State Church Evangelical School.  He attended that school for 6 years and had a year of ‘advanced study’ (high school?) in Dalazza.   This brings him perhaps up to age 13.

His granddaughter Mary Lee recalled one of his stories that traumatized her:   In some conversation he remarked that his mother was “bad, nobody liked her, she had no centers in her eyes” – she apparently had dark eyes so that the pupils were not visible.  “She screamed too much, beat me a lot, and I hated her!”  He spoke of a separation between them when he was “six or eight,” this probably being his move to the school in Buchen.  When Smith, as a child aged 8 or 9, pressed him about why this separation occurred, he said “he didn’t know, and didn’t care, and didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”  Shocked, she ran to her grandmother (Andrew’s wife Adele) to ask about it,  and Adele told her not to ask him about it anymore because it made him sad to think of his childhood.  (His father later remarried to a woman named Betty Steiner, d. 1942, from Luzien.)

Fall Color ca. 1947. Oil
[Collection of Robert and Sue Hartmann]
Unidentified lake scene, possibly Crater Lake, Oregon, 1938.   Oil.

 

 

The Story of the First Christmas Tree

Andrew used to tell an amusing story about his first Christmas tree, a story that also sheds light on his earliest adventures and his strong response to visual experiences.  His granddaughter Mary Lee copied this story, which I lightly edited as follows (the original may have been typed earlier by one of Andrew’s children):

When he was a boy, he said, he didn’t know about Christmas presents, so he didn’t miss them when they didn’t get any.  Christmas consisted of going to Church, special music, giving thanks for the Christ-child, and if they were lucky, something extra to eat.

However, when he was about fifteen or more, he and some friends went down to the village of Davos to celebrate.  The custom was to go from house to house singing carols, and the people would give them a treat, something nice to eat or drink.  But at one ‘rich-house’,  he and his friends were invited in to a real 'feast' with cold meats, cakes, and punch, all placed on a lovely table with a white cloth and candles!  The other boys dived in, but Andrew spied through an open door something he had never seen before…a tree in the house!  But what a tree!  Lights shown in the gloom from what looked to the poor boy like one hundred candles, and shining ornaments of great beauty twinkled among the green branches.  There were cornucopias and cookie ornaments and on top, a Christmas angel overlooking everything!

He thought he had never seen anything so beautiful.  He was completely enthralled.  He had fallen in love…with a Christmas tree.  He made a vow to himself that he would always have one in his home at Christmas time!  He added ruefully that he was so busy staring at the tree that when his friends came and dragged him off to the next place, he had completely forgotten to take advantage of the feast on the table.

 

Early Jobs and Training

In his teen years he worked with his father as an apprentice cabinet maker at Samedan, near St. Moritz south of Davos.  A wealthy woman, name unknown,  apparently at Samedan, saw his sketches and convinced his father to let him become a decorator's apprentice; he worked in that role in Samedan for 3 years.   After that, he worked in Davos and Landquart.  All these locations were in eastern Switzerland within about 50 miles of his birthplace, but he reportedly worked at some point in Basel, also, about 140 miles away on the northwest border of the country. In 1888 to 1890, ages about 20-22, he had his compulsory Swiss army service for two or three months of each year.  He served at Chur, west of Davos, in Infantry Battalion 92.

Pacific coast scene; 1932.  Oil.
The back of this 24 x 36 inch canvas carries no identification.   It was probably painted in the Point Loma area of San Diego during a visit to his daughter who lived in that part of the city.

 

Emigration to the United States

1892-Coronation-chair-(London)
Pencil sketch made in Westminster Abbey,London, during 23-year-old Hartmann’s trip to America.
This is his oldest surviving artwork.
Portrait-maybe1920s-Andrew-Hartmann,-painter
Portrait of Andrew Hartmann (perhaps during 1920s)

At age 23, he decided to go to the U.S. with the Reverend Nickolas Bolt, and another missionary.  It’s unclear if he had a specific destination in mind, although he may have known friends in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The three left Switzerland and traveled in 1892 through Calais, London (some also say Liverpool), and New York. A small card inserted in his 1924 sketchbook shows a simple sketch of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, London, dated September 5, 1892 – no doubt one of the young man’s  souvenirs from his life-changing journey.

According to a story copied by his granddaughter Mary Lee Kissinger Smith from the same sources mentioned above, “once they got out of Switzerland, the two missionaries were not very nice to him, ignoring him and finally ‘ditching’ him in New York, leaving him practically broke and ignorant of the language, written or spoken.  So of course he got on the wrong train – and ended up in Washington D.C.!

“With no money and no language resources, he went to the only place he had ever found help,his church.  A kindly minister bought him a ticket to St. Paul, Minnesota.   He arrived there in September,1892, and he found a job waiting for him.  He roomed with a family, the Riemans, and attended the German Presbyterian Church at the corner of Oakland and Pleasant Avenues.  Within a few months, at that church, he met Adele Bracker who had emigrated from Germany with her family (ca. 1880), and was to become his wife.”

“About a year later, the so-called ‘Cleveland Depression’ forced Andrew to leave and go to St. Louis, where he worked at the Union Station as a painter.  Adele Bracker came to St. Louis to work, but after being accosted in a very rude manner by the son of her employer, Adele ran out of the house and into the arms of Andrew who was still outside, having just brought her home from a church function.  That was that, and they were married on September 25, 1894, at the German Presbyterian Church.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along Stevens Creek, Decatur; 1921
Along Stevens Creek, Decatur; 1921, Watercolor
The view (7 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches)  was done in an area popular for hiking.  (Collection of Robert J. Garvin).

Painting and Married Life in the United States: 1895-1940s

Andrew and Adele Hartmann moved from St. Louis to Decatur, Illinois, in May of 1895.  He was now 27 and started his own art business.  This included house painting and decorating, painting signs, murals, theater drops, and various commissioned art works.  They lived at various addresses, settling finally on Eldorado Street. According to newspaper clippings, he opened an art studio in Decatur in 1899. His personalized mailing label survives from that period and shows his design skill, combining landscape sketches and art deco style.

1920s Mailing label
Mailing label for Hartmann’s home and studio in Decatur, Illinois, at their address from 1919-1946. (Design ca. 1920?)
Hartmann house Decatur
The family house in Decatur, Illinois, ca. 1920,  showing the artist's studio building in the back yard.
(Photo, Ernest Hartmann)
[Click to enlarge.]
Andrew Marie Adele ca. 1899
The artist at about age 31 with his wife, Adele, and first daughter, Marie. Ca. 1899.
Christmas, ca 1908
Christmas ca. 1908 shows Andrew (age about 40), Adele, Marie (standing), son Ernest, and youngest daughter Elizabeth.
Andrew (age ca. 44) with son Ernest, lounging during a countryside walk. (Photo ca. 1912).

It seems from the records that his landscape painting was probably not ever a prime source of income after he was married; the ‘day job’ was house painting and he was soon able to hire a crew of several helpers for those projects.  “Any manner of art and painting was his line,” says the family record compiled by granddaughter M.L.K.Smith – a record that notes with some pride that “he also managed to put three children through college and maintain a good home through his work.” 

 

M.L.K. Smith’s record indicates that he “won several prizes at national art shows,”  presumably for his fine art paintings, although the specifics aren’t given.   A watercolor of a flower in an early sketchbook hints at the kind of decorative work he may have been doing for clients.  One of the remarkable things about Andrew's work, taken as a whole, is the variety of American landscapes he painted and sketched during this early period, encompassing national parks, roadside scenes, seascapes, deserts, mountains, woodlands, lakes, etc. The pencil sketches and scattered watercolors in his sketchbooks are remarkable in their own right.  As a body of work they make a striking record of informal “ordinary” scenes in the pre-1950s American countryside, which was mostly rural in those days.  Hartmann loved heading out with the family for drives and picnics in the countryside, and sketching whatever was at hand.    

This large output of landscape paintings and sketches from different parts of the country came about in part because of the lives of his children. Andrew and Adele had four children, only three of whom lived to adulthood.  Marie was born in 1895 and eventually settled in San Diego.  A daughter, Martha, born in 1896, died as an infant at about age 2. Ernest (a civil engineer, my father) was born in 1903 and later settled in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.  The youngest girl, Elizabeth, was born in 1906 and eventually settled in Houston,Texas.

Ernest (in his 80s) wrote a reminiscence that included his childhood in the period around 1910-1920, portraying the family finances and concerns, and Andrew’s personality: 

My recollections of family life at the Hartmann home are all pleasant. Our parents were quite lenient with us, although…they may have been much more strict with my older sister as she was growing up.  My father was a very patient and gentle man.  Mother was much the same, although it seemed…she made most of the decisions. They never discussed finances in front of the children, but it seemed fairly evident that my father’s income varied quite a lot, depending on the business cycle, and that times were often difficult.  Mother was a frugal German housewife, always determined to keep her family well and comfortably fed and dressed, and always setting aside out of her allowance for little extras and for hard times….

My parents were always active in the German Methodist Church in Decatur and my father was Sunday School Superintendent. ...  All sermons were in German.  My parents often spoke German at home and our bible readings at our family evening services were in German. ... All Sunday School pupils at a certain age were expected to attend week day catechism classes at church and memorize answers to a string of formal religious questions, all in German.  My sister, Elizabeth, and I rebelled and our parents for some reason got soft hearted and did not insist….

When the U.S. entered World War I, the feeling against all things German was so violent that it became difficult and imprudent to continue to operate a German church, and the congregation was disbanded.  The building was eventually sold to a black congregation….  Our family ‘shopped around’ and we finally joined the Westminster Presbyterian Church near the Milliken campus…

Sketches across America
Click to enter gallery 1915-16 fishing picture.

Pencil sketch of child fishing off a boat drawn up on shore.  Ca. 1915-16.
July 14 1924 Decatur Park

August 14 1924 Decatur Park
Idyllic days at Lake Decatur park, in Decatur, Illinois. [July 14 and August 14, 1924.]  The August 14 view probably shows his family on a picnic date.
old  downtown of San Diego, 1925
Pencil sketch of the old downtown of San Diego, 1925.

 
Alcoa Research Laboratory, 1930
Pencil sketch believed to show Alcoa Research Laboratory, where Andrew’s son Ernest worked. New Kensington, PA, May 13, 1930.

Ernest detailed that around 1915, the city of Decatur bought the house they had lived in to build a new Junior High School.  The family was able to buy a lot on Fairview place, “about 50 or 60 yards from one of the entrances to Decatur’s Fairview Park.”  Working with a contractor, they arranged to build a house, largely planned by Adele, with a ‘shop’ for Andrew’s business on the back of the lot.  After renting during the construction of the house, they were able to move in during 1916 or early 1917. 

 

During a typhoid epidemic of 1917, Ernest was ill all summer and near death part of the time.  He recounted later that he thinks his illness drained the family finances.  “This, or some combination of things never explained to me, caused my parents to reluctantly sell our lovely new home…”   They moved to a rental and later (1919?) bought a house at 1177 Eldorado Street, where they remained until 1946, when Andrew retired from house painting, sold his business, and moved with Adele to Houston to be near their youngest daughter Elizabeth. 

Family was of great importance to Andrew and Adele, and, by the 1920s this led to extensive travel across the country, usually by car.  These trips offered constant opportunities to sketch landscapes and take photos he used to develop paintings back in his Decatur studio.The earliest of these trips were to southern California to visit his daughter Marie and her husband James L. Kissinger.  The first such trip was in 1925, by touring car under rough conditions.  Ernest (then 22) came with them and helped with the driving. 

Ernest told me (and M.L.K. Smith also wrote) about the drive west from Yuma, Arizona, across the famous “plank road” that was laid across the sand dunes.  Wide planks were held together with steel rails so autos and wagons could pass over the dunes, since driving among them was impossible.  It was single lane and side platforms every so often allowed vehicles to pass each other.  (Fragments of this road were still visible in the dunes in the 1960s, when I came to Arizona and were seen again by my father, about 40 years after he drove it). 

Andrew Hartmann painted a larger number of coastal views and seascapes in and near San Diego, while visiting Marie who lived at 1915 Capistrano Street, not far from Point Loma   Marie’s daughter, M.L.K. Smith records:  “The Hartmanns loved to hike and Andrew was never without a few pencils in his coat pocket, mingled with his cigars and a sketch pad.  Later the camera was his favorite, so he could sit at leisure in his studio and make paintings from the photographs and his memories, instead of the rough sketches alone.  Many of his most beautiful paintings were taken from these quick sketches or ‘snaps,’ coupled with his memories of the site.”  My father reminisced about his stops for quick sketches and/or photos during their travels. Paintings exist from sites “near Tucson,”  in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, and in what appears to be the Mojave Desert – all deriving from the trips across country to San Diego. 

Watercolors & color sketches
Click to enter gallery1930 Deming NM.

1930 Mar 20., near Yuma

Cartoons & Portraits
Click to enter gallery 1930 Mar, prospector near Yuma

Colored pencil sketch in Deming, New Mexico, March 22, 1930,during a drive back from visiting family in San Diego.
Colored pencil sketch near Yuma, Arizona, March 20, 1930, during the same drive.
The end of the old west:  a prospector near Yuma, Arizona, March, 1930.
Pacific Coast, San diego 1939
Pacific coast at San Diego 1939.
A nicely finished oil, based on a view from the Point Loma region of San Diego near his daughter Marie's home.

Marie Kissinger, his daughter, described to me (ca. 1980) how his wife, Adele, was rather strict with him about not smoking his cigars in the house.  When they came out to San Diego, where Marie lived, Andrew used to rent a nearby ‘barn’ a few blocks up the hill from their place, and would escape up there with his cigars to paint.  Many sketches and paintings exist from the Point Loma area.  During a visit in the 1990's I tried to find the exact positions of at least one of these pictures, but it appeared that the location was on one of the steep west-facing hillsides now part of a military base.  I was able to make one painting probably within a mile or two of one of his sites. 

Watercolor Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean Study 1934 watercolor
1925 Aug 10. Yosemite
Pencil sketch of Vernal falls in Yosemite National Park, August 25, 1925.

All this time, as their children grew to adulthood, Swiss Andrew and his German wife Adele had not got around to becoming U.S. citizens.  The rise of Hitler in Germany and perhaps anti-German feelings by the late ‘30s may been an impetus for Andrew and Adele to become official Americans.   Andrew was naturalized as an American citizen in Decatur on May 20,1938, and Adele on June 9,1939 (three days after I was born in Pennsylvania). 

By the 1940s, Andrew and Adele made many trips across the US, not only to San Diego, but to visit his younger daughter in Houston,Texas, and his son in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. For Americans, this was also a period of rambling “Sunday drives” and picnics in the countryside, simply to enjoy the countryside that was still pristine within a few miles of most towns and cities.  During all such trips he continued to sketch, paint, and photograph in many areas. Painting subjects include not only scenes from the southern California Pacific coast, but also works from the Mojave Desert, the Rocky Mountains and Grand Tetons, Pennsylvania and Arkansas woodlands, and Big Bend National Park in Texas.  In San Diego, Houston, and New Kensington, family friends often commissioned landscapes from him. 

During a family trip to the Grand Tetons in 1977 I painted a view of Mt. Moran, as an homage to one of my painter-heros, Thomas Moran.  A few years later, I recognized that this same peak was a central feature of a large painting from nearly the same spot, done by Andrew in 1952. 

 

Tetons
Tetons
Tetons & Mt.Moran 1952
A view of Mt. Moran, similar to the view in the right-hand part of Andrew Hartmann's Teton painting, but painted by his grandson William in 1977. (Acrylic, painted on site, looking across Colter Bay; Grand Teton National Park.)

I remember him from visits to Decatur when I was a small boy, age 5 or 6, when he would have been in his 70s.  He seemed good natured, but he was already hard of hearing, and everyone had to speak loudly around him.  The loud speaking, plus his German accent, mustache, and somewhat bony face at that time, made him seem a slightly fearsome character to me.  My grandmother always seemed more approachable, and used to sit and read to me on the couch at their place or when they came to visit us in Pennsylvania.  I remember that she had a nice smile and seemed to take pleasure in this, and my mother was concerned I was pestering her too much to read.  Blocks adjacent to our street (we lived at 1025 Manor Road) were still undeveloped (they had been Victory Gardens during World War II), and at the downhill end of an undeveloped hillside laced with trails (known as “the woods” to us kids) the slope dropped down into a valley.  As I recall, granddad would go out for walks in these areas, and I have at least one watercolor that appears to have been made in “the woods.”

At that time,  about 1944 or ‘45, their living quarters in Decatur was an upstairs unit in the house on Eldorado Street.  Based on Ernest’s memoir, they owned the place, but Andrew and Adele lived upstairs and rented to another family who lived downstairs.  We’d drive around to the backyard, where a long staircase ascended to their door.  My older brother and I both remember that he had a detached studio building, possibly part of a garage, in the back yard, where he painted – a setup similar to that designed by Adele in the house that they had to sell around 1919. 

I have a particular memory of my grandfather’s painting hand at that time, during those visits.  It was his right, I think, and was somewhat deformed by arthritis by the time I knew him.  The third, fourth, and fifth fingers were partly curled under, and his thumb rested against his less-curled index finger.  This in my mind, as a boy, was a very artistic type of hand.  I have a vague recollection of him wedging a paintbrush or pencil somewhat awkwardly in his hand, I think between his thumb and index finger,  and I thought this must be how “real artists” hold a brush.  I would try to do it too.  

I remember him making pencil sketches for me, and I remember once when I made a drawing of a house, with little rectangles for door and windows.  He colored in the windows with his pencil, pointing out that generally when a house is seen from outside in daylight, the windows appear darker than the outside of the house itself, because the inside of the house is shaded.  I think this sort of discussion, with him and with my father, helped me develop a lifelong interest in, and awareness of, lighting directions and effects.  I regret, though, that I was not old enough to sit in a studio with him, learn to understand his mindset, or learn from watching him paint. 

Early morning in the Ozarks
Early Morning in the Ozarks
A 1944 painting that won a first place award by popular vote in the 1946 annual "Barn Colony exhibition" at the Decatur Art Center. It is the largest oil shown on this web site, at 30 x 36 inches.


Memories of Andrew Hartmann in Decatur, Illinois

In late 2010, I was contacted by Decatur resident Robert J. Garvin, whose father, William Lambert Garvin (1880-1953) had worked in Andrew Hartmann’s shop.  William Garvin was a Master Painter - a union title given to painters who were skilled beyond just being able to wield a brush.  Garvin was accomplished in mixing colors, gilding, stenciling, wood graining, and finishing – a resume which fits the skills marketed by Andrew, according to lore passed down in our family.  Robert Garvin mentioned in several contexts how much his father, “in his low key way, admired Mr. Hartmann, greatly.” 

Garvin researched information about Andrew Hartmann’s Decatur career at the Decatur Public Library.   Old city directories revealed that Hartmann’s “Studio/Shop” was located at 1198 West North Street, near North Oakland Ave., from 1921 on.   The Library also found that Hartmann in 1929 had founded the Decatur Barn Colony, an arts organization that is still active in 2010.

Robert Garvin’s recollections cast new light on the house-painting career by which Andrew supported himself.  I had assumed Andrew’s business career was a succession of middle-class house-painting projects.  Garvin, however,  recollects that “The Hartmann firm had a sterling reputation for integrity and the finest quality work.  They did interior painting and decorating in commercial buildings, institutions, churches, and homes of the wealthiest and most influential people in central Illinois, not just the Decatur area.” 

William Garvin acquired three Hartmann paintings, which were passed on to his family included on this web site, courtesy of Robert Garvin.  Especially noteworthy is one of the best of the known still-lifes, “Peonies” a 22x30 inch oil dated 1938.  It was purchased in 1942 as a house-warming gift for William’s daughter and her husband.  In 2007, Garvin had this painting was cleaned, re-stretched, and varnished at the Detroit Institute of Arts.   A second painting owned by Garvin is a large watercolor, 15 x 22 inches, showing a typical Andrew Hartmann lake and mountain scene.  Garvin reports that his family thought it represented the Yellowstone area, although it is not unlike paintings and sketches that Andrew made in the Yosemite area.  A third painting is a 7 1/4 x 11 1/4 inch water color of Stevens Creek, Decatur, dated 1921.  Garvin mentioned that this was an area  where many families hiked in the 1940s, currently in the western part of Decatur’s Fairview Park.

 

 

Peonies, 1938
Peonies; 1938, oil.
This 22x30 inch painting is the largest and most beautiful known still life.  Purchased by William Garvin in 1942; slightly cropped.  (Collection of Robert J. Garvin).


Technique

Picket Post 1949 brushwork detail
Detail of brushwork from Picket Post Mt. 1949 painting below. [Click to enlarge]
A. Hartmann ca 1948

A. Hartmann ca 1948
Hartmann, age ca. 80, working on a portrait of one of his daughters or grand-daughters. The satisfied smile in the lower picture may be in part the common gesture of a painter sitting back and squinting at his image to check the overall impression. (Photos by Ernest Hartmann, ca. 1948). [Click to enlarge.]

          Andrew Hartmann painted occasional plein air oils as possible preliminary sketches for later studio oil paintings.  Together with pencil drawings, his sketchbooks also contain many beautifully finished watercolors made on site.  As a decorator and housepainter he was a very good colorist and he was known for his ability to mix up a color match to a given wall or room, and “get it right” the first time.  This ability is especially apparent in his landscape paintings.  An account in a February 24 1946 Decatur paper, about Hartmann's first place prize for "Early Morning in the Ozarks," noted that he had won first-place popular votes in several annual Decatur shows, and called h.im "a long-time favorite of Decatur," with "a particular mastership of painting trees". Numbers of people also comment on the beauty of his loosely handled sky and cloud effects.

          The earlier oils show a relatively precise German landscape style with brushstrokes held back in order to create a greater degree of realism.  This was typical of artistic training in Europe in the mid-1800s, and was the style that was already loosening, as a result of the French impressionists’  attempts to capture effects of light in the open air.  As mentioned above,  A. Hartmann’s paintings show the evolution in that direction,  and most of his American paintings were in the broad style known as American Impressionism -- never as pointillistic as the more extreme French experiments, but involving fairly loose brushwork and careful attention to color and value. The same evolution happens with many painters, including the French impressionists themselves, notably Monet whose lily pad series ended up with near-abstractions of swirling color.   A closeup (right) of brushwork in the 1949 Picket Post Mountain painting shows Hartmann's characteristic style, with vaguely painted backgrounds contrasting with more detailed centers of interest, painted loosely over the background, often with thicker paint.

 

Possible Influences

Particularly in Andrew Hartmann’s mountain landscapes, a link can be seen to the styles of more well-known German and Swiss painters who came to the U.S. at about the same time.   A pioneer of this sort of work was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) who grew up in the U.S., studied in Germany in the 1850s, and was famous for western U.S. mountain landscapes by the 1890s, when Andrew was getting established in Illinois. The popularity of Bierstadt’s work might have influenced the much younger Andrew to pursue this style.  Classic Bierstadt works included mountain peaks set beyond mountain lake foregrounds, and such compositions were very popular in the U.S. around 1890s-1930s, fitting a love for the nobility of frontier nature. 

Similar examples come from the German-American painter Carl Rungius who was almost an exact contemporary of Andrew.  Rungius was born in 1869, came to the U.S. in 1894, and was famous for mountain scenes and western wildlife paintings until his death in 1959.  A Rungius landscape (ca. 1920-30; Natl. Gallery of Canada) shows Lake O’Hare, in the Canadian Rockies, with pines in the foreground, the lake in mid distance, and a peak looming overhead, and is similar to earlier Bierstadt compositions.    This general composition became a popular and salable set piece, from Bierstadt and Rungius to the later California impressionists and Canadian group of seven in the Canadian Rockies, active especially in the 1920s and 30s.   

A number of paintings by A. Hartmann have this classic “Alpine composition” often matched in the northern Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas of California  – a mid-distance lake fringed in the forground by pines, logs, and rocks, with a noble craggy peak rising over all in the distance.  Hartmann used the same compositional schemes, with his later examples having the somewhat looser, impressionistic brush technique. 

Unfiddled Mt. Lake scene (Rockies?)
1937 Mountain lake scene (perhaps Rocky Mountains)

Andrew’s paintings showed a strong appreciation for the beauty of nature, but he painted many desert and woodland landscapes as he saw them, without prettified stereotypes.   Sometimes his avoidance of the rules of prettification got him into trouble.  One example is a painting originally commissioned by friends of my parents, which shows a popular spot for Sunday outings and picnics, “Ohiopyle”, an area of waterfalls on the Youghiogheny river south of Pittsburgh.  I believe Andrew sketched it during one of our family picnics there, during a visit in early spring.  It shows a hillside of bare trees across the river, capturing the almost purplish brown color of the bare trees of winter-season Pennsylvania woods.  My parents’ friends rejected the painting because they thought the bare forest was ugly;  they wanted the more popular stereotype of the lush green woods of late spring or summer, or perhaps a forest of brightly colored autumn foliage.  Their loss was my gain.  To me, remembering my boyhood family trips to Ohiopyle and other picnic sites, the painting perfectly captures the stark, bare Pennsylvia woods between late autumn and spring, beautifully juxtaposed with the freshness of the waterfalls and some last bits of fall color in the foreground and mid-distance.

Ohiopyle waterfall
Ohio Pyle waterfall, western Pennsylvania 1949.
This was a site of occasional family picnic outings,when Hartmann visited his son’s family in New Kensington.  The painting was rejected by a client (see text).

Hartmann was never nationally known as a painter, however.  He had little head for business, my parents and my aunt said, and it seems he had little head for self-promotion as well.  M.L.K. Smith tells a story about Andrew making a painting of “the site on the Colorado River where Hoover Dam was built.”  Perhaps as the result of some show in San Diego, this attracted the attention of the prestigious San Diego Museum of Fine Arts, and they wanted it for their permanent California collection – a feather in any painter’s cap. Discussions were begun with the director of the museum at that time, Clinton Abbot, but Hartmann turned him down, stating that he had painted the picture especially for his daughter Marie’s anniversary, to be displayed at her home.   He tried to talk Abbot into taking another picture instead, but as Smith reports, “they wanted that one….so they were out of luck.  Family was always of utmost importance to Andrew.”

By the 1940s most of the rest of the art world was rapidly losing interest in his style of representational/impressionist landscape paintings.  His daughter Marie told me that Andrew Hartmann began to feel his style had been replaced by “avant garde” styles.  I think he felt he could not longer be taken seriously in the emerging non-representational art world.   He did continue to show and sell his work in local and regional shows and many paintings were spread among his family and friends through gifts, commissions, and sales.  Many of the paintings are marked with what now seem like absurdly low prices. 

Sunset cliffs 1
Sunset cliffs, San Diego Coast

Sunset cliffs $10
Sunset cliffs, San Diego Coast ca. 1950 (
Marked "$10")

These two similar views suggest plein air paintings or work from sketches or slides made during Hartmann’s walks on the hillsides of the San Diego coast during his visits to the nearby home of his daughter, Marie Kissinger.  The second painting, 12 x 16 inches is marked in Hartmann’s handwriting with a price of “$10,” probably priced some time around 1950.

Among his larger works were several murals, including one that was in the Decatur train station, and a large painting of the Jordan River, on canvas, ca. 1951, that hung in the Parnassas Presbyterian Church in New Kensington, Pennsylvania for many years.

Although American Impressionism style fell out of favor in the mid 20th century, it is experiencing a tremendous resurgence of interest among collectors, museums and art lovers. California and Western Impressionist landscapes are especially well represented in the Irvine Museum (Irvine, California) and the Fleischer Museum (Scottsdale, Arizona), where many painting are comparable in style and quality to Andrew Hartmann’s best works.   He missed his chance to be included in the San Diego Museum of Fine Arts collection, and I know of none of his works in any major museums today. 

Paintings in my collection from in and around southern California include a watercolor (approx. 16 x 21 inches) of the San Juan Capistrano mission, several coastal scenes, desert scenes, and pencil sketchs from San Diego. Robert and Sue Hartmann (my brother and sister in law) have a similar collection.

Later Life

Hartmann (age 74) with grandson Bill.
Hartmann (age 74) with grandson Bill. (Photo: Ernest Hartmann, 1942)

Andrew Hartmann retired from house painting about 1945 (age about 77) and moved from Decatur to Houston, Texas, a few years later to be near his daughter Elizabeth's family there. He continued painting until his death at age 85 on December 4, 1953. Adele died in 1968 in Houston.  Both of them are buried in the Forest Park Cemetery there.

 

In addition to paintings within the family, many paintings purchased from him, or given to friends, are now dispersed around the United States.  A number of finished or near-finished paintings were in his Houston studio at the time of his death.  They were distributed among family, and I have several from that source, as well as earlier paintings that had belonged to family and friends. 

 


 

 

Selected paintings

Fall woods undated ca. 1948. Oil.
[Collection of Robert and Sue Hartmann]

 

Lake Decatur 1925
Along Stevens Creek, Decatur, Illinois, a view painted in 1925. Watercolor.

Superstition Mountains, Arizona, 1949. Oil

Superstition Mountains, Arizona, 1950. Oil

Picket Post Mountain, in the Superstition Mountains near Superior Arizona.  While the San Diego pair of paintings above suggest work from two different sketches along the coast, this pair from 1949 (left) and 1950 (right) appear to be two renditions of the same view.  Both views are about 17 x 24 inches.  The 1949 view is marked "$40" on the back, suggesting it was in a show. The 1950 [Collection of Robert and Sue Hartmann] view was painted as a commission from Hartmann's son Ernest's family, perhaps allowing him to keep the first painting on display for possible sale.  


 

Western landscape.  1947.  Oil.
The specific location is unknown, but it could be a scene in West Texas, New Mexico or Arizona painted during one of Hartmann’s drives to San Diego.

 

West of Tucson
“West of Tucson”  ca. 1938.  Oil.
The reverse has the name in A. Hartmann’s handwriting and an estimated date of 1938 according to his son Ernest.  Living in Tucson as I do, I’ve tried to find the location.  The view is very similar to that of the Rincon Mountains from the highway or train stop at Vail, about 20 miles east of Tucson.  Hartmann may have made a sketch or photo at that site during a trip to San Diego.

 

West Texas 1950
"West Texas" 1950. Oil.
Carrying the label “west Texas,” this may have been based on sketches and photos in the Davis Mountains or near Big Bend Park.  Watercolor sketches in 1948 are labeled from the latter area.  Hartmann was living in Houston at the time.

 

Western Lake Scene
Western Lake Scene  1949.  Oil.
This unlabled view has an unusual composition for A. Hartmann, with the rock and tree jutting up into the center of the image.  Location is unknown but is likely to be from one of his western driving trips, possibly in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

 


Titles in quotes are from notes in A. Hartmann’s handwriting on the reverse of some paintings.
Click on the small images to locate them in the text.

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