Frederick Ferdinand Schafer Painting Catalog
2.6 The Art: Similarities, affinities, and influences
Schafer's painting shows several affinities and similarities with the work of other artists but there is not enough information available to establish whether direct influences are involved. The potential sources of influence are from the nineteenth-century world of American art, from the local San Francisco circle of artists, from Schafer's (presumed) German training, and from developments in landscape photography.
Much of Schafer's work resembles that of the Hudson River school.note 1 For example, Schafer's [Fishing on the Sacramento River] bears considerable resemblance in mood, composition, coloring, and detail to John Frederick Kensett's Trout Fisherman. Similarly, Schafer's [Autumn in the Adirondacks 1] bears a striking family resemblance to Kensett's Lake George.note 2 Since Schafer's arrival in the eastern United States in 1876 would have coincided with the peak of activity of the Hudson River school it is likely that he had some direct exposure to it.
Some writers have characterized work by nineteenth-century western United States landscape artists such as Schafer as being of a "Rocky Mountain school" note 3 or "San Francisco school." note 4 Whether or not these school characterizations provide insight, there were several landscape artists who worked in San Francisco in the 1870's and 1880's whose work is in a common style: romantic realist in character, with a naturalist's preference for form rather than line, but with no other characteristics of the Impressionism that was emerging in France at the time. These artists, in addition to Schafer, included Julian Walbridge Rix, Raymond Dabb Yelland, Henry Raschen, Joseph Dwight Strong, William Keith, Thomas Hill, William Hahn, Carl von Perbandt, Juan Buckingham Wandesford, Norton Bush, Edwin Deakin, Charles Dormon Robinson, Thaddeus Welch, Henry Frederick Butman, and Ransom Gillet Holdredge. Many of these artists originally trained in Europe or went there to study. Hahn studied in Dresden; Hahn, Keith, and von Perbandt in Düsseldorf; Raschen, Strong, and Welch in Munich;note 5 Holdredge probably studied in Germany and presumably Schafer had at least some training in Germany (more on Schafer's training follows); the conservatism of the German academy may help explain their adherence to traditional modes of landscape painting. One thing that they did not bring back from the German academy was any tendency to fairy-tale fantasy as sometimes found in the German Romantic style.note 6
Although no specific evidence indicates that Schafer exchanged ideas with those other San Francisco artists, he certainly had many opportunities to see their work and they his. As mentioned in the discussion of Travels of the artist, from 1880 to 1886 he maintained winter studios in the artist's quarter of downtown San Francisco. He exhibited his paintings in joint shows at the San Francisco Mechanics' Institute Fairs in 1879, 1880, 1883, and 1884note 7 and the San Francisco Art Association in 1880. He was a member of the San Francisco Art Association from at least 1880 to 1895.note 8 He sold his paintings in joint auctions in 1881, 1882, 1883, and 1884,note 9 and newspaper columnists of the time covered his work and theirs in the same columns.note 10 It seems safe to assume that Schafer was in many ways involved with the San Francisco circle of artists.
Of the San Francisco artists, the one most easily mistaken for Schafer is probably Holdredge; their styles are sometimes virtually indistinguishable, in choice of subject and vantage point as well as brushwork and finish. Other contemporaries of Schafer with quite similar styles include Wandesford and Rix. The latter used similar brushwork but his work often has a tinted atmosphere and feeling of quiet more in the direction of the Luminist style. Yelland also used similar brushwork, but produced a very different, fussier appearance, while von Perbandt's paintings are characterized by much more texture. Schafer's foregrounds resemble those of 1880's paintings by Keith, while the middle distances of a typical Schafer landscape sometimes look as though they might have been painted by Hill.
|[Mount Shasta 2], by Frederick F. Schafer, signed "ABierstadt"|
As mentioned in Schafer's background and training, almost nothing is known about Schafer's training except for references to Düsseldorf in several newspaper articles. Although his name does not appear in the records of the Düsseldorfer Malerschule,note 11 his use of classical landscape composition rules, saturated colors, and the palette of harmonizing shades of green and brown all suggest German training.note 12 His composition techniques of building up a landscape as a succession of planes parallel to the surface of the painting and applying conscious framing are characteristics of the Düsseldorf school.note 13 And upon close comparison, Schafer's compositions are remarkably similar to those of Johann Wilhelm Schirmer (1807-1863), a leading landscape teacher at Düsseldorf, and of Caspar Johann Nepomuk Scheuren (1810-1887), one of Schirmer's students.
Schirmer's Das Wetterhorn, Alpenlandschaft (1837), and Sumpflandschaft all use the same triangle-based composition, dark foreground, and rough finish that characterize most of Schafer's mountain landscapes, and the last-named painting depicts a river flowing from the center out to the front edge of the painting, a composition technique frequently used by Schafer. Schirmer's Abendlandschaft mit Blick auf das Heidelberger Schloss (1839), with its foreground rocks, middle range trees, and distant valley looks like a model for several of Schafer's valley landscapes. Schirmer's Waldrand (c. 1851) depicts a stroller walking along a path into the woods, using a composition for that subject repeated by Schafer in a dozen or more different paintings. Finally, Schirmer's Der Mittag depicts standing dead, gnarled trees in a way found in several Schafer compositions.
The similarity between Schafer's work and that of Schirmer's student Scheuren is even more striking. In Scheuren's painting Waldlandschaft, as in Schafer's [Landscape with trees and deer], the canvas is filled with the woodland and the central part is lit by a shaft of sunlight coming through an unseen forest opening. Scheuren's painting Rheinlandschaft (1847) in style and composition closely resembles Schafer's After a storm in the White Mountains, right down to the intensity of the activity of the fisherman. Finally, Scheuren's Die Drockenfels (c. 1851) in composition appears exactly like Schafer's several seascapes.note 14
Other similarities in style with Düsseldorf students are similarly striking. The paintings Wasserfall im unteren Teil von Telemark (1852) by Herman August Cappelen and Sonnen Untergang im Winterwald an einem Gehöft (1863) by Alexander Michelin both use tiny figures in a large scene in the same scale-emphasizing way as do many of Schafer's paintings.note 15 These many specific similarities may be coincidental, rather than indicative of direct influence, but there are enough of them to suggest that the Düsseldorf approach somehow made its way into Schafer's work.
|[California coastal stream]|
Finally, one might expect that Schafer would have taken advantage of the many available landscape photographs to supplement sketches made in the field. the landscape photographers Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and Charles Weed were all working in San Francisco at about the same time as Schafer, they photographed many of the same grand vistas that Schafer painted, and their work was widely exhibited, so they must have been known to Schafer. On the other hand, even though the available copies of those photographs show views from the same or almost the same vantage points (for example, of Donner Lake, Lake Tahoe, Castle Rock, Yosemite Valley, and El Capitan and Union Point in Yosemite,note 17 there is very little evidence of direct copying of any subject to which Schafer had access. On the other hand, as mentioned in the discussion of Travels of the artist, Schafer's paintings of Mount of the Holy Cross, in Colorado, do closely resemble the well-known 1873 photograph by William H. Jackson and probably was copied from that photograph, or from a chromolithograph by Thomas Moran that was apparently in turn based on that photograph.
As to other artists being influenced by Schafer, there is no extant evidence. Perhaps there was some mutual influence between Keith, whose early pictures were carefully drawn, but who moved to a less finished style in later years, and Schafer, with his emphasis of form over line. (Ferdinand Perret attributes a comment to Keith that suggests that Keith was quite familiar with and enthusiastic about Schafer's work.note 19) On the other hand, Keith's shift can equally well be explained by his own visits to Düsseldorf or as an abandonment to the camera of the goal of achieving camera-perfect detail.note 20
note 1: John K. Howat, in American Paradise, provides a good description of the Hudson River school.
note 2: The two Kensett paintings are reproduced on pages 83 and 85 of Barbara Novak, Nineteenth Century American Painting, a catalog of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection.
note 3: This Rocky Mountain School characterization is the primary theme of the book by Patricia Trenton and Peter H. Hassrick, The Rocky Mountains.
note 4: The encylopedia Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West uses the San Francisco School characterization in its brief sketches of several San Francisco painters.
note 5: The Samuels & Samuels encylopedia cited in note 4 provides this information on the several artists' training.
note 6: The German Romantic style is discussed extensively in two books: Ulrich Finke, German Painting, and William Vaughan, German Romantic Painting.
note 7: The titles of Schafer paintings exhibited at the Mechanics' Institute Industrial Exhibitions between 1879 and 1884 can be found in the list of Exhibitions.
note 8: Schafer is listed as a member in the catalogs of the Exhibitions of the San Francisco Art Association in 1880 (15th), 1884 (Spring), 1885 (Fall), 1886 (Spring), 1889 (Spring), 1891 (May), 1893 (Spring), 1894 (Spring), 1895 (May/Spring).
note 9: The list of Nineteenth-Century Auctioneers and Sales includes several joint auctions.
note 10: Two examples of newspaper articles mentioning several San Francisco artists are "The Mechanics' Fair", September 23, 1883 and "What is Art", April 11, 1886, in the San Francisco Chronicle.
note 11: See note 11 at the end of the discussion of Schafer's background and training.
note 12: This use of color is evident, for example, in plates I-XXIV (pp. 217-240) of the exhibition catalog Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule (1979).
note 13: In the exhibition catalog by Donelson F. Hoopes and Wend von Kalnein, The Düsseldorf Academy and the Americans, pages 19-39, is an essay of the same title which explores this point. Matthew Baigell, Albert Bierstadt on page 9 mentions abrupt tonal contrasts, hidden sources of light, tortured trees, agitated skies, and craggy landscape features as elements of Düsseldorf painting; all of those elements are also common in works by Schafer.
note 14: Reproductions of the paintings by Schirmer and Scheuren may be found in two exhibition catalogs and a book, all carrying the same title, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule (1967), Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule (1979), and Wolfgang Hütt, Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule, 1819-1869.
note 15: The paintings by Cappelen and Michelin are reproduced in Wolfgang Hütt, Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule, 1819-1869 as figures 114 and 113, respectively.
note 16: This observation is from Elizabeth M. Cock, The Influence of Photography on American Landscape Painting, 1839-1880.
note 17: Reproductions of these photographs can be found in Weston J. Naef, Era of Exploration: The Rise of Landscape Photography in the American West, 1860-1885.
note 18: The speculation that Schafer (as well as Moran) may have worked from the Jackson photograph is due to Patricia Trenton and Peter H. Hassrick, The Rocky Mountains, pages 155 and 170, and plate 60.
note 19: "Frederick Schafer," in the Ferdinand Perret file at the National Museum of American Art.
note 20: Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., William Keith, a catalog of the Saint Mary's College collection, extensively explores Keith's conversion to a less-finished style.
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|Apr 26, 2008, 13:36 MDT||Comments, corrections, or questions: Saltzer@mit.edu|