Frederick Ferdinand Schafer Painting Catalog

A brief biographical sketch

Frederick Ferdinand Schafer was probably born in Zorbau, Weißenfels, Prussia, on November 25, 1839. He emigrated to the United States in the fall of 1871, at the age of 32, where he created at least 900 paintings, primarily landscapes of the American West. He died in Oakland, California, on July 18, 1927, at the age of 87. He is well known within a community of collectors of and dealers in western art, mostly in California and the Pacific Northwest. Schafer's training is unknown. His work resembles that of the Düsseldorf school and newspaper articles (which typically read like press releases and may have been written by the artist himself) often mentioned that there was some connection. He had studios in San Francisco from 1880 through 1886 and in his homes in Alameda and Oakland from 1887 until his death.

He apparently spent summers sketching in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, British Columbia, and Alaska and many of his paintings have verso titles with locations in those places. Most Schafer landscapes are summer scenes, probably because the majestic scenes he frequently painted were difficult to visit in the winter. A member of the San Francisco Art Association for many years, he regularly exhibited his paintings at the Mechanics Institute exhibitions in that city.

Schafer's overall style is that of the nineteenth-century American realist landscape tradition, taking maximum advantage of the dramatic western American landscape and with a strong element of naturalism—a preference to capture the impression of an object such as a tree rather than to provide photographic detail of it. Careful control of illumination is another characteristic of his style, with light coming from a consistent direction and using brightness to help the observer focus on the central subject of the painting. Many of Schafer's canvases have a dramatic appearance, arising from use of large areas of intense, saturated color, but stopping well short of the awesome and melodramatic (sometimes called "sublime") effects found in canvases of Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederic Edwin Church.

In mountain, forest, and river landscapes, foreground deadwood in the form of a leaning or fallen tree, or a river snag, appears so frequently that one can almost depend on finding it. Small midground figures, usually of Indians but occasionally of trappers, hunters, prospectors, or even a bear or deer, often appear as part of the natural landscape, providing an iconic, rather than explicit, genre touch. By their small size these figures provide the eye with a measure of, and emphasize, the large scale of the scene. Another frequent feature in Schafer paintings is small spots of bright color, representing wildflowers, a campfire, lights from a ship, or dappled spots of sun in the shade of a tree.

Schafer usually varies the level of control of the brush greatly within a single picture. Background mountains, especially foothills and intermediate ranges, may be shapes developed with only a few wide brushstrokes, middle and foreground components are substantially more controlled, and features that draw the attention of the eye, such as a campfire or tepee, are often more controlled than their surroundings.

Schafer's work is held in these public collections: Alameda (California) Museum, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (British Columbia), Bancroft Library of UC Berkeley, Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art, British Columbia Archives, California Historical Society, Craigdarroch Castle (British Columbia), Crocker Art Museum, Gilcrease Museum, Hallie Ford Museum of Art of Willamette University, Hoover Institution, Juneau-Douglas (Alaska) City Museum, Lake George Historical Association and Museum (Lake George, New York) Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey State Historic Park, Museum of Church History and Art (Salt Lake City), Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Spokane, Washington) The Oakland Museum of California, Pope County Museum (Glenwood, Minnesota), Shasta (California) State Historic Park, Society of California Pioneers, Museum of Sonoma County (California) Hart Collection, Springville (Utah) Museum of Art, Yolo County (California) Historical Collections, and the Yosemite National Park Museum.

April 8, 2024

© 1996, 1998, 2008, 2014, 2017, 2019, 2021, 2024 by Jerome H. Saltzer. All rights reserved.

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