Anna Elizabeth Klumpke was born in San Francisco on October 28th 1856. She was the elderst daughter of a German-born father, John Gerald Klumpke and his American wife Dorothea Matilda Klumpke (née Tolle). Her father was born in February 1825 in Suttrup, a small north-west German town in the state of Lower Saxony. Anna’s father was hard-working German immigrant who was raised in New Orleans where he attended college and spent some time studying medicine and other professional courses. In August 1850 with news of the Californian Gold Rush he left Louisiana and headed for California where he was registered as one of the early territorial pioneers.
With the discovery of gold the population in 1848 of San Francisco which had started off as a small Spanish mission nestled in the coastal dunes, was less than one thousand but the following year it had soared to twenty-five thousand. San Francisco boomed and law and order became a serious problem, so much so that the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance was formed in 1851 in response to widespread crime and corruption in the municipal government. This vigilante organisation, which John Klumpke joined, provided an extra layer of legal intervention to counteract the rising wave of crime. John Klumpke’s life as a prospector didn’t last long and the money he made prospecting was sank into real estate which he bought and sold and soon became a very well respected and very wealthy San Francisco citizen.
Dorothea Mathilde Tolle was born in New York on March 21, 1835. In 1853, at the age of eighteen, she accompanied her older sister who travelled to San Francisco to be reunited with her husband who had set up a gunsmith business in the town. Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, Dorothea met her future husband John Klumpke and the couple were married on October 28th 1855. The couple went on to have seven children. There were five daughters, Anna Elizabeth was born in 1856, followed by Augusta Maria in 1859, Dorothea in 1861, Mathilde in 1863 and Julia in 1870 and two sons John Wilhelm and George Frederick in 1868.
Before I look closer at the life of the painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke it is interesting to note that all her siblings were great achievers. Augusta Maria, the second born child, formerly a science student in Lausanne, went to Paris in 1877 to study medicine, and in 1882 became an extern and in 1887 became the first woman in France to be appointed interne des hôpitaux. She studied under Jules Déjerine, a celebrated French neurologist and later in 1888 the two married and had a daughter Yvonne. In 1914, Augusta was elected the first female president of the French Neurological Society.
Dorothea Klumpke was the youngest child of John and Dorothea Klumpke. She initially studied music at the University of Paris but later became interested in astronomy. In 1886, she received her bachelor’s degree and seven years later, in 1893, she was awarded her doctorate and in between she took up a post at the Paris Observatory. Her work consisted of measuring star positions, astrophotography, which is a specialized type of photography for recording photos of astronomical objects and large areas of the night sky. She eventually became Director of the Bureau of Measurements at the Paris Observatory and was elected a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She married the Welsh astronomer and astrophysicist, Dr. Isaac Roberts.
Both the fourth-born child, Mathilda Klumpke, and the youngest child Julia, took music lessons at the Paris conservatory. Mathilda became a talented pianist who married Harry Milton Dalton, an American lawyer from Cincinnati, and they had three children. Sadly Mathilda died young in 1893, from diphteria while caring for her sick children. She was just thirty years of age.
Julia Klumpke, the youngest family member who was born in 1870, was a student at Lycée Fénelon, which in 1883 became the first high school of young girls of Paris. Julia studied the violin and subsequently taught the violin to students at the Spartanbourg Girls College, South Carolina.
The fifth child, and the only son to survive infancy, John William Klumpke, was mostly educated in Paris in the heart of the Quartier Latin just across from the Sorbonne at Lycée Louis-le-Grand which was a prestigious secondary school founded in 1563 as the Collège de Clermont, but was renamed in King Louis XIV of France’s honour after he extended his direct patronage to it in 1682. Later John returned to America where he became an engineer.
Having said all that, this blog is all about the eldest daughter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke but I thought it would be of interest for you to see what a set of very gifted siblings she had and one wonders whether that pressurised her to succeed.
Anna Elizabeth Klumpke was the eldest of John Dorothea’s children, born on August 22nd 1856. Her early life proved traumatic as in the early months of 1860 when she was three and a half years old she had a fall and fractured her femur. Less than eighteen months after this accident she fell again and this resulted in osteomyelitis with purulent knee arthritis and this condition would leave her with a limp for the rest of her life. Her parents sought medical help in America but to no avail and they decided that the best course of treatment was to be found in Europe and so, in 1886, her mother and aunt took Anna Elizabeth and her three sisters and travelled by boat to a specialist, Professor Néalton, in Paris and later to Berlin to consult with Professor Langenbeck where she would remain at his clinic for eighteen months with much time spent taking the healing waters of the local thermal baths.
Anna’s three sisters went to school in Berlin whilst she, due to her physical condition and medical treatment, received private lessons. She thrived educationally taking lessons in German, French and music. Eventually Anna’s mother and her sisters returned to San Francisco somewhat disappointed that Anna’s hoped-for cure never materialised. Back in California, Anna and her siblings attended the local school but because of their father’s wealth also had home tutoring in music, dance and German.
The disappointment of Anna’s mother over the failure to cure her daughter’s physical disability was not the only complication which arose from her long stay in Europe separated from her husband. Despite the birth of two further children, John and George Frederick in 1868, although the latter died before his first birthday, and Julia in 1870, the estrangement of husband and wife led to the break-up of the marriage and she requested and won legal separation and later a divorce, along with custody of all the children. Anna’s mother decided on a clean break from both her husband and America and in April 1871 took all the children, including eight month-old Julia, to Germany to live with her cousin in the town of Gottingen where Anna, who at the time was fifteen years old and thirteen year old Augusta, enrolled at a boarding school in Bad Canstatt, a town close to Stuttgart. In 1873 after the legal ramifications of the separation were concluded and divorce granted, Dorothea took her six children and went to live in Lausanne.
All the children, with the exception of Anna, attended various schools in Lausanne but Anna studied at home, and as she showed an interest in painting she was enrolled in a course of drawing lessons. In 1876 Anna’s mother was faced with the prospect of losing her two eldest children to further education colleges away from Lausanne but a friend advised her that Paris would be an ideal place to live as it would offer Anna a chance to further her career as an artist in a well-respected atelier de peinture and at the same time offer Augusta the chance to continue her interest in medicine at the prestigious medical faculty of the Sorbonne. There would also be numerous good Parisian schools for the other children and so with her decision made to relocate to the French capital Dorothea Klumpke went to Paris and met with the secretary of the Faculty of Medicine and the secretary of the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne to assess the colleges for Augusta and had a meeting with the artistic director of Académie Julian with regards to enrolling Anna. Dorothea also met with heads of various secondary schools to discuss the schooling of her other children and by October 1876 an apartment had been rented and all the children were attending various schools and colleges.
Anna Klumpke enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1883 and was the pupil of Tony Robert Fleury, Felix de Vuillefroy, William Adolphe Bouguereau and Jules Lefebvre. In 1884, whilst still at the Academy, she exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon. She excelled at the academy and won a number of awards including one for the outstanding student of the year with her painting entitled An Eccentric. She also won the silver medal at the Versailles Exhibition. She became the first woman to win the Temple gold medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This prestigious art prize was awarded for the best oil painting by an American artist shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’s annual exhibition. She also won the bronze medal at the 1889 Universal Exhibition. She was a regular contributor to the exhibitions at the Salon des Artistes Français.
One of her well known painting is a large one entitled Catinou Knitting which she exhibited at the Salon of 1887 and is now housed at the Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. Anna returned to the United States and taught in Boston for a few years.
One of the greatest influences on Anna Klumpke’s was the French artist Rosa Bonheur, an animalière, (painter of animals) known for her artistic realism. Anna’s interest in Bonheur probably goes back to her childhood when as a young girl she was given a doll, known as a “Rosa” Doll. Rosa Dolls were made in the image of Rosa Bonheur, who had become a famous artist and from early childhood Anna was fascinated with the career of this French painter. She first met Rosa in 1887 when she was employed as a translator by an American art collector who was interested in buying some of Bonheur’s artwork.
Ten years later, in 1897 Anna wrote to Rosa Bonheur asking permission to paint her portrait. The two women met for the second time on June 16, 1898 at Rosa’s residence, the Chateau de By at Thomery on the edge of Fontainebleau Forest, which the artist had bought for herself in 1859 when she was at the height of her popularity. Despite the thirty-four year difference in age between Rosa and Anna, they soon became great friends. While Klumpke worked on her first portrait of Bonheur, the two women became close friends and one month later Bonheur asked Anna to join her in both a personal and professional partnership, Anna agreed and the two women signed a formal arrangement to cement their working and personal arrangement in August 1898. Bonheur agreed to build a studio for Anna at By and in return Anna agreed to paint portraits of Bonheur and to write Rosa’s biography. Controversially, as far as her relatives were concerned, Bonheur changed her will and made Klumpke her sole heir. Bonheur used her last will and testament to force legal recognition of her right to transfer her property to another woman. Anna, I am sure, brought a great deal of happiness to Rosa who had been devastated by the death of her lover and long-time companion Nathalie Micas in 1895. Nine months after Anna and Rosa formalised their arrangement Rosa Bonheur died on May 25, 1899, aged seventy-seven.
Klumpke painted three important portraits of Bonheur. The first, from 1898, depicted the artist at an easel wearing the men’s clothes for which she had secured a license from the French government. The second portrait, from 1899, depicted Bonheur seated, holding her dog on her lap. Klumpke kept the third portrait of Bonheur, painted posthumously in 1902, for the Musée de l’Atelier de Rosa Bonheur that she established at By, near Fountainebleau, in 1904.
After Bonheur’s death, Klumpke devoted herself to researching the biography Bonheur had asked her to write. It was published in 1908 with the title Rosa Bonheur, sa vie et son oeuvre. It is a merger of biography and autobiography. Anna Klumpke combined her own memories with Bonheur’s first-person account. In the book Anna, Bonheur’s lover and chosen portraitist, tells how she came to meet and fall in love with Bonheur but of course it is Bonheur’s account of her own life story, and delves into such subjects as gender formation, institutional changes in the art world, governmental intervention in the arts, the social and legal regulation of dress codes, and the perceived transgressive nature of female sexual companionship in a repressive society.
Klumpke continued to paint and exhibit her works in both Paris and the United States, and set up many projects in the name of Rosa Bonheur. In 1914, she established l’Hôpital de Rosa Bonheur at By, where she nursed wounded soldiers until World War I and sometime later, she established the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Art School for Women Painters and Sculptors at By and continued to exhibit both her work as well as Bonheur’s on both continents.
Anna Klumpke was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1936. During the 1930s, she returned to San Francisco where she painted landscapes and portraits. She died in 1942 at the age of 86 and her ashes were entombed alongside Bonheur’s and those of Nathalie Micas in Père Lachaise cemetery three years later.
Anna Elizabeth Klumpke never married, maybe because her career meant everything to her but also because she chose a committed relationship with another woman, and by doing so she defied all the late Victorian expectation of women. Her artistic work was a visual testament of her life and times, and included the joyous but brief time she loved and lived with Rosa Bonheur.