One’s upbringing surely plays a big part in how we develop. Often, we follow in the footsteps of our parents and soon what was there chosen occupation, becomes ours. Financial stability must play an important role in how we develop. There are many stories of artists struggling away against financial adversity in their childhood and youth to become famous painters. It was that struggle which shaped them and their life. However, there are also many young people who emerged from a wealthy background who also made it to the top of their profession. They neither struggled with nor worried about financial matters. My artist today is Albert Herter, an American, who was one of those privileged people who had a successful career as an artist. Regina Armstrong, writing in The Art Interchange of January 1899, commented on Herter’s start in life:
“…Well, Albert Herter simply has no right to exist. To begin with, he was born to wealth and social position; he is handsome and attractive in manner, and he has exceptional talent. You see, his career knocks the props from under those accepted saws about the impetus of poverty…”
Albert Herter was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and interior designer. He was born in New York City on March 2nd 1871. He came from an artistic family. His mother was Mary Herter (née Miles) and his father was Christian Augustus Ludwig Herter, a German immigrant, who with his brother, Gustave, were founders of the prestigious Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm, which began as a furniture and upholstery shop/warehouse, but, after the Civil War became one of the first American firms to provide complete interior decoration services. Albert’s father, Christian, was also a talented amateur artist. Albert was the younger son and had an elder brother, by six years, Christian Archibald Herter, an American physician and pathologist noted for his work on diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. He was co-founder of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
As a child Albert loved to draw and historians love to quote the story of one of Albert’s first artistic forays – not a small sketch nor a painting but a complicated multi-figure, large-scale drawing. His parents realised that their son’s future was to be artistic. They realised that he was not bound for an Ivy League university but the artistic establishments of New York and Paris. He studied in New York at the Art Students League where he studied alongside William Kendall, the subject of my previous blog. Albert’s work received a number of mentions in art journals and was awarded many medals for his artistic works. He was also acknowledged as the youngest artist to have his work shown at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
In 1892 Herter completed a portrait of his childhood friend, Elisabeth Newton. It is a life-sized depiction measuring 59 x 32 inches. The lady is in a reflective mood and for this work there are signs of Herter being influenced by Whistler with its carefully schemed arrangement of whites. In the background we have a decorative patterned curtain which also reveals Herter’s interest in textiles and Japanese design.
After Albert Herter left the Art Students League, he travelled to Paris to hone his artistic skills in the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens, the French Academic-style painter and sculptor. It was whilst living in the French capital that Albert met another American art student. She was Adele McGinnis who was studying under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustave Courtois, and Tony Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. Adele, who was two years older than Albert, was born February 27th 1869. She was the daughter of the New York banker, John McGinnis and his wife Lydia. Love blossomed between Albert and Adele and they married in New York in 1893.
In 1894, Mary Miles Herter, Albert’s mother, gave the couple a wedding gift. It was not just any wedding gift, it was a seventy-acre parcel of land in East Hampton, Long Island, between Montauk Highway and Georgica Pond. In 1899, on this parcel of land, the couple built The Creeks, a 40-room, Mediterranean-style villa. This beautifully created estate incorporated almost a mile of waterfront on the tidal estuary. As both Albert and Adele Herter were artists, they incorporated into their villa two large art studios so each would have their own workspace. Adele Herter also designed the extensive gardens.
In 1912, Albert Herter added a much larger studio to the complex, which also doubled as a private theatre, and it was in this building that famous artists, such as Enrico Caruso, Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova performed. The house design and interior featured in a 1914 book entitled The Honest House by Ruby Ross & Rayne Adams in which the authors wrote:
“…One of the finest examples of a color plan in our architecture is the country place of Mr. Albert Herter at East Hampton, Long Island. Here is a large, rambling house, built so close to the sea that the blue-green of the water and the clear blue of the sky are deliberately considered as a part of the color plan. Mr. Herter’s idea was to get, if possible, the effect of a house in Sicily, and so he built the house of pinkish yellow stucco and gave it a copper roof. The sea winds have softened the texture and deepened the color of the walls to salmon, and the copper roof has been transformed into ever-changing blue-greens that repeat the colors of the sea. In front of the house there are terraces massed with flowers of orange and yellow and red, and back of the house there is a Persian garden built around blue and green Persian tiles, and great blue Italian jars. Here flowers of blue and rose, and the amethyst tones in between, are allowed. Black green trees and shrubs are used everywhere, with the general effect of one of Maxfield Parrish’s vivid Oriental gardens…”
Although known for her floral still life and decorative wall paintings, Adele McGinnis was principally a portraitist. Through Adele’s upper-class upbringing she made many important contacts some of whom sat for her, such as Abby, the wife of John D Rockefeller and Mary Emma Harkness the wife of the wealthy philanthropist, Edward S. Harkness. She received a number of awards for her art, the major ones being at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904. She was also a charter member of the Cosmopolitan Club, New York.
Albert and Adele honeymooned in Japan, and Herter completed a number of paintings with Oriental themes such as his 1894 work entitled Eastern Blossoms.
The Portrait of Master Rosenbaum, (Portrait of Albert M. Rosenbaum, Jr.) was commissioned by Albert and Nettie Rosenbaum, young Albert’s parents. The painting then became the property of Milton Meyers, the older brother of Albert M Rosenbaum Jnr and his wife Fern Meyers. According to Mrs Meyers, the Rosenbaums, whom she never knew, commissioned Albert Herter to paint a portrait of their son after his impending death became known. She didn’t remember if she’d ever heard the cause of his death at the age of eleven, but it was probably consumption.
The couple returned to Paris for the first years of their marriage. Albert and Adele went on to have three children, two sons, Everit born in 1894, Christian Archibald in 1895 and one daughter, Lydia Adele in 1898. Everit and Lydia both became artists. Sadly, Everit was killed, at age 24, in World War I. Christian became a politician, serving as governor of Massachusetts and later U.S. Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1894 Herter completed his well-loved painting entitled Woman with Red Hair. His work was a depiction of fine living during America’s Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was a term derived from the title of Mark Twain’s satirical novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today and defined the turbulent years between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the turn of the twentieth century. It was during this period that America became more prosperous and saw unprecedented growth in industry and technology. However, the Gilded Age had a more sinister side. It was a period when greedy, corrupt industrialists, bankers and politicians enjoyed unprecedented wealth at the expense of the working class. The lady in the painting is the height of elegance with her swan-like neck and mass of red hair set against a lavishly decorated background. Her dress is sumptuously embroidered and the gossamer filaments which attach the sleeve to the bodice reveal a sophisticated sensitivity to the beautifully handcrafted garments that could only be afforded by the wealthy. There is an element of the depiction which reminds one of the portraits of the Italian Renaissance which many aspiring American artists liked to mimic. For many artists of the time the accoutrements used to set up the painting were of great importance.
Arabella Huntington was a philanthropist whose second husband was the American railway tycoon and industrialist Collis Potter Huntington. Collis Huntington died in 1902, and in 1913 Arabella married his nephew, becoming the second wife of Henry Edwards Huntington. Arabella Huntington was once known as the richest woman in America and was the energy behind the art collection that is housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino California, which was founded by her husband Henry Huntington. The establishment, which already owned an inlaid ebonized secretary cabinet designed by the Herter Brothers furniture and decorating company purchased Albert Herter’s 1895 painting entitled Woman with a Fan.
There is a lot of speculation as to who the sitter was for this portrait. On the back of the frame is a nameplate which reads Miss Maude Bouvier. Maude Bouvier was the grandmother of Jacqueline Kennedy and it is known that during the early 1890’s, Albert Herter had spent time in the Hamptons, close to where the Bouviers lived. The only query as to the sitter is that the nameplate is not original to the painting and thus there is an element of doubt as to the authenticity of the sitter. Her costume and the format of the painting are derived from Italian Renaissance portraits, such as the Huntington’s Portrait of a Woman, by Domenico Ghirlandaio
In 1904, Albert Herter’s mother, Mary bought a plot of land in Santa Barbara, California with the intention of having a home built. She persuaded her son and daughter-in-law to help decorate the large Mission Revival-style home.
They agreed and the residence was transformed into a veritable showplace, which was bedecked with magnificent murals, tapestries, and other artistic pieces. The Herter family spent their winters there. When Mary Herter died in 1913 Albert inherited the house and he turned it into a hotel and named it El Mirasol (The Sunflower). Later Albert and Adele built a number of bungalows on the surrounding land of the property, and El Mirasol became a destination resort for the wealthy.
Herter Brothers, the business founded by Albert’s father, closed its doors in 1906, and Albert founded Herter Looms in 1909, a tapestry and textile design-and-manufacturing firm that was, in a sense, successor to his father’s firm.
Around 1912 Albert Herter completed a portrait of his two sons and many prints were made of the work. It has been given many titles, such as The College Boys, Portrait of the Artist’s Sons, and Two Boys. The depiction features Albert and Adele Herter’s sons, eighteen-year-old Everit and seventeen-year-old Christian. The painting was part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum from 1912 until 1923, when it was returned to the Herters, in exchange for another of his paintings. The request to have the painting returned to the family could well have been due to the death from shrapnel wounds of Everit in World War I. Sergeant Everit Albert Herter, Herter’s twenty-four-year-old son, volunteered to join the US Army in September 1917, some months after the US joined the First World War. Everit Herter joined the camouflage section of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Sergeant Herter was killed in June 1918 near Château-Thierry in Aisne, while serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force, and is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Sadly, Everit Albert Herter was the first to be hired as a volunteer and also the first to be killed in his unit.
In the next part of the Albert Herter blog I will look at his work as a muralist.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Happy Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a peaceful New Year.