Elmer Wachtel

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"Santa Paula Valley"
Oil on canvas
16 x 20 inches

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Elmer Wachtel was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 21, 1864. His family moved to Lanark, Illinois and at a young age, Wachtel worked as a hired hand while teaching himself to play the violin. At 18, he moved to San Gabriel, California where his brother had married the sister of artist Guy Rose. There, Wachtel proceeded to manage the Rose ranch. He continued to play the violin and in 1888 became the first violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Adolf Wilhartitz, and later by A.J. Stamm. During this period, his talent in drawing and painting began to emerge and he became involved with local artists including Gutzon Borglum and J. Bond Francisco. He was also one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Art Association in 1890. In 1900, Wachtel had saved enough money to study at the Art Students League in New York under William M. Chase for one year. During his stay, he also exhibited at the New York Watercolor Society. He then left to London to study at the Lambeth Art School while associating with California artist Gutzon Borglum, and English illustrators Fred and Tom Wilkinson.

After returning to California, he lived in Los Angeles with his parents on Griffin Avenue where he continued to paint in his leisure time while supplementing his income as a professional violinist. By 1903, Wachtel had established himself as an accomplished landscape artist and William Keith sent him one of his young pupils, Marion Kavanaugh, to meet Wachtel. It was love at first sight and they married in 1904. Their early married life was spent in a studio on Sichel Street where the couple worked in the midst of local painters like Granville Redmond and Norman St. Clair. Later, Wachtel sold the Sichel Street studio and moved into a studio-home on Mount Washington. They eventually moved into their final home in the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena.

The Wachtels traveled around Southern California in a specially built motor car designed to accommodate their artistic needs. Wachtel was especially skilled in other materials such as woods and metals. He designed, built, and carved much of their furniture. In 1908, the Wachtels traveled to Arizona and New Mexico working in Moki and Navajo reservations. They continued painting and exhibiting together until his sudden death on August 21, 1929 in Guadalajara, Mexico while on a sketching trip. Wachtel’s early works were landscapes done in moody, dark tones similar to the Tonalist-Barbizon aesthetic common in San Francisco painters; whereas his later palette lightened and his works became more decorative. He is today considered to be one of Southern California’s most important painters.

Member: Los Angeles Art Association (cofounder); Ten Painters of California.

Exhibited: California MidWinter International Exposition, 1894; San Francisco Art Association, 1902, 1906; Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1906; Piedmont Art Gallery, Oakland, California 1907; Del Monte Art Gallery, Monterey, California, 1907-1909; Blanchard Gallery, Los Angeles, 1907-1909; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1915 (solo), 1918; Battery Gallery, Los Angeles, 1915; California Liberty Fair, 1918; Kanst Art Gallery (Memorial Exhibition), 1930.

Works Held: Orange County Museum of Art, California; Irvine Museum, California; Fleischer Museum, Arizona; Laguna Museum of Art, California.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.
All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionist Paintings from the Irvine Museum by the Irvine Museum