William Wendt

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William Wendt was born in Bentzen, Germany on February 20, 1865 and was the only son to a livestock trader. While in Germany, he spent one year as an apprentice cabinetmaker. At fifteen years of age, sponsored by his uncle, Wendt immigrated to Chicago in 1880. With the exception of some evening classes at the Chicago Art Institute, Wendt never received any formal art training. In Chicago, he worked his way into a position as a staff artist in a commercial art shop. His job required him to paint a portion of a painting in a line production. One day, Wendt decided that a painting needed a white picket fence and decided to paint the fence into the composition. He was immediately reprimanded for his action, but when the painting went on sale, it was immediately purchased. From that day on, Wendt’s job was to paint picket fences for the compositions. William Wendt worked at the commercial art studio six days a week, and on his one day off, he would spend the day painting outdoors.

As a self-taught painter, William Wendt became a great technician through his power of observation. Painting formula pictures and display scenery for a living and outdoor easel landscapes for the love of it, he developed a competence and style which, by 1893, won him the Second Yerkes prize of two hundred dollars at the Chicago Society of Artists Exhibition. It was enough money, he decided, to launch a full-time career as an easel painter. He loved to sketch in the field and then return to his studio to paint large canvases from his sketches. Wendt was a good friend of artist Gardner Symons in Chicago and made several trips to Southern California with him in 1896. The friends then traveled to England in 1899 and Wendt exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Nationale des Beaux Arts in France. On his return to America on November 1899, Wendt exhibited 46 paintings at the Chicago Art Institute.

After his marriage to sculptor Julia Bracken in 1906, the couple moved to Los Angeles and bought the studio home of the Wachtels on Sichel Street. In Los Angeles, they both industriously pursued successful careers. While she worked in the studio, he often took to the countryside, particularly seeking remote, natural settings, loving especially the rolling hills, spreading trees and carpets of grass and flowers to be found in California in the early spring. There, this deeply religious artist found his inspiration. He produced a sincerity, tranquility, strength and sense of well-being in his paintings that had and continues to have enormous appeal. William Wendt was a cofounder of the California Art Club held the position of President a year after the founding California Art Club and again the fourth year. In 1912 he was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in New York. In the same year, Wendt built a studio-home in Laguna Beach, which became a mecca for aspiring artists throughout southern California. He and his wife “were outstandingly liberal in their efforts to impart their talents to further California art. The couple was probably more responsible for the rapid growth of Laguna Beach as an art center than any of its pioneers.”

Before 1915, Wendt’s paintings were characterized by light, short strokes and after that time he used a much broader, bolder brush. Throughout the twenties, he painted prolifically, living in solitude in Laguna Beach while Julia lived and worked in Los Angeles. He would go into the back country for weeks at a time, returning only for the mail and supplies. He painted with friends Symons, Puthuff, Payne and Borg, among others. He developed a bold, distinctive, and assured style which has been described as “masculine impressionism”. A successful exhibition was launched at the Stendahl gallery in 1926 which brought together a large body of works by Wendt. The exhibition at the Stendahl gallery was also unique because a monograph of Wendt was also published. The monograph was one of six published monographs of southern California artists before 1930. Wendt died in Laguna Beach, California on December 29, 1946 and is considered a giant among American artists and is often referred to as the Dean of Southern California.

Member: American Federation of Arts; California Art Club (president); Chicago Society of Artists; Laguna Beach Art Association; National Arts Club; Society of Western Artists.

Exhibited: Chicago Society of Artists, Illinois, 1893; Paris Salon, France, 1899; St. Louis Museum, Missouri, 1900; Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901; Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Missouri, 1904; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, 1904, 1909, 1911, 1913; San Francisco Exposition, 1915; Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1915; California Art Club, 1916; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1939; Hotel Green, Pasadena, 1917; Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles, 1922, 1926, 1927, 1938; Pan-American Exhibition, Los Angeles, 1925; National Academy of Design, NY, 1926; Ebell Club, Los Angeles, 1928, 1930; California-Pacific International Exposition, 1935; Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939; Los Angeles Art Association, 1947.

Works Held: Art Institute of Chicago; Cincinnati Art Museum (Ohio); Cliff Dwellers Club (Chicago); Gardena High School; Herron Art Institute (Indianapolis, Indiana); Irvine Museum; Laguna Art Museum; Long Beach High School; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach; Pasadena Art Museum; Springville Museum of Art (Utah); Union Club (Seattle).

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print

William Wendt: 1865-1946 by Nancy Dustin and Wall Moure