The Early Years
Albert Henry Krehbiel, one of seven children, was born in Denmark, Iowa, on November 25th, 1873, to John Jacob and Anna Leisy Krehbiel. In 1879, he moved with his family to Newton, Kansas, where his father was a prominent Mennonite layman, prosperous carriage and buggy maker, and later a co-founder of Bethel College. At a very young age, Krehbiel expressed a desire to pursue drawing and painting. As a child, he had taken to painting the sides and wheels of the buggies made by his father's company and spent his school days drawing cartoons of his teachers and fellow students, much to the enjoyment of his peers and the consternation of his educators. (1)
Krehbiel attended Bethel College in Newton for two years at the insistence of his practical minded father and, in 1895, he entered the School of Design and Painting in Topeka, Kansas. “European-trained George Stone conducted the art school assisted by his capable French wife, who inspired Krehbiel’s love of the French language and people. Upon visiting the school on a lecture tour, Art Institute of Chicago Director William Merchant Richardson French discovered Krehbiel's talents and encouraged him to further pursue a career in art by enrolling at The Art Institute.”(1) In a letter written May 14th, 1896, to his friend Sude (Herman Suderman, later his brother-in-law), Krehbiel wrote:
"I suppose you knew that I had returned (to the family home in Newton) and was serving my sentence in the shop. I am bound for Chicago in the fall. I am now turning out the necessary funds." (1)
In the summer of 1898, Krehbiel made his way from Newton to Chicago by bicycle with his younger brother, Fred , and enrolled at The Art Institute for the fall semester. He labored for the next four years at The Art Institute as a student - three of them with painter and instructor of drawing, Frederick Richardson (1862-1937) - and, in the fifth year, as a drawing instructor. “The academic curriculum at The Art Institute was based upon the strict French regime, with long hours devoted to working from the model as well as from casts of antique sculpture.”(2) Among the many prizes and awards granted Krehbiel during these years at The Art Institute, he received an American Traveling Scholarship to study abroad in 1902.
By 1903, Impressionism in Europe had run its course and, although it was not yet fully understood in America, French impressionist paintings had been entering American private collections and museums. Despite this, Krehbiel sought the rigorous training of a traditional art academy rather than joining the many American artists who continued the French tradition of studying impressionistic painting in the French countryside. He headed for Paris to study for three years at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), one of the last great history painters.1 Known primarily for his large historical paintings, Laurens was also a muralist; in fact, he was considered a rival of the renowned Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898). One of the most respected artists of his time, Laurens was revered by Auguste Rodin and later by French writers Charles Péguy and Andre Gide.