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Albert H. Krehbiel, American Impressionist


Krehbiel in Europe -- His Studies and His Works


Krehbiel sailed for Europe on a steamer of the Holland-America Line and landed on July 23rd, 1903. His classes in Paris would not begin until October, so he settled in Laren, Holland, with the Dutch relatives of one of his fellow passengers and spent the next two months sketching and, at rare times, painting local citizens in their daily routine of work and at rest. Krehbiel would create many more such sketches in the following two years while on summer vacation from Academie Julian, traveling the countrysides of France and Holland - often accompanied by fellow Julian classmate, California impressionist Joseph Raphael (1869-1950). Krehbiel reproduced several of his sketches in oil on canvas when in Paris.

“Krehbiel wrote long personal letters during two periods of his life. The first occurred during his stay in Europe when he wrote to Dulah Marie Evans, his former classmate at The Art Institute and later his wife. These letters read much like a diary, recording his thoughts about the progress of his work as well as his impressions of Europe.”(1) On September 14, 1903, Krehbiel wrote from Holland:

“Last week I thought that I would have a painting to send you with Perret (a traveling companion) when he went over, but it is out of the question now. I’d worked for a week on an old man standing by a door looking at a couple of children . . . Just about noon the sun came out and made the canvas look so dingy that I took the pallet knife and scraped the whole blumin’ lot out.” (1)

“Arriving in Paris at the end of September, Krehbiel began his studies at the Academie Julian on October 2nd. The curriculum at Academie Julian was centered on principles that had been espoused by Jacques Louis David (1748-1825). David’s presence dominated French art from the age of Louis XVI through the periods of Jacobin and Napoleon, and his works epitomized the ideas of neoclassicism. Classical and biblical subjects became the only ones suitable for grand painting in France and, into the twentieth century, were the ones most likely to be accepted by the jury for the annual exhibitions at the prestigious Salon Des Artistes Francais (also known as the Paris Salon).” (2) In 1905, Krehbiel received the honor of having two of his neoclassical entries accepted for the exhibition. Also in 1905, two of his Dutch paintings were shown in the autumn exhibition at The American Art Association of Paris and one of them was sold for 100 francs (the other work is Woman Sweeping).

Though Krehbiel had displayed a notable talent to paint under the rigid guidelines of French academic realism and neoclassicism, he pursued it without enthusiasm. Writing of a visit to the Louvre and a viewing of The Tennis Court Oath by David, he states:

“ . . . (The work is done) with no artistic expression whatsoever, merely mechanical and intellectual, . . . the Louvre is full of this sort of thing and lots of it. One wonders how the artist had the nerve to call it painting.”(2)

Krehbiel won four gold medals in competition while at Academie Julian - the only American ever to have done so - as well as several other prizes and honors, including five cash prizes and permanent placement on the school wall of a painting on a biblical subject taken from the Book of Samuel.(2) On February 9th, 1904, Krehbiel wrote to Dulah from his studio at No. 9 Rue Champagne, Paris, regarding being awarded a gold medal::

"My winning of the prize at Julian’s last week seems to have given me some reputation. I am still receiving congratulations and everyone seems to think it such a feat that I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m not something after all.”(1)

In 1905, Krehbiel won the coveted Prix de Rome, which was given annually to the young painter who, in the eyes of the Academie, could produce the best composition in the prescribed manner of a Biblical or Classical subject.

“Krehbiel’s classmates seem to have been more impressed with his awards than he was. When one of them sought his advice on how to go about winning a gold medal, he advised the man to concentrate on the development of his work and not on the winning of prizes.”(2) His final attitude in speaking of the awards seems to be one of indifference, expressing that too much self-admiration would hinder his development as an artist. Regarding a medal awarded him in 1906, Krehbiel wrote in a letter home:

“ . . . It looks like the one from last year, with the exception of the date . . . the students crowded around me to handle the trophy, after which I dropped it into my pocket and went to work.” (1)

In the summer of 1906, Krehbiel’s last year abroad, he made a walking and painting tour of Spain (see Spanish Bullfight), again traveling with friend and fellow student Joseph Raphael. Upon receiving special permission from Museo Del Prado in Madrid, Krehbiel spent three weeks making several studies first hand of works done by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). Nine of the studies were later shown at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Exhibition of Artists’ Copies of Paintings by Old Masters (July 26th to August 28th, 1910). In a letter to Dulah, Krehbiel wrote of his encounter with Velazquez:

". . . They seem so easily done . . . almost painting by accident . . . (each figure) seems to be breathing the air around him . . . the whole reveals itself as a good picture should, without any effort on the part of the beholder.” (2)