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August 02, 2007

A Less-Known Herter

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This is the last of three reports on some American painters who were active during what the Smithsonian's American Art Museum calls "The Gilded Age" -- the name of an exhibition created by the museum in 2000. This is the book associated with the exhibition.

I wrote about Thomas Wilmer Dewing here and Abbott Handerson Thayer here.

This post concerns Albert Herter (1871-1950). The museum didn't have much in the way of Herter's work. But tucked into the room featuring Dewing, I spotted this:

Woman with Red Hair - 1894

No political theme here, no psychological tension either. Just an aesthetically satisfying portrait -- nuthin' wrong with that, sez I.

(I saw a slightly similar painting at the Seattle Art Museum not long ago. It might have been this one from Altanta's High Museum.)

Herter's father was a principal in the Herter Brothers furniture-making / interior decoration concern that served the rich in the late 19th century. So young Albert got launched in a social climate that allowed easy entry in to portaiture for a talented artist. Biographical information on the Web is thin, so I'll pass along what little I know and hope it will be helpful.

Herter had training at the Art Students League and, later, in Paris -- but I don't know under whom. He taught for a while at the Chicago Art Institute but most of his adult life was spent in New York and California. He had a Long Island estate and a home in the Santa Barbara area. Besides portraits, he did mural work on both coasts.

My take is that Herter was a good technician. I haven't seen many examples of his work, but my provisional opinion is that his work isn't as distinctive or interesting as the paintings by Dewing and Thayer.

Here are more examples:

Portrait of Nabeia Gilbert

Landing of Cabrillo at Catalina - Los Angeles Public Library mural

Another mural is in the board room of the National Academy of Sciences; click here and scroll down to see the GIF image.

One more thing. Does the name Herter ring a bell? Probably not, if you're under 60. But it seems that Albert's son Christian went into politics. He was a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts and, under Dwight Eisenhower, served as Secretary of State.



posted by Donald at August 2, 2007


Very interesting stuff! When you said that Herter lived near Santa Barbara I thought he must be the guy who painted "The Landing of Cabrillo" in the SB Co. Courthouse, but that turns out to be the Howard-Pyle-influenced Californian Dan Sayre Groesbeck. He looks like an interesting person. He storyboarded for C. B. DeMille.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 3, 2007 12:42 PM

PS: At first I thought that the implied reference to the better-known Herter was to George Herter, my favorite source of bass plugs and fly-tying kits when I was a kid. But this is just another way of showing one's over-sixty-ness.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 3, 2007 1:27 PM


Thanks for continuing to call our attention to artists of the late 19th-early 20th century who are unjustly neglected by the Art History Control Board because they weren't impressionists or followers of some stick-it-to-the-bourgeois movement.

This Herter chap is new to me. Judging just from the portraits, it appears he was more than a technician, but as you suggest he doesn't bring to his paintings quite the poetry of Dewing's or the other-worldly quality of Thayer's.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 3, 2007 1:34 PM

I knew nothing about these yank daubers. It's been a treat - thanks, Don.

Posted by: dearieme on August 3, 2007 3:04 PM

PPS: According to one source, George Herter was Christian Herter's brother.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 3, 2007 4:53 PM

"Thanks for continuing to call our attention to artists of the late 19th-early 20th century who are unjustly neglected by the Art History Control Board because they weren't impressionists or followers of some stick-it-to-the-bourgeois movement."

That reminds me. Chris White, do you know when the next AHCB meeting is? I'm itching to suppress some more representational painters. Keeps me even.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 3, 2007 5:08 PM

Lester -- Some illustrations I get via Google and they mix other artists in with the target one. I try to be careful about this, but there's always risk of a slip-up. I have a book about Groesbeck and will post a correction later, once I get the chance. Thanks for the heads-up.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 3, 2007 5:13 PM

Donald, I don't think yours is a mistake, necessarily, just a different picture (and, probably, artist). Yours is clearly in a library, mine is in a courtroom. ... You have a whole book about Groesbeck?? Sheesh. Luck-eee!

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 3, 2007 5:25 PM

Lester -- Okay, back from hosting family from California. Groesbeck did do a mural titled "The Landing of Cabrillo" but it's in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The Groesbeck version has a sailing ship immediately behind the landing boat that is still close to the ship. The picture in my book has the boat, ship and men on the boat filling up most of the frame. It's clearly not the same as the one I posted that you correctly note seems to be in a library (that bank of lights at the bottom).

Nevertheless, Using Google Image can be tricky because Google seems to scoop up pictures related to whatever the nearby text has. So one can Google for Van Gogh and a few Gauguin paintings might pop up in the search results because the two were associated with one another for a time.

Let me know if it looks like I've screwed up in future post -- I'm well capable of it.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 3, 2007 10:35 PM

patriarch - The next AHCB meeting takes place in NYC this October. The meeting will (of course) be held at the new MOMA. Ballots for three open slots on the Suppression of Traditional Art (SOTA) Committee should be circulating soon.

Seriously, it is always enjoyable to see images and learn about the activities of another artist no longer (if ever) very well known.

Posted by: Chris White on August 4, 2007 7:56 AM

A few more thoughts...

As my previous comments indicate, my appreciation for modernism and abstraction does not conflict with admiration for artists who choose to work in a more traditional vein.

While I find Andrew Wyeth's son, Jamie, among the better artists in the current field of realist painters who, like Herter and others Donald has been alerting us to, have a strong interest in portraits (of a type), another Andy Wyeth protogee who might also be of interst is Bo Bartlett. He currently has an exhibition at the excellent Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland Maine. He has been friends with and had his work nutured by Andrew and Betsy Wyeth for many years.

For my taste, however, one of the best of this bunch (realist painters who specialize in portraits, not necessarily the Wyeth connected) is Brett Bigbee.Bigbee is well regarded, but I think still under appreciated, in part because his work is exceptionally time consuming with a waiting list for buyers. I once exhibited a Bigbee painting (I could not offer it for sale because it was already pre-sold) that he'd been at for six years and did not consider quite done. It is hard to get the attention when you can't get a large enough body of work in one place for a gallery show.

Posted by: Chris White on August 4, 2007 11:45 AM

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