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  Carl von Hassler. “[Autumn Adobe, Sangre de Cristo],” c. 1950  
Carl von Hassler, Autumn Adobe, Sangre de Cristo

Carl von Hassler. “[Autumn Adobe, Sangre de Cristo],” c. 1950. Oil on artist’s board [Highlite Canvo Board]. Signed by artist at bottom center: Von Hassler. Panel size: 18 x 24". Frame size: 23 1/2 x 29 1/2". Written on verso: “Purchased from artist 1955.”  Gorgeous presentation in a custom hand-made frame in 22K gold leaf (“American Impressionist” style with adzed panel).

A lovely autumn scene of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by the “Dean of the Albuquerque Art Colony,” this original oil painting features the landscape of Trampas, a small Hispanic village on the road to Taos where the artist often painted. Carl von Hassler’s images describe the character of northern New Mexico before the advent of paved roads, and the present work is especially fine for its evocation of the cottonwoods and aspen trees in fall colors. Von Hassler spent more than 20 years developing a new painting technique that caused a stir among his colleagues. He discovered what he called an “atomic substance” upon which he painted and which could withstand great heat. This was important, as he baked the paintings at up to 600 degrees, a process that imparted a ceramic quality to his colors and prevented them from fading. It also made the paintings fire resistant. The technique is evident in the work offered here and accounts for the painting’s softly glowing, enamel-like quality.

Born in Germany of French and Dutch parents, Von Hassler (1887–1969) came to New Mexico by an indirect but fascinating route. He first studied painting at a naval academy in Kiel, where he was free to travel for seven months of the year. He spent these months studying art at the influential Düsseldorf Academy and privately with Europe’s finest artists. He made his first trip to the United States while he was in the navy, often stating that he was inspired to visit America when the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show came to his hometown of Bremen in 1903. Von Hassler vividly recalled his first acquaintance with the American cowboys, Indians, and horses as the show disembarked in the harbor. His interest in the American Southwest never diminished.

In 1909 the artist immigrated to the United States to study in Greenwich Village, where he became a member of the Ash Can School founded by Robert Henri. He fought for the American cause during World War I, and after leaving the service in 1922, he relocated to New Mexico. He worked briefly in Santa Fe and then settled permanently in Albuquerque where he married a Cherokee woman who established a fine artistic reputation in her own right.

Inspired by the work of the Taos artist Ernest L. Blumenschein, Von Hassler’s enthusiasm for New Mexico was infectious and he soon became an important figure in the Albuquerque art colony. His reputation as a landscape painter is based on his realistic scenes of Albuquerque and Santa Fe landmarks, but he painted as well throughout the Southwest and as far west as Northern California. He also executed some significant works of public art in Albuquerque. In 1924, he painted a series of murals for the city’s Franciscan Hotel, a building that has since been demolished. Three years later he completed murals for the famous KiMo Theatre, a landmark movie palace in the Pueblo Deco style.

Von Hassler’s hallmark nonetheless remained his treatment of his beloved New Mexico landscape. Contemporary art critics described him as a master of the natural beauty of the state and one of the rare artists who could capture the simplicity and humility of the area in rich plein-air paintings. He was especially adept at reproducing the vibrant range of colors that transform New Mexico villages during seasonal changes, an excellent example of which is offered in the present painting. These canvases typify his belief that “nature is the greatest of teachers, and to be a truly good artist one has to be a first-rate naturalist.”

Autumn Adobe, Sangre de Cristo exemplifies the artist’s quintessential subject and his unique technique for depicting the glories of the New Mexico landscape.

Refs.: David Clemmer, Serenading the Light: Painters of the Desert Southwest (2003).

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot