17. Carl von Hassler (1887–1969). (Untitled) Aspens, 1940.
Oil on board. 14 x 22" by sight. Signed, l.r. Period wood frame with grey painted highlights: 18 x 26." Inscribed on verso: “7-17-40.” Fine.
In this beautiful autumnal scene of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by the “Dean of the Albuquerque Art Colony,” Carl Von Hassler contrasts glowing autumn foliage with a moody atmosphere that envelops the distant mountains. The artist has chosen a perspective that invites the viewer to enter the scene. The art critics of the period described him as a master of the natural beauty of New Mexico and one of the rare artists who could capture the simplicity and humility of the area in rich plein air paintings. He was especially interested in conveying the vibrant range of colors that transform New Mexico during seasonal changes, an excellent example of which is offered in the present painting. He is quoted as saying, “Nature is a great teacher. To be a truly good artist, one has to be first a naturalist. Each area presents its own background and feeling. Arizona is quite different from New Mexico. Our state is very different from Colorado — and so it goes. Unless you get the feel of a place, your painting will lack strength and beauty.”
Born in Germany of French and Dutch parents, Von Hassler came to New Mexico through a fascinating journey. He first studied painting at a naval academy in Kiel, where he was free to travel for seven months of the year, and so spent these months studying art at the influential Düsseldorf Academy and privately with some of Europe’s finest artists. While still in the navy, he made his first trip to the United States. He often stated that he had been inspired to visit America in 1903 when the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show came to his hometown of Bremen, vividly recalling 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 Von Hassler immigrated to the United States and lived in Greenwich Village, where he became a member of the Ashcan School. He served in the United Stated army during World War I, after which he relocated to New Mexico in 1922 and worked briefly in Santa Fe before settling in Albuquerque. 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. While his reputation as a landscape painter is based on his images of New Mexico, he painted throughout the Southwest and as far west as Northern California. He created a number of significant works of public art in Albuquerque, including murals at the Albuquerque Airport, Fred Harvey’s Alvorado Hotel, the Franciscan Hotel, the Bank of New Mexico, and the First National Bank. In 1927, he completed murals for the famous KiMo Theatre, a landmark movie palace in the Pueblo Deco style. There, his work depicting the Seven Cities of Cibola, can still be seen today.
The artist 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. The technique is evident in the work offered here and accounts for the painting’s softly glowing, enamel-like quality. “Aspens” exemplifies the artist’s quintessential subject and his unique technique for depicting the glories of the New Mexico landscape.
Ref: David Clemmer, Serenading the Light: Painters of the Desert Southwest (2003).