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Elmer Wachtel (1864-1929)

Elmer Wachtel was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 21, 1864. He and his family moved to Lanark, Illinois, and at a young age, Wachtel worked as a hired hand while teaching himself to play the violin. At 18 he moved to San Gabriel, California, where his brother had married the sister of local artist Guy Rose. There, Wachtel proceeded to manage the large Rose ranch. He continued to play the violin, and in 1888 he became first violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. During this period, his talent in drawing and painting began to emerge, and he became involved with local artists including Gutzon Borglum and J. Bond Francisco. In 1900, Wachtel studied at the Art Students League in New York under William M. Chase for one year. During his stay, he also exhibited at the New York Watercolor Society. He then left for London to study at the Lambeth Art School, while associating with California artist Gutzon Borglum, and English illustrators Fred and Tom Wilkinson.

After returning to California, he lived in Los Angeles where he continued to paint in his leisure time, while supplementing his income as a professional violinist. By 1903 Wachtel had established himself as an accomplished landscape artist, and William Keith sent him one of his pupils, Marion Kavanaugh, whom Wachtel would marry in 1904. Their early married life was spent in the studio on Sichel Street where the couple worked in the midst of local painters like Granville Redmond and Norman St. Clair. Later, the Wachtels sold the Sichel Street studio and moved into a studio-home on Mount Washington. They eventually made their final home in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco.

The Wachtels traveled around Southern California in a specially built motor car designed to accommodate their artistic needs. In 1908 the Wachtels traveled to Arizona and New Mexico working on Hopi and Navajo reservations. They continued painting and exhibiting together until his sudden death on August 21, 1929, while on a sketching trip in Guadalajara, Mexico. Wachtel’s early works were landscapes done in moody, dark tones similar to the Tonalist aesthetic common of San Francisco painters; whereas his later palette lightened, and his works became more decorative. He is today considered one of Southern California’s most important painters.

Member: Los Angeles Art Association (co-founder); Ten Painters of California.

Exhibited: California MidWinter International Exposition, 1894; San Francisco Art Association, 1902, 1906; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washinton, D.C., 1906; Piedmont Art Gallery, Oakland, 1907; Del Monte Art Gallery, Monterey, 1907-1909; Blanchard Gallery, Los Angeles, 1907-1909; Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, 1915 (solo), 1918; Battery Gallery, Los Angeles, 1915; California Liberty Fair, 1918; Kanst Art Gallery (Memorial Exhibition), 1930.

Works Held: Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach; Irvine Museum; Fleischer Museum, Arizona; Laguna Art Museum.

Artists in California: 1786-1940, Edan Hughes
All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionist Paintings from the Irvine Museum, Irvine Museum

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