top of page

Marion Kavanagh Wachtel (1876-1954)

Marion Kavanaugh was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 10, 1876 into an artistic family. Early in her life she studied with her mother, a leading Milwaukee painter and teacher, then later with Henry Spread in Chicago until his death in 1890. Afterward, she spent years at the Art Institute of Chicago, gaining a reputation as a successful and talented portrait painter. She also was a pupil of Richard Lorenz in Milwaukee and William M. Chase in New York.

Kavanaugh taught at the Art Institute of Chicago for several years while pursuing her career as a portrait painter and also creating landscape sketches and paintings. A scene in the mountains of North Carolina was seen by a Santa Fe Railway vice president, who offered her free passage to California in exchange for future paintings of western scenes. Upon arriving in California in 1903, she became a pupil of William Keith.  Keith encouraged her to meet artist Elmer Wachtel during her visit to Southern California. A romance developed, and she married Wachtel in 1904 (whereupon she dropped the "u"from "Kavanaugh"). The couple eventually settled in Los Angeles and made their permanent home in Pasadena in 1922.

During the twenty-five years with her artist husband she traveled to remote areas in search of subject matter. Influenced by the scenery, she became primarily a landscape watercolorist, although she featured figures in many of her views of Mexico and the Southwest. After her husband’s death in 1929, she was inactive for a time, but by the early 1930’s she was painting and exhibiting again, working mainly in oil.

In the 1920's, Wachtel was involved in the formation of the Pasadena Society of Painters and the California Watercolor Society. She was an elected member of the New York Watercolor Society in 1922. Her works were shown individually and jointly with her husband in various galleries and were often exhibited at the Cannel and Chaffin galleries from 1921-1926. Regular exhibitions with both the California and New York watercolor societies made her paintings popular on both coasts. Wachtel passed away in her Pasadena home on May 22, 1954.

Member: Academy of Western Painters, Los Angeles; California Watercolor Society; Friday Morning Club, Los Angeles; New York Watercolor Society; Pasadena Society of Painters; Ten Painters of Los Angeles.

Exhibited: Del Monte Art Gallery, Monterey, California,1907-09; Anderson Galleries, Chicago, Illinois, 1907; Steckel Galleries, Los Angeles, 1908, 1912; Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, 1915, 1917 (solos); Milwaukee Art Institute, Wisconsin, 1917; Leonard’s, Los Angeles, 1923; Biltmore Gallery, Los Angeles, 1925; Pasadena Society of Painters, 1925; Kanst Gallery, Los Angeles, 1928; Stanford University, 1935, 1936; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1936; City Art Museum, St. Louis, MI; Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, IN; Detroit Museum of Art, Michigan; Art Institute of Chicago; Arizona State Fair, Phoenix; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; Brooklyn Art Museum, New York.

Works held: California State Building, Los Angeles; Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa; Fremont High School, Los Angeles; Friday Morning Club, Los Angeles; Gardena High School; Irvine Museum; Laguna Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach; Woman’s Club, Hollywood; Santa Fe Railway Company, Chicago; Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Ganado, AZ; Syracuse University, NY; John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago.

Artists in California: 1786-1940,
Edan Hughes

All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionist Paintings from the Irvine Museum, Irvine Museum
Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960, Maureen St. Gaudens

bottom of page