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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Carl Krafft

Carl Rudolph Krafft was an important American painter throughout the early 20th century. He belonged to a group of artists called the Ozark Painters, whose work focused on the Ozark Mountains. Born August 23, 1884 in Reading, Ohio, the son of a traveling Lutheran pastor, his family moved and settled on the south side of Chicago in 1890. He remained in the Chicago area for the rest of his life; moving in 1926 to Oak Park, a western suburb that was the center of much Prairie architecture and the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. He was a popular and influential painter up to his death on October 18, 1938.

Despite being scolded by his teachers for drawing in his textbooks, Krafft was encouraged to pursue art from a young age. However, religion was a significant part of his upbringing and he initially began studies in the seminary before taking nightly art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was not only an incredible artist, but a talented organist and considered studying music also. Krafft was not the first of his family to take an interest in the arts. His ancestor, Adam Krafft (c.1460 – 1509), was a master sculptor in Germany whose self-portrait is pictured to the left. He is featured below the sacramental shrine to Saint Lorenz in Saint Lorenz Church in Nuemburg, Germany.

It wasn’t until Krafft visited relatives in Missouri that he became enamored with the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A lifelong love for painting the region ensued. He traveled annually to the mountains
to paint the transition from fall to winter, capturing the beautiful colors of the changing seasons. The painting pictured below is owned by Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, just a few short blocks from the Oak Park Art League, which he founded in 1921.

After the stock market crashed in 1929, copies and fakes of Krafft’s original paintings were being circulated. To combat the forgery of his signature and the sale of these paintings under his name, he began marking his paintings with his thumbprint, along with his signature. Below are two images of Krafft’s earlier work. Although his use of rich color mirrors his later pieces, his signature lacks a thumbprint, indicating that they are indeed earlier paintings.

Krafft enjoyed painting the transition between winter and fall in Ozarks. The cool, blue palette of the distant snow topped mountains showcases this lovely transition and captures the peaceful mood of the scene. The use of the color yellow highlights the tranquility of early morning in the wilderness. In contrast to that painting, the one to the right depicts an earlier fall landscape and features vibrant, autumn hues, creating a sense of warmth and comfort. Krafft’s colorful palette compliments his adaptation of the seasons, both of which were painted in the same area.

Krafft’s talent in the arts would prove to be a secure source of living. As the demand for artists rose, he left his job as a commercial designer to focus solely on his artwork. Throughout his career as a painter he also turned to teaching, and was the founder and president of many art leagues and schools including The Municipal Art League, the Society of Painters of the Forest Preserve, the Society of Ozark Painters, and the Oak Park Art League, which is still active today. He also had the honor of exhibiting his works nationally at such venues as The Art Institute of Chicago, the St. Louis Museum, The John Herron Museum in Indianapolis, the National Academy of Design, Grand Central Art Galleries, and at the Allied Artists of America where he was awarded a gold medal in 1926.

Today, Krafft’s work is still displayed in museums and private collections across the country. His works not only represent the beauty of the Ozark Mountains, but also the group of regionalist painters who devoted their energies to capturing the beauty and quiet spirit of the American Midwest landscape.

Works Cited

Written and researched by Rachel Swain.

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