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Armin Hansen: The Artful Voyage

January 25 - May 31, 2015


The Pasadena Museum of California Art is presenting Armin Hansen: The Artful Voyage, a survey of artist Armin Hansen (1886-1957), whose renowned paintings captured the raw power and vitality of the Pacific Ocean and those who sailed it. While his style is often described as impressionist, Hansen rejected Impressionism's gentility, instead exercising a bolder palette and more rugged brushstrokes that depict humanity's relationship with nature. This exhibition, on display at PMCA January 25 through May 31, 2015, is the largest and most comprehensive ever assembled, featuring 100 works, including paintings displayed publicly for the first time, as well as rare examples of his hand-carved furniture and boat models. (left: Armin Hansen on a Monterey beach, n.d. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of California Views Photo Archive. Image protected by copyright and courtesy Pomegranate Communications, Inc.)

Born in San Francisco, Hansen pursued formal training as a painter in his hometown. In late 1906, with San Francisco largely destroyed by earthquake and fire, Hansen went to Europe, studying at the Royal Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. He then spent four years in Niewpoort, Belgium, where he painted marines, village views, and fishing scenes, all the while working as a crewmember on North Sea trawlers. This early experience sparked his lifelong fascination with the sea and its people.

Hansen first visited Monterey in 1913 -- where he went on to spend the majority of his career -- and soon began painting the area's growing fishing community and fleet. In addition to being one of the American West's foremost painters, he was also an accomplished etcher, a revered teacher, and a National Academician. In the West, he became the first artist to maximize the aesthetic potential of commercial fishing, his vibrant, blustery scenes depicting physical hardship while paying tribute to the bravery of the workers. Using broad masses of color in bold and dynamic compositions, he eliminated superfluous detail, creating narratives of humanity and the sea and proving, at heart, that he was a storyteller.

Armin Hansen: The Artful Voyage was organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art and curated by Scott A. Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It will travel to the Crocker Art Museum from June 28 - October 11, 2015 and then to the Monterey Museum of Art from October 29, 2015 to March 7, 2016. The exhibition is accompanied by a 280­page catalogue, published by Pomegranate Communications.


Introductory wall panel text for the exhibition


Although Armin Hansen (1886-1957) painted lush still lifes, spirited rodeo scenes, and loosely rendered landscapes, his signature subjects were fisherfolk and the sea. Within these paintings, he sought to capture the raw power and vitality of the Pacific and those who sailed it, rather than the beauty of the ocean's light and color for its own sake. Often described as Impressionist, Hansen's work departed from the calm beauty that characterized the style, even though he used bold colors and, at times, broken brushstrokes. For the most part, Hansen rejected Impressionism's gentility to focus on humanity's relationship with nature. He did so with broad masses of color, dynamic compositions, and the elimination of superfluous detail.

A San Francisco native, Hansen began his art studies under his father, Herman Wendelborg Hansen, a painter of frontier life. He then pursued formal training with Arthur Mathews at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco. In the fall of 1906, he went to Europe and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (today Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste) in Stuttgart under Carlos Grethe, a painter of maritime scenes. From there, he traveled to Nieuwpoort, Belgium, spending the next four years painting marines, villages, and fishing scenes while also working as a crew member on North Sea trawlers.

Hansen made his first appearance in Monterey in 1913, and it was not long before he started painting the Peninsula's growing fishing community and fleet. In the West, he became the first to exploit the aesthetic potential of commercial fishing, and he chose the theme in large part because he knew it well from firsthand experience. He worked in oil, on the etching plate, and in watercolor, graphite, and pastel. Though his scenes, characters, and activities were specific to the Monterey Bay region, they also broadly convey universal themes of physical labor, hardship, danger, bravery, and loss.

This exhibition is organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art and curated by Scott A. Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It will travel to the Crocker Art Museum from June 28 - October 11, 2015 and then to the Monterey Museum of Art from October 29, 2015 to March 7, 2016.

Funding for the exhibition has been provided by Presenting Sponsors Christine and Reed Halladay, Saundra and Lee Minshull, and Donna and Mark Salzberg. Underwriting Support provided by Simon Chiu, Kelvin Davis, Jeff Dutra, and Barbara Alexander and Thomas Stiles, II. Additional support provided by Bagley Family Trust, Yvonne Boseker, John and Patty Dilks, Whitney Ganz, Karyl Hansen and David Earl Larson, Jim Parks, Gerard Vuilleumier, Bonhams Auctioneers, George Stern Fine Arts, Heritage Auctions, Historical Collections Council of California Art, John Moran Auctioneers, Josh Hardy Galleries, and Paula and Terry Trotter, Trotter Galleries.

Media sponsor: American Fine Art Magazine


Other wall panel texts for the exhibition


The Finest Autograph: Hansen's Etchings

For Hansen, etchings were secondary in importance to paintings, though they were nevertheless a sig?nificant part of his oeuvre. His prints offer a glimpse into his methods and ideas, with an immediacy that can be read in every line. "An etching or drypoint is the finest autograph," Hansen wrote. "It contains a complete visible expression, in the simplest form, of what an artist thinks -- and feels, and when carried out in its entirety can bear the signature of the man who did the plate."

By his own account, Hansen published "152 plates; 75 etchings and 77 drypoints?almost equally divided." He also made two lithographs. Though these numbers are substantial, and Hansen's influence on etching in the American West was significant, he always considered himself a painter first. "I am a Painter Etcher," he wrote; "first a Painter -- which naturally gives me a somewhat different viewpoint from that obtained by the Etcher Painter." His paintings and prints reinforced one another. Many prints were closely related to, or stemmed directly from, his oils on canvas. In some cases, the etch?ings may have come first. A few even shared the same titles.

Though in California Hansen was most recognized as a painter, on a national level he was best known through etchings and drypoints. "Hansen does not regard himself as an etcher," wrote Thelma B. Miller in the Carmel Pine Cone, "but because of the fact that etchings are easy to transport and less expensive, he is known through this medium to thousands who have never had the opportunity to see his paintings."


A "Solid Foundation" Abroad

In late 1906, with San Francisco largely destroyed by the earthquake and fire, Hansen traveled to Germany at his father's behest to study in the ateliers and art galleries of Munich and Nuremberg. It was there that the elder Hansen thought his nineteen-year-old son would secure a "solid foundation" and gain technical proficiency over his craft.

Shortly after his arrival in Nuremberg, Hansen came upon a painting by Carlos Grethe, an artist known for dramatic maritime scenes. The young artist was so impressed by the work that he sought instruction with Grethe at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (today Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste) in Stuttgart. Said Hansen of that pivotal picture, "I liked that canvas. I wanted to study with the man who painted it. . . . It changed the course of my entire career." Once at the school, Hansen entered a figure-drawing class, where he drew for six months but longed to paint. "I used to curse [drawing] and they certainly made me work, but they were bent on my getting the solid foundation that I had come for," he remembered.

After two years of study with Grethe, Hansen left for Munich, Paris, and then Nieuwpoort, on the Belgian coast. Based in Nieuwpoort, he immersed himself in maritime culture and spent four years as a crew member on a North Sea trawler. In off-hours, he painted seascapes and fisherfolk. When he returned to San Francisco in 1912, he brought with him about one hundred freshly painted canvases.


Depression Offerings: Rodeos and Still Lifes

Hansen had done well in the 1920s when demand for his work was high, but this changed dramatically in the fall of 1929, when his stock-market investments were decimated by the crash. In late November, he wrote to his Los Angeles dealer Earl Stendahl, "When last I wrote you . . . I was just about broke -- now I am."

In an effort to survive the difficult 1930s, Hansen exhibited as much as he could, took on as many commissions as he was offered (for both portraits and murals), and painted "everything, anything" to make ends meet. Los Angeles reviewer Arthur Millier noted the broadened array of his work, writing that "Hansen comes ashore, too, and paints or etches a rodeo or the hills back from Monterey. And he has gentle moments when he paints delicate still lifes of glass and tableware."

Hansen had painted rodeo subjects before. He produced his first rodeo scenes in 1913, after a friend took him to a rodeo in Salinas. In 1930, he reintroduced the subject in a Los Angeles exhibition, which stood out among his marines and led a reviewer to declare that Hansen had "gone western."

Hansen had also painted still lifes early on, producing several of them in the early 1910s while living abroad. Though his still-life production would dwindle in the 1920s, he would return to the genre in greater earnest during the Depression. With style and subject matter in balance, these still lifes have a delicacy of touch that most of his marines do not.


Under Zuloaga's Spell

By the late 1910s, Hansen was widely recognized as a painter specializing in humanity's relationship with the sea. But the artist had another important aesthetic leap to make, and this occurred following his encounter with the work of Spanish artist Ignacio Zuloaga. Zuloaga was the subject of a celebrated, multi-city exhibition that traveled the United States, which after a year on the road made its second-to-last stop at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts in 1918.

Hansen was greatly impressed by Zuloaga's work and, in his zeal to set down what he had learned from Zuloaga's paintings, he worked feverishly throughout 1918 and 1919, even going so far as to decline an opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts. It was a bold decision, but it changed the course of his career.

In February 1920, Hansen revealed the results of nearly two years of labor in his exhibition Paintings, Etchings, Drawings by Armin Hansen at the Print Rooms in San Francisco. With thirty-three paintings (many of them grandly scaled), twenty-eight drawings, and ten etchings, the display was the artist's most significant to date. Zuloaga's influence was overtly apparent not only in the size of Hansen's paintings, but in the breadth of their handling, the richness of their color, and the boldness of their compositions. The results were a giant leap forward and met with an enthusiasm that not even Hansen could have predicted.



Often overlooked in his oeuvre, murals first appeared in Hansen's work in Belgium, when the young artist produced a Moby-Dick mural for the captain of the Martha, a cross-channel trader that shipped out of Oostende. Over a decade later, in 1921, Hansen fulfilled a commission for two murals for the dining saloon of the U.S. Shipping Board steamer Golden State. In 1926, he rendered a maritime scene in the Grill Room of Monterey's Hotel Del Monte.

It was during the Depression, however, that Hansen (like other artists of the era) accepted the most mural commissions. In the summer of 1935, in collaboration with artist Paul Whitman, he created murals for The Tap Room of the Del Monte. This new project was larger than the Grill Room Commission and a greater departure, in that the murals were humorous and contained broad areas of abstraction. Though Hansen and Whitman completed the initial mural cycle that summer, they added to the series two years later.

In the fall of 1936, under the auspices of the WPA's Federal Art Project, Hansen composed a lunette mural for the new library of Sunset School in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Titled The Tree of Life (also The Span of Life), this mural allegorized a child's journey to adulthood via a verdant landscape with colorful figures and animals. Because the composition needed to encapsulate many ideas, Hansen worked out his thoughts in at least two full-color studies before beginning the final painting.

In the fall of 1938, Hansen accepted another mural commission for six panels destined for the Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco's Treasure Island. The panels depicting ships in monochrome were appro?priately hung over entrances into the Court of the Seven Seas.


(above: Armin Hansen, Cowboy Sport, n.d. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches. Monterey Museum of Art. Gift of Jane and Justin Dart, 1992.067. Image protected by copyright and courtesy Pomegranate Communications, Inc.)


(above: Armin Hansen, Men of the Sea, 1920. Oil on canvas, 513/8 x 57 inches. Monterey Museum of Art. Gift of Jane and Justin Dart, 1991.202. Image protected by copyright and courtesy Pomegranate Communications, Inc.)


(above: Armin Hansen, Kitty and the Blue Wagon (later The Farmhouse), c. 1915. Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. The Irvine Museum, Irvine, California. Image protected by copyright and courtesy Pomegranate Communications, Inc.)

To view additional images of objects in the exhibition please click here.

Resource Library editor's notes

For a definition of wall panels, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists. Also see Armin C. Hansen from Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, vol. one, East Bay Heritage Project, Oakland, 2012 by Robert W. Edwards.

Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Pasadena Museum of California Art in Resource Library.

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