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American Scalp Level, Hudson River School Painter
This biography was submitted by Roughton Galleries,Inc
George Hetzel was born in Alsace, France (near Strasbourg) in 1826 and died in Pittsburg in 1906. The Hetzels moved to Pittsburgh when George was only two years old. They were forced to leave Germany in 1849 because of the same political climate that drove Severin Rosen and others to the United States for asylum.
As a boy, he was apprenticed to a house and sign painter, later gaining experience as a muralist for riverboats, cafes and a penitentiary. With the money he earned from interior decorating (murals), Hetzel went to Germany in 1847 to study for two years at the Dusseldorf Academy with Carl Sohn and Rudolph Wiegman. He was one of the few to study in Dusseldorf and to fully absorb the earth toned palette and penchant for realism characterized by the German school. Hetzel would also study still life painting while in Dusseldorf perhaps under, Johann Preyer.
When Hetzel returned to the United States in 1850, his works were of very precise, representational portraits with smooth, even strokes, following the current Dusseldorf style. Sometime between 1863 Hetzel joined a group of Pittsburgh painters at the mountain retreat called Scalp Level and began to paint very precise landscapes, bucolic scenes of pleasant beauty.
Considered the founder of the Scalp Level School, Hetzel became a major figure in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania. . Not only was he influential, he had a statewide presence and exhibited nationally on occasion.
One of Hetzel's greatest contributions was that of teacher at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women. The curriculum at the School of Design was intended to prepare women to be design professionals rather than practicing artists or teachers. The course work included such offerings as "Elementary Drawing," for which still lifes may have been the subjects.
Hetzel's interest in still life painting was strong and continued throughout his career. His favorite format was a tabletop arrangement of fruit against a dramatically darkened background. Hetzel's compositions sometimes lacked originality once he found a format which was pleasing. This was also typical of other American and expatriate artists of the genre including Severin Roesen who, although brilliant technically, were rather formulaic in their compositional approach.
Hetzel's still life paintings strongly resemble those of Johann Preyer and the German school. However, Hetzel, his colleagues and his followers periodically included watermelons in their paintings, which is considered an American fruit and would not have appeared in Dutch or German pictures. The large, dark green form of the watermelon usually looms above the smaller, more colorful fruits in the foreground creating a dramatic contrast in color and light. This format was a favorite of Hetzel's.
It is said that his first important sale was of a still life painting to Mary Todd Lincoln although the painting is lost and there is only oral tradition to substantiate this story.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, he continued to rely on realistic detail to convey texture and reflected light. In the1870’s, Hetzel began to use his brush more freely. He was also very popular as a portraitist, noted for his sensitivity. All of his work possesses a quality of benevolent quiet and pensiveness.
Hetzel exhibited at the National Academy in New York from 1865 to 1882 and at the Pennsylvania Academy until 1891. He exhibited both still lifes and landscapes at the Pittsburgh Art Association starting in 1859. From 1870 to 1871, three out of the seven paintings Hetzel submitted were still lifes. From 1857 until 1882, Hetzel exhibited eight times at the National Academy of Design in New York with one or two entries per year in 1857, 1858, 1865, 1875, and 1879-82. His sole entries in 1865 and 1875 were still lifes.
Hetzel exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and he was the only Pittsburgh artist represented at the 1876 Centennial exposition held in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wilstach Collection
American Art Analog, vol.1
Dictionary of American Artists, Sculptors and Engravers,
Young Exhibition of the National Academy 1861-1900, vol.1
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Realistic painter George Hetzel is considered one of Pennsylvania's most significant landscape, portrait, and still-life painters of the nineteenth century.
He was born in Hangviller, a small village in the province of Alsace, France, in 1826. Hetzels father decided that America offered unparalleled opportunities for a better life, however, and when George was two years of age, his family left Hangviller for the New World. Their travels took them from the port of Baltimore to their final destination, a small farm in Allegheny City, now the North Side of Pittsburgh. Hetzel attended public school in Allegheny City and was later apprenticed to a house and sign painter. Approximately four years later he was accepted as an apprentice by a local artisan for whom he decorated cabins and public rooms on riverboats and painted murals in a number of Pittsburgh saloons.
Hetzel's father realized that his son possessed an outstanding artistic talent. He decided George should further his studies at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in Germany, which was one of the foremost art schools in Europe at that time. Hetzel departed Pittsburgh in late 1847, and for the next two years devoted himself to the study of portraiture, landscape and still-life painting. He received instruction in anatomy and the fundamentals of draftsmanship, sketched from plaster casts and, later, live models.
The instructional model employed by European art schools typically included students copying of the works of acknowledged masters, which allowed them to study various techniques and subsequently formulate their own style. Hetzel also became a member of the Masterclass (die Meisterklasse), wherein an advanced student was permitted to work on an independent project under the close supervision of his professor. He received extensive instruction in the use of chiaroscuro, which utilizes light and dark in the massing of form and the achievement of dramatic effect. His early paintings reflect a strong grasp of this technique as well as the type of realism for which the Academy was renowned. Hetzel returned to Pittsburgh in 1849 when growing political unrest in Europe ended his formal training.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Hetzel continued to rely on realistic detail to convey texture and reflected light, and in the mid-1850's showed the influence of Asher B. Durand, the American landscape painter and an influential member of the Hudson River School. Hetzel began to incorporate into his work both Durand's technique and his spiritual perspective, which averred that mankind's spiritual nature must be reflected in an artist's representation of the natural world.
In the 1870s Hetzel came under the influence of the Barbizon School, which, in turn, would herald the coming of Impressionism. His style grew toward a tonalist aesthetic by the end of the century and evolved from a tightly painted, detailed technique generally associated with the Hudson River School to a freer brush and more painterly style generally associated with the Barbizon School.
George Hetzel was instrumental in the formation of the Scalp Level School of painting. Scalp Level is an area near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where Paint Creek and Little Paint Creek converge. Hetzel was so taken with the beauty of the woodlands he witnessed there while on a fishing trip in 1866 that he convinced his colleagues, with whom he taught at the Pittsburgh School of Design, to accompany him on a painting jaunt the following summer. Groups of artists and students returned to the area with Hetzel more or less regularly; thus was born the Scalp Level School.
Today the overlook off PA Route 56 frames a distinctive landscape: a drift mine, a coal town, and a pile of coal refuse, -legacies of the industrial 20th Century. A current visitor to the Mine 40 Overlook might be amazed to learn that this valley, once-pristine, inspired an entire genre of American art 150 years ago. Traveling by train and then horse and carriage, the artists would come to Scalp Level and set up outdoor studios in the wooded hills and along the banks of Paint Creek. There they would record for posterity what they saw.
Hetzel, along with brothers William Coventry Wall and Alfred S. Wall, were part of the first generation of landscape artists who strove to faithfully render the images and colors there. In 1905, however, the Berwind-White Coal Company moved into the region and opened Eureka Mine 40 at Scalp Level. The mine would become one of the coal company's biggest producers, and while that was good for the economy, it was bad for the Scalp Level group. The green paradise became blackened by mining, and stands of trees were gradually replaced by rows of company houses.
From his studio in Pittsburgh, Hetzel continued to paint highly detailed, realistic views of nature, moving increasingly in the latter part of his career towards impressionistic concerns with light. A hint of Impressionism can be detected in some of his very late works, but Hetzel never abandoned the realism with which he and his art are linked. He was also very popular as a portraitist, and was noted for his sensitivity. All of his work possesses a quality of benevolent quiet and pensiveness.
Hetzel exhibited at the National Academy in New York from 1965 to 1882 and at the Pennsylvania Academy until 1891. He was the only Pittsburgh artist represented at the 1876 Centennial exposition held in Philadelphia. Hetzel was also a teacher at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women.
Masterworks of George Hetzel: A Centennial Exhibition, was shown at
the Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
George Hetzel died in Pittsburg in 1906.
Born in France near Strasbourg, he became a leading Western Pennsylvania still life, portrait, and landscape artist in the late 19th century. He became the founder of a colony of plein-air painters who worked in a retreat at Scalp Level, near Johnstown. These artists created dark, intimate landscapes, and patterned their painting after the Barbizon Colony in France, emphasizing the local landscape and people as subjects as well as the conveying of a sense of atmosphere, deep shadows, textures and reflected light.
He moved to Pittsburgh with his parents as a child and returned to Europe between 1847 and 1849 to study at Dusseldorf Academy in Germany with Carl Sohn and Rudolph Wiegman. From them, he learned strong technique, detailed drawing, and a precisely realistic style especially evident in his numerous fruit still lifes.
In 1876, he was one of three Pittsburgh artists represented in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and also participated in the first International Exhibition at The Carnegie Institute in 1896 where a major retrospective of his work was held in 1909. His work is in the collections of the Mellon Family Foundation and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
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