Elmer Wachtel (American, 1864-1929)
Monrovia Canyon, n.d.
Oil on canvas 20 in. x 30 in. (50.8 cm x 76.2 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, Melza and Ted Barr Collection2009.18
Elmer Wachtel and his wife, Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, made extended painting trips throughout Southern California, exploring inland valleys, mountains, and the coast. They also painted in the desert Southwest and Mexico. Marion worked most often in watercolor, Elmer in oil. Elmer was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised in Lanark, Illinois. In 1882, he moved to San Gabriel, California. He played violin with the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles, but his habit of drawing and painting brought him into contact with other artists of the region, with whom he helped found the Los Angeles Art Association. Desiring further artistic training, he went to New York and studied briefly with William Merritt Chase. He returned to California and then left for Europe at the turn of the century, enrolling at the Lambeth Art School in London. Once back in Los Angeles, Wachtel began offering art lessons. One of his students was Marion Kavanaugh (she dropped the “u” after her marriage). She had initially studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under John Vanderpoel and in New York City with Chase. She then taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and painted portraits in Milwaukee. She came to California to paint for the Santa Fe Railway and arrived in San Francisco in 1903. Her teacher, William Keith, suggested Wachtel as a possible Southern California teacher. The Wachtels married in 1904, lived many years in Los Angeles, and then moved to the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena in 1921. Although both artists’ early work presented the landscape through subdued, tonal colors, each gradually introduced higher-intensity hues. Marion’s work in particular grew more colorful in the late 1920s when she turned from atmospheric watercolors of oak and eucalyptus trees to oil paintings in pastel shades.1
1. Though most sources date Marion Wachtel’s oil paintings after 1929, when her husband died, Arthur Millier wrote of her “surprise” exhibition of oil paintings in November 1928. Arthur Millier, “Art and Artists,” Los Angeles Times, 11 November 1928.