Theophile Schneider (1872-1955), German - American
The Old Stone Wall, probably 1920s
oil on canvas, 12 in. x 16 in.
(framed dimensions: 17 in. x 21 in.)
Signed lower right: “Theo. Schneider”
An exceedingly well executed and charming landscape clearly painted by a mature artist who was confident with his brushes and oil paints. The scene, perhaps in rural Connecticut or New York state, is a field bisected by an old stone wall, depicted in either spring or summer. The painting is imbued with gentle, warm sunlight that has been filtered by the canopy of leaves above. The wall, likely built by farmers clearing fields long ago, has solidity and substance, despite its state of disrepair. It does not sit on top of the landscape but rather has melded into and become part of it. The heavy stones anchor the composition, which is well balanced by the two trees at the far right. The paint surface itself is quite pleasing to view; the entire painting is rendered with fluid brushwork, painted wet-on-wet, with whorls and swirls of a wide array of greens and golds as well as soft blues and pinks. The built-up areas of impasto on the wall give it a sculptural quality. When the viewer steps back from the painting, this all coalesces to give a very convincing and realistic impression of this quiet and gentle scene.
Theophile Schneider was born in 1872 in Freiburg in the southwestern corner of Germany. He immigrated with his father to the United States in 1882 at the age of 10. Starting in at school and always sketching in his spare moments, he learned the fundamentals of painting in evening high school in Manhattan. Schneider’s father died six years later and instead of going to college the young man by necessity became apprenticed to the fur trade, working by day and studying art at night.
When he was 20, he married Julia Falk, a native New Yorker and they had two children, Ethel (later Ethel Katz, also an artist) and Theophile, Jr. who died at the age of twelve. After getting married, the couple moved to Boston where he entered the fur business.
Theophile began to paint in earnest in 1900 at the age of twenty-eight. He studied at times with the artists Homer Boss, Hans Hofmann, Charles Webster Hawthorne and George Loftus Noyes but he always considered himself primarily self-taught. Despite being a full-time businessman and executive, he would continue to paint whenever he could for the rest of his life, with a fairly prolific output of work. As Schneider himself would summarize: “I paint because I want to and I work to make a living. There is nothing unusual in that.”
By 1915, Schneider was exhibiting at The Boston Art Club alongside such painters as George Loftus Noyes, John J. Enneking, Melbourne Hardwick, Louis Kronberg and William Kaula. Having been exposed to the older Enneking’s fluid brushwork (Enneking would die the next yearin 1916), one cannot help but see a comparison in Schneider’s handling of paint in the painting offered for sale here. The Boston Globe art critic at that time noted that it was curious that one of the men whose paintings attracted attention due to their excellence was Theophile Schneider - who was not in a strict sense a professional painter but a furrier. The critic stated that “Mr. Schneider’s ‘The Reef’ is easily among the foremost of the shore pictures in the exhibition. It is beautiful in color and is handled in a powerful manner.”
In his concurrent professional line of work, Schneider ascended from vice president to president of the Lamson & Hubbard Company of Boston, which originally had been primarily a fur store but grew by 1930 into an upscale department store. In 1916, Lamson & Hubbard acquired the Brooklyn furriers Balch, Price & Company which would continue to operate under that name.
About 1919, the Schneiders moved to Brooklyn where Theo kept his title as company president. While president of Balch, Price & Company in Brooklyn, Schneider maintained an elaborate art studio on the top floor of the store at 380 Fulton Street. It was his private studio-retreat where he could escape to paint. Schneider could also play violin (he owned a Stradivarius) and was a collector of Oriental furniture and objects d’art that he displayed in his Fulton Street penthouse studio.
In March 1923, Schneider had a solo exhibition of about fifty of his paintings at the Boston Art Club. Again, the reviewer for the Boston Globe marveled that a successful businessman could find the time and energy to create such fine landscapes. While Schneider’s coastal scenes were always strong, the critic pointed out that “he is also sensitive to the pastoral, colorful inshore landscapes in which trees, fields and an undulating topography give a definite beauty of line and composition to the scene. He sees his pictures in a broad, simple way and in vivid color contrasts.”
At the Boston Art Club’s exhibit, the following March 1924, Schneider won first prize for the best group of small paintings - amidst competition from other artists including Frederick Mulhaupt, Hermann Dudley Murphy, Joseph Eliot Enneking and Stanley Woodward.
One art critic (St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 1938) said that Schneider’s “landscapes seem to me best in their unforced employment of natural patterns such as the rolling countryside or the lines of houses and bridge supports.”
A painting he must have favored was titled “Spring” which he exhibited three times: at the Provincetown Art Association in 1919, at the Society of Independent Artists in New York City in 1920, and at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1928.
In December 1927, Schneider exhibited 55 paintings in a joint show with another part-time painter and businessman, Charles M. Cox, held at the Copley Gallery in Boston. The show was a critical success and the Globe critic again marveled at Schneider’s talent, describing his painting “Surge” as powerful and irresistible. Also, “There are a number of small pictures by Mr. Schneider – Winter Scenes, Autumn Scenes, Spring and Summer landscapes, all colorful, all charged with the same fine imagination.”
In 1928, the Boston Business Men’s Art Club in held their inaugural exhibition at the Boston Art Club. It was said that the pictures submitted by the group’s president, Theophile Schneider, “would be accepted in any gallery in the land.”
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Schneider regularly exhibited his paintings in Boston, and they were routinely met with critical acclaim. Typical is the description of his “Gray Seas” in 1927 by the Boston Globe critic: “… a majesty and calm about the painting that is instantly attractive – just as much as the wonderfully indicated movement in the swirling surge among the rocks … This is a picture where the actual rush of the water seems to be felt …”
In 1934 Schneider had a one man show at the Roerich Museum in Manhattan, exhibiting 189 oils and watercolors. The artist was proficient in both mediums.
While living in both Boston (the family lived in Dedham, Mass. For a time) and Brooklyn, Schneider made many trips up the New England coast enjoying summers on Monhegan Island, Maine with his fellow artists. He maintained a studio in an old fish house on the island. He once said, “I’d rather be there at Monhegan than any place in the world.” Schneider and his wife were known also to take painting vacations when time allowed to Bermuda, Vermont, Connecticut, and Woodstock, New York.
Later in his career, Schneider seems to have been influenced by his daughter Ethel, who was painting in a modernistic style. In an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1937, he said that while he had been trying to get modernism into his work, “it’s pretty hard for an old man to learn a new technique of painting … I’m just an old man trying to keep step with the younger regiment.”
Schneider and his daughter would have a father-daughter show at the Roerich Museum in Manhattan in February – March 1938, an unprecedented occurrence in Eastern art circles at that time.
Schneider died In Brooklyn on August 24, 1955 at the age of 83.
Member: Boston Art Club (vice president 6 years), Salmagundi Club, Brooklyn Society of Artists, Provincetown Art Association, Boston Business Men’s Art Club (founder, president), New York Business Men’s Art Club (founder, vice president, president), Friends of the Roerich Museum (president), National Arts Club, Boston Society of Contemporary Artists, Society of Independent Artists and the New England Society of Contemporary Art
Exhibited: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1919 – “Road to the Post Office”, 1924 – “Golden Rocks”), Brooklyn Museum, Boston Art Club (1924 group prize for small paintings), New York Watercolor Club (later absorbed by the American Watercolor Society), the Art Institute of Chicago (1928 – “Spring”), Provincetown Art Association (1919 – “Spring”), Memorial Art Gallery – Rochester NY (1919 – “Road to the Post Office”), Cincinnati Museum, Worcester Museum, Jordan Marsh Company, Copley Gallery, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts - Boston, Anderson Galleries – Manhattan, Master Institute of United Arts – New York, Roerich Museum – Manhattan, Society of Independent Artists (1917 – “The Uncovered Reef” & “Blue Day”, 1920 – “Spring”) and private galleries in both Boston and New York City.
Work in: Brooklyn Museum (watercolor - “The Old Red Barn”), Master Institute NY, Boston Art Club, Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland Maine.
Condition: The painting is in excellent condition. It has been cleaned and relined (DeRu’s Fine Art Conservation, Laguna Beach, CA). There is scattered minute craquelure present which is only visible under extremely close observation and simply attests to the honest age of the painting. There are no paint losses or repairs present and the colors are fresh and clean. There is no evidence of inpainting under blacklight. The signature is clean under blacklight as well: it appears that the artist may have signed it while the underlying paint was still wet as it seems that some of the letters were slightly deformed by being brushed to the right. The signature bears the hallmarks of Schneider: the “h” in Theo being elongated downward with similar treatment of the “h” in Schneider and the “d” in Schneider which is elongated both upward and downward as was his custom. The carved Arts and Crafts frame is in excellent condition with a mellow patinated surface. The frame appears to be original and bears pencil inscriptions on the reverse: on the top rail “CPL” or “CRL” while on the bottom rail is “# 250” and “1920 or 1924”.
Theophile Schneider, The Old Stone Wall, oil on canvas, abt. 1920's
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