Charles Frederick Ulrich
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(American, 1858 - 1908)
Charles Frederick Ulrich was a noted late nineteenth-century realist painter of portraits and genre scenes who spent much of his life as an expatriate in Europe. He was born in New York, the son of a German émigré photographer and painter. His first studies were with little-known the painter and lithographer, Francis Venino. In the early 1870s, he enrolled at the National Academy of Design and may have attended classes at the Cooper Union School of Art.
In the mid-1870s, many American artists were seeking training in Munich, and by October of 1875 Ulrich had followed their lead, enrolling that month at the city's Royal Academy, where his instructors were Ludwig von Löfftz and Wilhelm Lindenschmidt. He quickly became part of the circle of American painters led by Frank Duveneck. Indeed, Duveneck submitted a portrait of Ulrich as his diploma piece to the National Academy of Design in 1882 (National Academy of Design, New York). Ulrich also associated closely with John Henry Twachtman, who was a fellow student in Löfftz's class. The two traveled together to Polling, Germany, where an American artists' colony had formed; they signed the guestbook sequentially in the spring of 1876.
In Munich, Ulrich became dedicated to a realist approach, influenced by the circle of German realists who gathered around Wilhelm Leibl, an artist who followed in the mode of Gustave Courbet. By contrast with other Americans, such as Frank Duveneck and Frank Currier, who adhered to the painterly bravura approach that Leibl pioneered in the early 1870s, Ulrich developed a fastidious method of painting that reflected his study of the works of the old masters and of the seventeenth-century Dutch Little Masters. In this respect, his art was close to that produced by Leibl in the mid- and late 1870s as well as to such German genre painters as Franz von Defregger and Ludwig Knauss rather to that of his American contemporaries. He focused on images of peasant life, a subject that would remain of interest to him throughout his career.
At some point after 1879, Ulrich returned to New York. The next five years were highly productive, resulting in most of the artist's best-known works. In 1882 he exhibited at the National Academy of Design for the first time, showing a painting entitled The Wood Engraver (location unknown). This work signaled his interest in creating portrait d'apparat, a type of image portraying a worker surrounded by his or her tools that was rooted in European painting traditions. A reviewer for theNew York Times singled out the work, remarking: "it is excellently painted both in figure and interior . . . the figure has the air of patient application." In 1883 Ulrich became an associate of the academy as well as a member of the Society of American Artists. In the following year, he exhibited a work entitledGlassblowers (1883; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico) at the academy, which was set in New York. By the next year, Ulrich was focusing his attention on the United States when he painted his noted In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden (1884; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), a starkly candid portrayal of immigrants arriving in New York. When it was shown at the academy that year, it won the prestigious Thomas B. Clarke prize for figure painting. The work was later shown at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889, where it was awarded an honorable mention, and at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, where it was awarded a bronze medal.
Charles Frederick Ulrich (1858 - 1908)
In the summer of 1884, Ulrich returned to Europe, traveling through Belgium and Holland with the artists William Merritt Chase and Robert Blum. The latter became a close friend and was frequently in Ulrich's company until 1887. In Haarlem, Ulrich painted one of his best known works, The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem (1884; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago) and found motifs during visits to a local orphanage.
Ulrich had returned to New York in late 1884, but he left the city once again in the following year, planning to remain abroad for several years. According to a critic of the era, his abrupt departure was due to his "proclaimed disgust at the sordidness of an unappreciative public, which refused to bankrupt itself in the purchase of over-priced pictures." Ulrich went back to Holland and then to Venice, where he established a home in 1886 and painted Glass Blowers of Murano (1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). His movements during his later career are unclear. Although he maintained contact with Blum and Chase, organized exhibitions of American art in Munich in 1888 and 1892, and visited New York briefly in 1891, he remained in Europe. He exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1889 and 1890, in Munich at the Glaspalast, and after 1893 at the Secession exhibitions. In 1897 he was married in Germany. He also worked in Rome at the turn of the twentieth century, and he died in Berlin.
Ulrich's works may be found in many important private and public collections, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Kunstmuseum der Stadt, Düsseldorf; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico; and the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago.