Frank Steeley

 

Frank Steeley, “Lettering for Schools and Colleges”, 1902, G.W. Bacon and Company, Limited, London

Born in Birmingham in 1863, Frank Steeley was a draftsman and graphic designer. The son of a goldsmith who worked in the jewelry trade, he illustrated a set of thirty-six first grade drawing cards for the publisher G. W. Bacon and Company, Ltd, which was published circa 1893 as Bacon’s “Excelsior” Drawing Cards.

Steeley, in collaboration with Bernard H. Trotman, produced the 1901 design book “The New Art Geometry: or, Geometrical Drawing Applied to Design”, which was also published by Bacon and Company. The exercises in this book, which used common tools such as t-squares and protractors, formed a graduated syllabus for upper level elementary classes and for classes in schools of art.

In 1902, Frank Steeley produced the book “Lettering for Schools and Colleges”, a collection containing his designs for forty-two complete alphabets, with sets of numerals, initials, and monograms. Between 1903 and 1904, he published his two-volume series “Nature Drawing and Design”. These books, examples of early Art Nouveau design work, described the process of using the natural forms of flowers and leaves to create patterns and simple line drawings. Both the book and the two-volume series were published by G.W. Bacon and Company.

Frank Steeley passed away in 1951 at the age of eighty-eight. Due to the historical and artistic significance of the work, Steeley’s books have been reprinted frequently and are still used as a basis for design study.

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, “Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead)”, ca 1905, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 150 cm, Private Collection

The son of a painter and teacher, Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach was born in the city of Hadamar, Germany,  in February of 1851. He received his initial training in the arts from his father Leonard Diefenbach, but also worked as a design draftsman for several photo studios and a railroad construction company. In 1872, Diefenbach traveled to Munich where he gained employment with Hanfstaengel, a photography publishing house, and entered the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, under historical painter Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger. In his studies, he became inspired by the Symbolist movement, particularly by the works of Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin.

Stricken with typhus in 1873, Diefenbach began to develop an increasing interest in alternative lifestyles. After having a visionary experience, he founded the alternative community Humanitas in an abandoned stone quarry near Höllriegelskreuth, located nineteen kilometers south of Munich. This community was centered on a return to nature, the rejection of religion, a basic vegetarian diet, and the end of monogamy. In 1887, Symbolist painter and illustrator Hugo Höppener, known as Fidus, joined the community and, with Karl Diefenbach, worked on the sixty-eight meter, monumental silhouette frieze entitled “Per Aspera ad Astra”. 

An oddity in the era due to his lifestyle, Karl Diefenbach, after repeated conflict with his social surroundings including local authorities, accepted the invitation of Salzburg’s Art Association and relocated with his family to Vienna.  While in Vienna, he met and taught the Czech abstractionist painter and graphic artist Frantiek Kupka. Diefenbach’s  unorthodox lifestyle forced a second relocation; this time he traveled to Egypt where his work focused on the ancient ruins and temples of the land. Returning to Vienna in 1897, he founded a country commune, Himmelhof, near Vienna, which disbanded after two years.

Despite the many exhibitions of his work, Karl Diefenbach was not successful commercially, which forced him to declare bankruptcy. He traveled to Italy in 1900 and settled on the island of Capri where he exhibited his works to visitors for a small fee, explained his philosophy of life, and sold small versions of his major works. The years Diefenbach spent on Capri were the most productive of his life. He produced many large scale depictions of the island’s landscapes, most  were scenes of grottos and cliffs, but all were  infused with reflections on his inner searching.

The Symbolist painter Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach died on the island of Capri in December of 1913. After years of obscurity, his work was honored in a successful 2009 exhibition held at Villa Stuck in Munich, and two years later at the Hermes Villa in Vienna. A museum of his work was founded in 1974 in Certosa di San Giacomo on Capri, and many of his works can be seen in the Jack Daulton Collection in Los Altos Hills, California.

Note: Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s 1905 “Isle of the Dead” was inspired by the famous painting of the same name by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin, whose work Diefenbach held in much esteem.

Arnold Böcklin painted five versions of his “Isle of the Dead” between 1880 and 1901. He provided no explanation for the painting’s image; the title was not specified by Böcklin, but was given by the art dealer Fritz Gurlitt in 1883. The inspiration for it was evoked, in part, by the landscape of the English Cemetery in Florence, Italy, where Böcklin resided for many years.

Top Insert Image:  Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, Der Rettung Entgegen, 1900, Oil on Canvas, 65.5 x 90.5 cm, Private Collection

Bottom Insert mage:  Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, The Great Sphinx of Giza, 1903, Oil on Canvas, 240 x 335 cm, Private Collection

Ludwig von Hofmann

Ludwig von Hofmann, “Die Quelle (The Source)”, 1913, Oil on Canvas, Thomas Mann Archives, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich

A member of the avant-garde group “Eleven”, Ludwig von Hofmann was an active participant in the cultural movement “Berlin Succession”. He taught at the art school in Weimar, located in central Germany, and at the Dresden Academy of Arts, where he directed a course in monumental painting. Von Hoffman was a frequent illustrator for the arts and literary magazine “Pan”, which played an important role in the development of the Art Nouveau movement in Germany. 

Working in a combination of Symbolist and Art Nouveau styles, Ludwig von Hofmann’s paintings included antique and biblical themes, and idyllic landscapes inhabited by surreal or mythological creatures. His work aspired to portray beauty in form, using unique and strong color combinations, and often presented a veiled eroticism in its figures.  Von Hofmann’s symbolist work is both decorative and idealized, with verdant forests, blossoming fields, and naked or clothed figures whose skin or flowing garments are lit by the sun. 

In 1903, von Hofmann was appointed a professor at the Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art School. He was later named a Professor at the Academy of Arts in Dresden in 1916, remaining there until 1931. In his later years, von Hofmann predominately worked in the Art Nouveau style, producing engravings and illustrations, and designing libraries, residential rooms and theaters. 

The production of Ludwig von Hofmann’s work slowed in the 1930s, with some of his work labeled “degenerate art’ by the National Socialist Party in 1937. He retired to the town of Pillnitz, a section of east Dresden, where he died in August of 1945.