Mathias Alten Boy on Horse

This wonderful oil painting by Mathias Alten (1871 – 1938) came in recently. It has one significant problem and that is a thin and dry paint film, and the photos of the reverse held up to the window really show this. You’ll notice under the signature that Alten signed the location as Cabanal, which is in Spain and now currently part of Valencia. Alten travelled there in 1922 with another Grand Rapids artist, Foster Jewell, and this is where Alten’s artistic style came into the influence of Joaquí­n Sorolla.

We’ve had the pleasure to work on a number of Alten paintings and watercolors and are looking forward to preserving this delightful work. Stay tuned for more…

Born in Gusenburg, Germany, Mathias Alten (1871–1938) is hailed as the foremost painter of Grand Rapids, Michigan and a second-generation Impressionist whose primary theme was agrarian labor. He was apprenticed to Joseph Klein, a decorative painter in Saint Wendel, Germany and worked on ceiling and wall decorations for churches and theaters.

At 17, he emigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was a major manufacturing center and vital art community. He studied with Edwin A. Turner and first exhibited his work at the Michigan State Fair in 1896.  Some of his earliest works are floral stilllife, a theme to which he continued to return; he also did figure and portrait painting, but his landscapes defined the direction of his work.

In 1898, he went to France and settled in Paris after spending time painting fishing scenes in Etaples, an artists’ colony on the French coast. He studied at the Academie Julian with Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens and won a gold metal for the best figure drawing. Interested in animal drawing, he attended classes at the veterinary school and then traveled extensively throughout France and Italy and other parts of Europe.

Returning to Grand Rapids, he and Constant Fliermans opened a studio and art school together, and then on his own he pursued an active career as a a portrait and figure painter, and also did numerous murals. His figure paintings were unusual for that time because they were not elegant subjects but working class people straining their muscles.

From 1902, after spending time at the Old Lyme, Connecticut art colony, he became increasingly devoted to plein air rural landscape painting with sparkling sunlight and colors of Impressionism. In 1910, he traveled abroad for a year, doing many rural scenes of Holland, and in New York, he saw paintings by and was much influenced by the Spanish Impressionist Joaquin Sorolla whose work became a lasting influence in subject matter and a palette that was more colorful and sunlit than his previous work. In 1912, he traveled in Spain, and much of his work from that time reflected Spanish subjects.

To escape the harsh winters he made trips to southern California in 1929 and 1933-34. His good friend Norman Chamberlain had settled in Laguna Beach. While visiting there he was active with the local art colony and painted coastal scenes and a series of missions. He achieved success in Los Angeles due to his daughter’s promotion of his works.

He died in Michigan on March 8, 1938.

Children in Stairwell by Unknown Artist

This painting suffered from areas of loss and dirt particulates across the surface that had the effect of dulling the colors. The painting was de-fit and carefully cleaned with the areas of loss receiving in-fill and then in-painting to conceal them. A short and simple restoration with no surprises. And what an endearing picture and so well behaved. Its size is on the smaller side, about 12″ x 9 3/4,” which seems to add to its charm.

There is a signature in the bottom-left corner but not even cleaning made it legible enough to identify.

Koepf Red Portrait in Custom Frame

This portrait by Werner Koepf (1909-1992) dubbed the “Red Portrait” suffered from a thin canvas with many areas of loss. Near the top-left corner it had been hit and dirt particulates were across the surface.

The painting was carefully de-fit and cleaned. Re-lining improved the foundational strength of the linen and consolidation with in-painting concealed these areas. The area that had been hit also received a similar treatment of consolidation followed by in-painting. Conservation varnish brought the restoration to an end.

A new custom hand-carved frame was prepared in the Italian Cassetta style with raised gesso and granito decorative corners.

Werner Koepf was born in Neckarsulum, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and emigrated with his parents and brother to the United States in 1929. During the Great Depression he worked as a house painter. In 1937 his work was prominently mentioned in the New York Times’ review of The Society of Independent Artists 19th Annual Exhibition. With his talent he gained many connections in the art world: Morris Kantor, a trustee of Contemporary Arts arranged three scholarships for Koepf at the Art Students League from 1937-1939, and Daniel Catton Rich, the Director of Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago paved the way for his inclusion in the Institute’s 52nd Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture in 1941.

Koepf served in the US Army during World War II. Starting as a translator, between 1942-1945, he was then transferred to the European Theater where he served with the 496th Heavy Automotive Ordnance Company. In November 1945, he returned to the United States and settled in Derby, Connecticut.

In 1952 he was accepted into Yale University where he was awarded the prize for outstanding achievement in the School of Fine Arts for 1952-1953 by Josef Albers. Maintaining his European contacts, Koepf showed numerous paintings, including one man shows in Paris, Stockholm, and Bremen.

Werner Koepf died at his home in March of 1992.

Werner Koepf Collection

A couple years in the making, the Werner Koepf collection is now available at Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art located in Saugatuck, Michigan, as well as our Holland studio. More information at www.adgifa.com.

Werner Koepf was born in Neckarsulum, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and emigrated with his parents and brother to the United States in 1929. During the Great Depression he worked as a house painter. In 1937 his work was prominently mentioned in the New York Times’ review of The Society of Independent Artists 19th Annual Exhibition. With his talent he gained many connections in the art world: Morris Kantor, a trustee of Contemporary Arts arranged three scholarships for Koepf at the Art Students League from 1937-1939, and Daniel Catton Rich, the Director of Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago paved the way for his inclusion in the Institute’s 52nd Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture in 1941.

Koepf served in the US Army during World War II. Starting as a translator, between 1942-1945, he was then transferred to the European Theater where he served with the 496th Heavy Automotive Ordnance Company. In November 1945, he returned to the United States and settled in Derby, Connecticut.

In 1952 he was accepted into Yale University where he was awarded the prize for outstanding achievement in the School of Fine Arts for 1952-1953 by Josef Albers. Maintaining his European contacts, Koepf showed numerous paintings, including one man shows in Paris, Stockholm, and Bremen.

Werner Koepf died at his home in March of 1992.