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Herman Knutzen [1870-1939]



[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Spring of 2015]

KNUTZEN, Herman [1870–1939]

“An Oak along the Muskrat”


oil on canvas panel / 10 inches x 8 inches

By the 1920s an art colony had coalesced at Bagby’s in the resort community of Sturm & Drang. Better known as “The Last Resort” because it was farthest from the station-store terminus of the seasonal NITC interurban line, Bagby’s attracted a number of amateur and semi-professional artists—painters mostly—who employed the popular plein air idiom of the day. Chicagoan Herman Knutzen was one of them. He painted “An Oak along the Muskrat” in 1937, two years before his death but while still an enthusiastic summer resident.

Painting in the outdoors (en plein air) had been popularized by French artists of the mid-19th century and continued throughout the Impressionist period. In America it became linked with the Arts & Crafts movement, but was somewhat out of fashion by the 1930s. So, while “An Oak…” was plein air in style, its color palette was decidedly of the 1940s. Though he was a highly competent artist, Knutzen is better remembered today for a series of stereoscope images he produced of humorous and magical scenes. He had also been an amateur photographer thirty years earlier.

When the art colony dissolved in 1938, Knutzen gave this small painting to his hosts Walter and Estelle Bagby; Walter was a woodworker and very likely made the one-piece hand carved frame. Knutzen died in 1939, and the Bagby’s gave “An Oak…” to the Community Collection as a memorial to their artist friend.

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