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 Carl Link  (1887 - 1968)

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Lived/Active: New York/Florida / Germany      Known for: celebrity portrait and Indian figure painting, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Carl Link
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Carl Link was born on August 13, 1887 in Munich, Germany.  His parents were Karl and Dora Link, and he was an only child.  Link’s father was a furniture maker and wood carver, and his mother had an interest in music and theater that she passed on to her son.  There is some indication in the collection that Link’s family may have been minor Bavarian nobility.

Throughout most of his adult life, Link provided financial support to his parents until their deaths in 1948 and 1951.  This was particularly true during the privations following the First and Second World Wars.  Link also made regular visits to Germany during his parents’ lifetimes, although his 1938 visit would be the last until after the end of Second World War.

Carl Link was a tall, distinguished looking bachelor.  Through much of his life he was attractive to a wide variety of women, and he reciprocated the attraction.  In the words of pioneering Native American dancer and entertainer Molly Spotted Elk, who was Link’s friend and model during the 1930s, but not romantically involved with him, Link was a “marvelous, darling, and lively person, whose eyes were alight and who always spoke as if he were excited.”  She also noted in her diary that Link, “has many women friends—many of them of wealth, beauty, position, with husbands lost or discarded. …The front and back entrances of his studio offer an amusing bit of masculine intrigue—Carl can have one woman visitor in the front room and another in the back.”

Link’s first professional art training was in architectural drawing with Professor Behring in Berlin.  After a year under Behring, his parents were convinced to allow him to attend the Royal Academy in Dresden from 1909 to 1910 where he studied with Professor Richard Muller and Professor Schindler.  Link moved on to the Royal Academy in Munich where he studied with Professors Franz von Stuck and Angelo Jank.  Jank was famous as a painter of horses, and under his tutelage Link also became very proficient in creating life-like drawings and paintings of horses and other animals.

One of Link’s fellow students at the Munich Royal Academy was artist Winold Reiss, who became a life-long friend.  Link excelled at both ornamental and life figure drawing. His proficiency in both areas would be critical to his later success as a designer of theatrical properties and a portrait painter.  After completing his formal education, he pursued additional studies in life and flower drawing at the Kunstgewerbe Museum in Berlin and for a short time was an apprentice at the museum.

In 1913, Link moved to London.  He worked briefly for the S.H. Benson, Ltd. Advertising Agency as a commercial illustrator and studied life drawing at the Polytechnic School of Art in London.  Because of the increasing threat of war in Europe, his stay in London was brief. Strong anti-German sentiment in England and the threat of internment caused Link to leave for the United States in 1914.  The only available passage was steerage class on the S.S. Adriatic. Link arrived in New York in September 1914.

Life was difficult for a German emigrant to the United States during the First World War.  It is unclear how he made ends meet during his first year in New York, although he was able to sell at least one cover illustration to Puck magazine in England.  By the winter of 1915, he obtained a position teaching costume design at the New York Evening School of Industrial Art.  He would teach at the New York Evening School off-and-on for over twenty years.  Other schools where Link taught during his career include Columbia University, Master Institute of United Arts, New York School of Design for Women, and New York University.

Since he typically taught night school classes, his days were free for his commercial and fine art work.  He also kept busy visiting galleries and museums, sketching people on the streets of New York, and sketching animals at the Bronx Zoo.  In 1916, Link did his first major United States portrait, Charles Evans Hughes the former-Supreme Court Justice and 1916 Republican Presidential nominee.  Link also continued his commercial illustration work, selling covers and illustrations to the Louis Bosser and Sons advertising firm in Brooklyn, New York.  During this period he changed the spelling of his first name from “Karl” to “Carl,” apparently because he thought it sounded less German.  This “Americanized” spelling is used throughout the finding aid.

In 1916, Carl Link came to the attention of theatrical producer Morris Gest.  Gest, who would produce more than sixty Broadway productions during his career, was a major factor in a new direction in Link’s art.  Link designed the stage settings and costumes for four successive Gest productions, The Wanderer, 1917; Chu Chin Chow, 1918; Aphrodite, 1919, and Mecca, 1920.

In 1922 Gest brought Russian producer, writer and director Nikita Balieff to New York to stage his musical production Chauve-Souris.  Link did many caricatures of then current New York theatrical and society luminaries to decorate the stage curtain used in that production, as well as other design and illustration work.  Link also created the stage settings for the 1924 Gest production The Miracle.  In addition to working in the theater, he was also an avid attendee at a wide variety of theatrical and modern dance programs, especially during the 1920s and 1930s.

Through his work for Gest, Link became acquainted with many of the theatrical and dance celebrities of the period.  Link completed portraits of many actors and dancers including Dame Judith Anderson, Lady Diana Cooper, Marion Davies, Vera Fokina, Helba Huara, Michael Mordkin, Nita Naldi, and Ruth St. Denis.  A number of these portraits were done as cover illustrations for The Dance Magazine and Theatre Magazine.  He also served as the art director for The Dance Magazine for a time in the early 1930s.  Link did some illustration work for the motion picture industry, including posters for Red Feather Photo Plays and a large mural design and illustration for the 1922 Marion Davies film When Knighthood Was in Flower, which was displayed as a billboard at 7th Ave. and 47th St. in New York.

In 1921. Link returned to Germany to visit his parents and to create a series of portraits that would bring him recognition beyond the theatrical and dance world where he was best known. Link had the opportunity to complete life portraits of the principal players in the 1922 Oberammergau Passion Play.  These portraits were used to publicize the production in Germany and were printed in Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, and many other newspapers across the United States.  Link did another series of portraits of the 1930 Passion Play cast, which received similar wide publication and publicity.

The stock market crash of 1929 brought an end to Link’s association with Morris Gest.  Through the 1930s he taught art, painted portraits, and continued his commercial illustration work for publications such as Liberty Magazine.  Portrait subjects during this period included rodeo cowgirls Eleanor Heacock Williams and Lucyle Richards Roberts, as well as Molly Spotted Elk, who was Link’s model for a painting of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  From 1936 through 1939 Link taught summer classes for Winold Reiss’s art institute at Glacier National Park and Lake Tahoe.  During his time in Montana he became fascinated with the West and Native Americans and painted a series of portraits from life of Blackfeet and Blood Indians in traditional dress.

In 1941 Carl Link made a temporary move to Palm Beach, Florida where he taught at the Norton Gallery and School of Art.  While in Florida he entered and won an art competition at the Norton Gallery and was asked by a Naval Air unit to design their unit insignia.  In the late 1940s Link purchased a home at Lake Tahoe where he gave art lessons during the summer. Link’s major commercial illustration commission during this period was from World Book Encyclopedia. Link worked two years to create more than 200 color illustrations of authentic native costumes of the world for the 1947 edition of World Book. Some of the clothing and dress postcards in the collection were probably used as reference for this project.

Some time in the 1950s Link became the chief designer for Imperial Linens, Inc., a manufacturer and importer of decorative linens.  As part of his duties he would visit Imperial Linens’ factory in Funchal, Madeira.  Although Link apparently continued his art instruction and painting work during this period, as he grew older he reduced his level of activity.  In the 1960s he continued to go out to Lake Tahoe, but his art activity level decreased markedly as the decade wore on.  By early 1968 his health had noticeably deteriorated, and in May 1968 Carl Link died in New York at the age of 80.

Krakel, Dean. Adventures in Western Art. Kansas City, Mo.: The Lowell Press, 1977.
McBride, Bunny. Molly Spotted Elk: A Penobscot in Paris. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
This information is found at the website of the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, OK

Submitted May 2007 by a researcher at the Ashworth Collection of Native American and Western Art in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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