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 Frederick Ferdinand Schafer  (1839 - 1927)



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Lived/Active: California / Germany      Known for: landscape, Indian life, wildlife

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Ad Code: 3
Frederick Ferdinand Schafer
from Auction House Records.
Arrival in the Valley of the Yosemite, Half Dome in the Distance
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is from the artist's web site, and reprinted with the permission of Jerome H. Saltzer.

Frederick Ferdinand Schafer was born in Braunschweig, Germany, on August 16,1839. He emigrated to the United States in 1876, at the age of 37, where he created some 500 paintings of western American landscapes, and he died in Oakland, California, on July 18, 1927.

He is well known within a community of collectors of and dealers in western art, mostly in California and the Pacific Northwest. Schafer's training in Germany is unknown. His work resembles that of the Düsseldorf school and contemporary newspaper writers sometimes suggested a connection. He had studios in San Francisco from 1880 through 1886 and in his homes in Alameda and Oakland from 1887 until his death.

He apparently spent summers sketching in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, British Columbia, and Alaska and many of his paintings bear verso titles with locations in those states and provinces. Most Schafer landscapes are summer scenes, probably because the majestic scenes he frequently painted were difficult to visit in the winter.

A member of the San Francisco Art Association for many years, he regularly exhibited his paintings at the Mechanics Institute exhibitions in that city.
Schafer's overall style is that of the nineteenth-century American realist landscape tradition, taking maximum advantage of the dramatic western American landscape and with a strong element of naturalism--a preference to capture the impression of an object such as a tree rather than to provide photographic detail of it.

Many of Schafer's canvases have a dramatic appearance, arising from use of large areas of intense, saturated color and contrasting light, but stopping well short of the awesome and melodramatic (sometimes called "sublime'') effects found in canvases of Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederic Edwin Church.

In mountain, forest, and river landscapes, foreground deadwood in the form of a leaning or fallen tree, or a river snag, appears so frequently that one can almost depend on finding it. Small midground figures, usually of Indians but occasionally of trappers, hunters, prospectors, or even bear or deer, often appear as part of the natural landscape, providing an iconic, rather than explicit, genre touch. By their small size these figures provide the eye with a measure of, and emphasize, the large scale of the scene. Another frequent feature in Schafer paintings is small spots of bright color, representing wildflowers, a campfire, lights from a ship, or dappled spots of sun in the shade of a tree.

Schafer usually varies the level of control of the brush greatly within a single picture. Background mountains, especially foothills and intermediate ranges, may be shapes developed with only a few wide brushstrokes, middle and foreground components are substantially more controlled, and features that draw the attention of the eye, such as a campfire, tepee, or person's face, are often more controlled than their surroundings.

Schafer's work is held in these public collections: Alameda (California) Free Library, Art Museum of Greater Victoria (British Columbia), Bancroft Library (Honeyman collection), British Columbia Archives, California Historical Society, Craigdarroch Castle (British Columbia), Crocker Art Museum, Hoover Institution, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey State Historic Park, Museum of Church History and Art (Salt Lake City), The Oakland Museum of California, Seattle Art Museum, Shasta (California) State Historic Park, Society of California Pioneers, Sonoma County (California) Museum (Hart collection), and the Yosemite National Park Museum.
October 27, 1998

Frederick Ferdinand Schafer Painting Catalog

A brief biographical sketch of the artist
1996, 1998 by Jerome H. Saltzer. All rights reserved.
Note from Jerome Saltzer:
Schafer's death certificate indicates that he arrived (in California) sometime in 1876, and the October 3, 1876 edition of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin carried an advertisement of an auction sale on October 5 by R. D. W. Davis & Company in which Schafer is one of the featured artists.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Braunschweig, Germany on Aug. 16, 1839. Schafer may have studied art in Düsseldorf since his paintings resemble those of other Düsseldorf-trained artists; however, he is believed to have been self-taught. He came to the U.S. in 1876 and arrived in San Francisco in 1880. After establishing a studio, he began exhibiting regularly with the local art association and the Mechanics' Institute Fairs. A peripatetic painter, he made regular sketching trips throughout the Northwest including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. During his last years he painted theatrical scenery in San Francisco and Oakland theaters. Schafer had a home in Oakland from 1880 until his death on July 18, 1927. His landscapes, which often include Indians, were mostly done before 1890 and number about 500. Due to alcoholism, his works are often uneven in quality. Exh: Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1879-84; Calif. State Fair, 1880, 1894. In: Oakland Museum; Seattle Museum; Monterey Peninsula Museum; Shasta State Historical Monument; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); CHS; Crocker Museum; Hoover Inst. (Palo Alto); Museum of Church History & Art (Salt Lake City); Society of Calif. Pioneers; Sonoma Co. Museum (Santa Rosa); Yosemite Museum; Alameda Public Library; Craigdarroch Castle (Victoria, B.C.)
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Oakland Museum;Views of Yosemite; Death record.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art:
Born in Braunschweig, Germany, Frederick Schafer emigrated to the United States in 1876, settling in California. Though his training in Germany is unknown, his work resembles that of other artists educated during that period in Dusseldorf.

By 1877, Schafer had made his first Yosemite Valley painting, and by 1879 he was exhibiting in San Francisco. His work was shown regularly for many years in San Francisco's Mechanics Fair exhibitions, and he was a longtime member of the San Francisco Art Association. In 1884, while living and working in that city, he became a naturalized United States citizen.

Best known for his California paintings, Schafer also traveled and painted throughout the West. Verso titles on his paintings include locations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and British Columbia. Though seldom dated, Schafer's early works tend to be darker in tone, and his later works lighter, more saturated in color, and while still quite naturalistic, somewhat more loosely painted. The painter regularly included figures of Indians, trappers, hunters, or prospectors in the middle ground of his canvases, as well as indigenous animals, both to establish scale and as genre elements.

Among the many institutions holding examples of Schafer's work are the Oakland Art Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and the Art Museum of Greater Victoria.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Frederick Schafer was born in Germany in 1839, and arrived in Northern California in the 1870's.
Schafer was a regular exhibitor in San Francisco, showing works painted during numerous
excursions throughout the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Canada, Montana, and Wyoming. Schafer
frequently included Indian figures in his dramatic mountainous landscapes, which were largely
painted in a somber Germanic palette. He died in Oakland, California in 1827, where he
supplemented his income as a scene painter for local theater companies.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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