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 Bernard James Von Eichman  (1899 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: landscape mod view, streets

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Ad Code: 3
Bernard James Von Eichman
from Auction House Records.
China #3
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An abstract painter, Bernard von Eichman was a prominent figure in the Bay Area of California during much of the 20th century.  He was known as "Red" for his fiery red hair and volatile disposition which, combined with his stocky build, led him into many combative situations.

He was a friend and classmate of artist Louis Siegriest in Oakland, and their friendship became a major factor in the cohesiveness of the Society of Six, artists around Selden Gile who focused on use of bright colors and abstract forms and rebelled against the prevalent conservative styles of William Keith and Arthur Mathews.  Other members of the Society in addition to Gile and Siegriest were William Clapp, Maurice Logan, and August Gay.

Von Eichman was born in San Francisco, and later said he was inspired to paint by an aunt who was a china painter.  From the time he was ten years old he allegedly attended art school, but patching together the truth of his childhood is difficult because it was so unhappy that he later made up stories to finesse the truth.  He was abandoned by his father when he was age twelve, and he, his mother and brother were destitute.  He took to begging on the streets and left school at age thirteen to work as a bricklayer.

In 1915, he managed to enroll in the California School of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley and became friends with Siegriest.  They decided to follow their favorite teacher Frank Van Sloun to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  From Van Sloun, a devotee of Robert Henri and the Social Realist painters in New York, they received encouragement to paint from their own experience and not copy prevalent styles from Europe.

Reportedly von Eichman was Van Sloun's prize pupil who was much at ease with technique and had a distinctive modernist style.  He was also more worldly than his classmates because he earned money as a teenager by shipping out on merchant vessels and traveling to the East Coast and the Orient.

In New York, he saw work by Kandinsky, Manet, Picasso, Braque, and other European modernists that made a marked impression on his own work.  From 1921 to 1922, he was in China and upon his return became associated with the Society of Six that exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery, now part of the Oakland Museum.

In the 1930s, he chose to support his family over pursuing a fine-art career and, having a distinguished reputation in California moved to New York as an unknown to earn money from doing freelance window displays.  He also painted in the style of the Ash Can School of Henri but was overwhelmed and subdued by the varieties of art experimentation he observed.

During World War II, he lived again in California and worked in the Vallejo shipyards, and in 1959 moved to Monterey.  Shortly before his death from cancer, he burned most of his work, which seemed appropriate to his life-long fascination with fires.  He had loved working with ships furnaces, reportedly started fires as a child, and once, to "entertain" his friends in Oakland, set a small studio fire.

His work is in the collection of the Oakland Museum.

Nancy Boas, Society of Six
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

Biography from AV Fine Arts:
Few could read a biography of Bernard Von Eichman without a feeling of sorrow for what might have been.  In 1928, an article about him in the Oakland Times noted: "... This flame-haired young man, who looks more like a hard-fisted seaman or a baseball player than anything else, has done something with his brushes and palette and tubes of paint that has set not only bay artists, but a good many innocent bystanders by the ears.  And some of them are saying that here in the modern, mundane world a genius has sprung forth who may single-handed put California on the map in an important, artistic way. ...

"When he left his first wife, and California, for New York in 1928, he was a near-celebrity.  But after arriving in New York and comparing his talent to that of the local artists, he came to the wrong conclusion that he fell far short.  He would show up at the galleries with his work, but would usually leave before the gallery owners could view his paintings.  In the mid 30s he remarried, but his wife convinced him that his artwork was not very good.  So, except for a short period in the 1960s, he stopped painting altogether, and worked to support his family during the last 35 years of his life.

He visited Louis Siegriest in 1942, after his return from New York, but Siegriest never saw Von Eichman again after that (to Siegriest's great disappointment). Von Eichman's son commented that his father rarely mentioned his artistic past, and never mentioned his connection to the Society of Six.  As far as his children knew, he'd been a worker at the Vallejo shipyards, a union house painter, a house renovator, and amateur photographer most of his adult life. "It's a shame that he is gone, because no one really took an interest in anything he did. No one even said, "Gee Dad, great photographs."

Von Eichman burned most of his artwork two years before he died because he was tired of carrying it around from place to place.

He died of cancer in 1970, in Santa Rosa, California.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Bernard Von Eichman was born in San Francisco in 1899, where he suffered a difficult childhood.  He managed to enroll in the California College of Arts & Crafts in 1915, where he met Louis Siegriest with whom he would later exhibit as a member of the “Society of Six.”

From 1918-1930, Von Eichman exhibited his bright modernist works with the Six, a group opposed to the dominant Tonalism that was popular in the Bay Area.  Von Eichman was an established artist in the 1930’s when he left for relative obscurity in New York, where he lived until the onset of WW II.

Returning to California, he was a resident of San Francisco and Monterey until his death in 1970, shortly before which he burned a great portion of his life’s work.

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

Bernard Von Eichman is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Impressionists Pre 1940
Society of Six

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