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 John Hafen  (1856 - 1910)

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Lived/Active: Utah/Indiana      Known for: landscape, portrait, figure and religious subject painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

John Hafen, born in Scherzingen, Switzerland on  22 March 1856, came with his parents to Payson, Utah in 1862, converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   Six years later, the family was in Salt Lake City. 

Hafen’s earliest teachers there were Danquarth Anton Weggeland (1827-1918) and George Morton Ottinger (1833-1917).   Hafen, Louis Pratt (1856-1923) and John P. Fairbanks (1844-1940) proposed that the Church provide travel scholarships for “art missionaries” to study art in Paris, so that the Salt Lake Temple could be properly decorated with frescoes.  The proposal was accepted; accordingly in July of 1890, the group reached the City of Light.  Hafen explained that he enrolled in the Académie Julian, owing to its high standing: “that school had the greatest reputation of any in the world at that time.”  (Horne, 1914, p. 46). 

The Mormon “art missionaries” were dedicated to the study of art and they held religious ceremonies in their private quarters.   Hafen was drawn to landscape work and was influenced by impressionism (Gibbs, 1987, p. 25).  In late June of 1891, Hafen attended the wedding of colleague James Taylor Harwood; then he went to Switzerland to look up relatives. 

By August, he had returned to Utah, eager to begin sketches for the Temple mural project.  He spent eighteen months on the decoration (Salt Lake Herald, 9 February 1896), mainly in the garden room; one local writer described it as “luminous with warm and natural effects in landscape, beasts and birds.” (Anderson, 1893, p. 288).

Along with Harwood and Edwin Evans, Hafen taught privately at their Academy of Art in Salt Lake City.  Hafen maintained noble aims in painting: “the mission of art [is] to elevate our feelings, to double our capacity for enjoyment, to feel the poetry and harmony  of life.” (Hafen, 1905, p. 403).  Yet Hafen was not above purely aesthetic enjoyment.  His Girl among the Hollyhocks of 1902 (Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City), which depicts his daughter Delia, shows exuberant brushwork, a delight in the brilliant white hollyhocks, and plein-air effects.  One wonders if Hafen might have seen similar compositions of flower gardens by John Leslie Breck or Childe Hassam, but Hafen’s painting has a decorative lushness that anticipates the work of “third generation” painters at Giverny.  Most of Hafen’s paintings (over two hundred) were acquired by The Mormon Church.

Hafen passed away while in Brown County, Indiana, on 3 June 1910.

Sources:
Anderson, James H., “The Salt Lake Temple,” The Contributor 14 (April 1893):288-289, 291; Hafen, John, “Mountains from an Art Standpoint,” Young Women’s Journal 16 (September  1905): 403-405; Horne, Alice Merrill, Devotees and Their Shrines: A Handbook of Utah Art. Salt Lake City: The Desert News, 1914; Gibbs, Linda Jones, Harvesting the Light: The Paris Art Mission and the Beginnings of Utah Impressionism. Exh. cat. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987; Gerdts, William H., Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710-1920. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990, vol. 3, pp. 138-141.   

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.


Biography from Anthony's Fine Art:
John Hafen was born in 1856 in Scherzingen, Switzerland.  His family, converts to the LDS faith, came to the United States when Hafen was six years old, determined to join the "Saints" in Utah.  On the way, they spent 12 days in Winter Quarters, Florence, Nebraska, and Hafen's two-year-old brother died there.  They made the rest of the journey by ox team.  After reaching Utah, the Hafens settled first in Payson and then after two other moves, established themselves in Salt Lake City in 1868.

John Hafen was very interested in art from a young age and became one of the youngest and earliest students at the "Twentieth Ward Academy" or "Seminary," in Salt Lake City, a school that included drawing instruction in its lessons.  During the next ten years, Hafen was taught by George Ottinger and Dan Weggeland, two early Utah artists who not only became friends with the young Hafen, but also encouraged him to seek traditional training outside Utah.

In 1881, a group of young artists, including Hafen, founded the Utah Art Association, which later became the Utah Art Institute.  The Association's purpose was to produce exhibitions and provide art instruction.  The initial exhibit was the first time artists in Utah had organized and directed their own show.  Over the next nine years, John continued to paint and draw and exhibit when possible, including at George A. Meears' sample room.  Meears was a whiskey wholesaler, where space was available for local artists to display their work, free of charge.

In 1890, Hafen helped convince LDS church authorities to sponsor the "French Art Mission," an opportunity to study at the Acadamie Julian in Paris. The trip also was made possible for several other young Utah artists, J. B. Fairbanks, Lorus Pratt, and Edwin Evans. The artists' studies in France were subsidized by the LDS church so the artists could improve their skills and paint murals and paintings in the LDS temples upon their return to Utah.

Hafen's studies in Paris had a vital impact on his work; like many other young artists of the time, he switched his interest from academic studio work to landscape painting from nature.  Espousing his new view, Hafen wrote, "Cease to look for mechanical effect or minute finish, for individual leaves, blades of grass, or aped imitation of things, but look for smell, for soul, for feeling, for the beautiful in line and color."

Back in Utah by 1892, Hafen began work on the murals for the Salt Lake temple. Although Hafen did the most work, Pratt, Fairbanks, Evans, and Dan Weggeland all contributed their Paris-honed skills.

The next year, the Society of Utah Artists was reestablished with Hafen serving as Vice President. The society's exhibits were well received, with many people willing to pay the entrance fees.  Although Hafen's paintings from the middle 1890s to about 1907 are now considered "masterpieces of Utah art," he wasn't able to support his fast-growing family on what he made from his work.  Consequently, he held various jobs and at times received support from the Church in exchange for paintings and drawings, which now make up the impressive Hafen collection at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City.

Hafen taught at the Brigham Young Academy and eventually settled in Springville with his wife and ten children.  Originally the family lived with the Myron Crandall Jr. family because the Hafens couldn't afford to pay rent.  Later, Hafen traded a painting for a hilly section of Crandall's land.  Alberto O. Treganza, a close friend of the Hafens, designed their home in the Swiss chalet style.  The building was paid for by sales of paintings and the bartering of paintings to a local doctor who traded the paintings for work his destitute patients did on the Hafen home. To cover one bare cement wall, Hafen painted a mural of hollyhocks and attached it to the wall. After Hafen's death, the canvas was removed, mounted and framed and is now owned by the Springville Museum of Art.  The Hafen home in Springville still stands today.

While in Springville, his interest in art education led Hafen to donate a painting to the Springville High School and to encourage other artists (including his friend Cyrus Dallin) to donate artwork.  This art collection grew and eventually necessitated a building to house and display the art: it became the Springville Museum of Art.

Although Hafen made frequent painting and selling trips across the country, he lived in extreme poverty until he moved to Indiana late in his life.  There, he was accepted into a group of regional impressionist artists and at last began to achieve success as an artist, including winning a prestigious commission to paint the governor's portrait.  He lived in an attractive cottage overlooking a beautiful valley, surrounded by friends. However, just as he began to realize his life-long dream of providing for his family through sales of his art, Hafen contracted pneumonia and died in 1910.

Ironically, John Hafen is now considered the most appealing of the early Utah stylists, and was called "Utah's greatest artist" by Alice Merrill Hone, an early Utah art activist.  He, of all the early Utah artists, best communicated the poetic essence of nature.

Biography courtesy of the Springville Museum of Art

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