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 Toby (Tobias) E. (Edward) Rosenthal  (1848 - 1917)

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Lived/Active: California/Connecticut / Germany/Russian Federation      Known for: portrait and historical genre painter

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Edward Toby Rosenthal is primarily known as Toby (Tobias) E. (Edward) Rosenthal

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Toby Rosenthal, "Minuette", figures, oil on wood, signed, 1887
from Auction House Records.
The Sailor's Return
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A portrait and historical genre painter of international reputation and the subject of much dispute, he was one of the first Americans to study art in Munich where he spent most his career after living his formative years in California.

He was born in Strassburg, West Prussia (he later claimed he was born in New Haven, Connecticut), and shortly after his parents emigrated to America, moving to San Francisco in 1858.  Their home site is now the location of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

By age ten, he wanted to be an artist, and his supportive father sent him to Louis Bacon, a French sculptor, who had a drawing school on California street.  Rosenthal's training here consisted of copying magazine illustrations of famous paintings.  Outgrowing this method and desiring but not able to afford lessons from Thomas Hill, he enrolled with Fortunato Arriola, Mexican portrait and landscape painter, who was so impressed he gave him free lessons.  Rosenthal copied portraits from daguerreotypes for Arriola's clients who cared more about presentation than likeness.  The environment at Arriola's was often tumultuous because it was a center for Mexican exiles, and one of Rosenthal's jobs was to hold people while Arriola painted cosmetically over their bruises from fights.

In 1865, Rosenthal went to Munich, one of the primary art centers of Europe, and enrolled in the Royal Academy where he was exposed to the various rebellious movements in art.  The Pre-Rafaelites in England were focusing on feeling and intellect; Ingres and Delacroix in Paris were disdaining drawing as the basis of art education; and Courbet introduced a new social realism.  Rosenthal's teacher was Karl Von Piloty, painter of heroic canvases that expressed the artist's love of color, but a group of students led by William Leibl rebelled against him because they wanted fewer academic strictures.  They adopted bohemian garb and behavior. (Leibl, in turn, was a teacher of William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck, who led the way in American painting to everyday, often low-life subjects).

However, amidst this rebellion, Rosenthal sided with Von Piloty and dressed and acted "respectably" and painted pleasant, often old world subjects.  His career in Europe was followed closely at home because his father, Jakob Rosenthal who toiled hard in his tailor's shop to support his son, had his son's letters published in the San Francisco newspapers.  The artist's work was also exhibited at the Mechanic's Fairs during his absence.

In 1871, he returned to San Francisco and was the center of much attention and also received numerous portrait commissions.  But he got bored with the rounds of socializing and returned to Munich, where he worked on a commission of Tiburcio Parrott, a wealthy San Francisco merchant, who wanted a painting from "Knights of the Round Table" of Elaine, dead from unfulfilled love with Lancelot.  Rosenthal struggled with the painting, angered his patron when he raised the price, and eventually sold the completed work to someone else, which stirred a public controversy that went on and on publicly including in the London Times, San Francisco, and Berlin papers.  Crown prince Frederick William tried to buy the work, but the new owner, Kate Johnson, refused to sell.

When the painting finally arrived in San Francisco in April, 1875, crowds came to see it, and many were amazed at how indelicate Elaine was.  The "lily maid" was a large, developed woman, unmistakably German in form, and the boat movement seemed unreal.  And then on May 2, vandals struck and cut the canvas from its frame, but it was retrieved from the thief, James O'Neill, and exhibited further, raising $2,041., which was given to charity.

Rosenthal lived the remainder of his life in Germany, marrying a wealthy banker's daughter and doing large commissions for American and Europeans.  His work in in the Art Institute of Chicago and the De Young Museum.

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