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 Henry Ernest Schnakenberg  (1892 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: landscape, genre, and still-life painting

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Ad Code: 3
Henry Ernest Schnackenberg
from Auction House Records.
The Avenue (Fifth Avenue, New York)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
In many cases, American artists visited the Armory Show in New York in 1913, and returned to their studios to react to or against what they saw.  However, for Henry Ernest Schnakenberg it was much more life altering.  Prior to visiting this important exhibition of American and European modernist art, he had been working as an insurance sales representative for his father's firm.  After seeing the Armory Show, he was inspired to go to art school.

He enrolled at the Art Students League where he had the good fortune to have both John Sloan and Kenneth Hayes Miller as teachers.  His fellow students at that time were Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook and Niles Spencer. (1) After serving in the army, he returned to New York and began to paint independently, and in 1921, he had his first show at the Whitney Studio Club along with Joseph Stella.

He taught at the Art Students League from 1923 to 1925.  Schnakenberg's esteem and standing at the School were fully affirmed when he was elected president in 1932, and he was to remain a life long member.  He was later awarded an honorary degree from the University of Vermont.  Throughout his career, Schamberg wrote critical essays and reviews for art magazines, primarily The Arts. (2)

Not surprising, as a young painter, Schnakenberg tried many directions with his art: landscapes, still lifes, portraits and genre paintings all with superb attention to detail and depth of feeling for his subject.  His teachers at the Art Students League probably played the most influential role in shaping his career with their emphasis on the urban scene and realism with more or less gritty details related to Everyday City life.

Early on, he caught the attention of Lloyd Goodrich, then director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.  Goodrich observed of Schnakenberg's art, "Schnakenberg is a patient, steady builder rather than a brilliant improviser.  His pictures are the result of careful thought and planning. Nothing is slurred over or left vague; every detail is precise." (3)

During the 1920s, Schnakenberg traveled widely but spent some of most summers in Manchester, Vermont, and usually winters in New York.  He was a founder of the Southern Vermont Artists Association, and later he founded an art gallery in the local library for local artists to have exhibition space when he moved to Newtown, Connecticut.  He was an avid collector of pre-Columbian and Oriental sculpture, and he acquired the work of his contemporaries, such as Winslow Homer, Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens and Theodore Stamos. (4)

Lloyd Goodrich, in his important text, American Art of Our Century (1961), summed up Schnakenberg's career and devoted an entire paragraph to him.  He declared him to be an individualist from the first with a goal to build images of reality that are "satisfying for both their associations and forms," rather than attempt to express subjective emotion. (5)

Schnakenberg won numerous awards and exhibited nationally.  His work may also be found at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum, Brooklyn Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Yale University Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

1. Much of this information is gleaned from gallery notes developed by Kraushaar Gallery.  We are indebted to Carole M. Pesner and Katherine Degn for their assistance.

2. Lloyd Goodrich, "H.E. Schnakenberg," The American Artists Series, (New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Macmillan Co.), 13.

3. Kraushaar.

4, Kraushaar. Many of these artworks were donated later to museums.

5. Lloyd Goodrich and John I.H. Baur, American Art of Our Century (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1961), 79.

In addition, a contemporary observation by Charles C. Cunningham, then director of the Wadsworth Atheneum, called Schnakenberg's greatest strengths to be his detached vision and quiet individualism (Bulletin, Wadsworth Atheneum, 1955).

Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists S - Z:
Henry Ernest Schnakenberg, painter was born in New Brighton, New York, on September 14th, 1892.  He began his career as an insurance salesman.  In 1913, he viewed the Armory Show in New York and had his first exposure to modernist art, a life-changing experience for him.  Inspired, he enrolled at the Art Students League where his teachers were Kenneth Hayes Miller and John Sloan.  During a time when the prevailing trends were away from naturalism, Henry Schnakenberg became one of the most accomplished "naturalistic painters."  He was described as an "artist of unusual cultivation, familiar with the great art of the world."

Although he was not one to follow the winds of fashion in art he was equally "far removed from academic conservatism."  This independence as an artist and a person helped preserve the integrity of his sincere personal vision. One critic wrote that "His art is not the expression of subjective emotions or a social philosophy, but the work of a man who looks upon the external world primarily for its aesthetic content, its offering of pleasurable places and objects and figures to contemplate and paint.  His aim is less to express his own emotions than to create satisfying images of reality as he sees it."

Never one to "settle in a grove" of a specific subject matter, Schnakenberg sought out many aspects of the world that attracted him.  His landscapes revealed his genuine love of nature and as far as naturalistic painters were concerned few came close to imparting the depth of feeling displayed in his works.  His paintings usually contained a great amount of detail and "a concern with her [nature's] solid realities rather than her evanescent appearances-qualities that link him with the tradition before impressionism." 

He was equally concerned with texture and detail that he created by building up layers of paint to "build a completely satisfying composition out of something no more grandiose than a weatherbeaten fencepost covered with scarlet ivy." He also did satirical and social realist views of urban life, often showing caricatures of urban dwellers whose facelessness showed their alienation from society.  John Sloan, one of Schnakenberg's teachers, was a master at depicting such scenes and no doubt helped to impart this interest in everyday life subjects to his gifted student as well as to many others working in this genre at the time.

He was a life member of the Art Students' League and served as president of the league in 1932.  He was an instructor from 1923 to 1925.  He was also a member of the Society of American Painters, Sculptors and Gravers; Society of Independent Artists; National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Schnakenberg won numerous awards during his life including an honorable degree, D.F.A., University of Vermont.  He also exhibited nationally. He was a contributor of articles and criticisms to The Arts Magazines, and his work can be found in many important public collections.

Henry Ernest Schnakenberg passed away in 1970.

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