This Wisconsin impressionist (born in 1896) came to the United States from Germany. When the artist was only fourteen in 1910, Carl Sandburg, at that time Secretary to the Mayor of Milwaukee, was presented with the impetuous and aspiring boy’s picture of an American Indian on a pony -- Sandburg advised young Stelzner to work to achieve his goal of becoming an artist. A year later he met Milwaukee painter Francesco Spicuzza (1883-1962), who had received advanced lessons from John F. Carlson at the Art Student League’s Summer School at Woodstock. Spicuzza taught Stelzner plein air painting and how to handle impasto pigment. Stelzner went on to the Wisconsin School of Art where his teachers were Gustave Moeller (1881-1931) and Alexander Mueller (1872-1935), both of whom had studied at the Munich Academy. Stelzner also mentioned George Oberteuffer as one of his teachers, at the Milwaukee Art Institute. This painter was deeply influenced by Camille Pissarro, and some of the French aesthetic rubbed off on Stelzner’s technique.
By the age of seventeen, young Stelzner took on a bohemian look, complete with flowing tie and long hair. Then at nineteen, in 1915, when American impressionism was at its height, he painted Late Summer, a remarkably pure impressionist canvas with broken color, forms drawn with the brush, violet shadows, and other elements that he must have learned from Oberteuffer. Stelzner exhibited his paintings in Milwaukee at the Art Institute’s annual shows and received favorable reviews. A winter scene entitled Stream in March (ca. 1923) received an Honorable Mention.
In the summer of 1928 Stelzner traveled to Arizona and Southern California where he executed watercolors. In January of the following year, he exhibited these works at the Milwaukee Art Institute. His watercolors demonstrate an outstanding use of chiaroscuro contrasts, a full range of values and an excellent sense of design. Stelzner toured Europe (France, Italy and Germany) with a group of other artists in 1931. He concluded that Europe and America had valuable but unique scenic locations that would always be inspirational to artists.
Stelzner mentioned in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal how he desired to “paint the spirit underneath” the subject. For example, in his winter scenes, he wanted to leave the viewer with a sense of the bitter cold that he, himself, felt. As is the case with most American painters, Stelzner later moved to a technique with broader brushwork and more simplified masses, as opposed to the delicate broken brushwork of French impressionism that fired his youthful imagination and bohemian spirit.
“Water Colors by Raymond Stelzner.” Bulletin of the Milwaukee Art Institute (January 1929): 7-8; “Raymond Stelzner,” in the Journal Gallery of Wisconsin Art series, reprinted from the Milwaukee Journal, 1932; Richard H. Love and William Marshall. The Marshall Collection. Chicago: 1999, cat. no. 39.
Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.