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C Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen

 (1911 - 2001)
C. Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen was active/lived in Maine, New York, Massachusetts.  C Hjalmar Amundsen is known for Impressionist whaling scenes, harbor views, ships and seascapes.

Biography  
C. Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen


Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for C. Hjalmar
"Casper Hjalmar Amundsen (F.H. McKay) 1911-2001" by Ralph Slatton, updated 7/4/2017, published in ARThoughts, publication in conjunction with Professor Ralph Slatton's printmaking classes taught at East Tennessee State University.

Each of us holds a special memory from childhood. Sometimes it's an image from a movie, or perhaps a special children's book; for me, it is a picture on a zigsaw puzzle. I speak of an image of a painting on a popular puzze from the early 50's. I believe the puzzle company was called Tuco. My Mom, sister, and I spent many hours piecing that puzzle. I was also intrigued by the peaceful coastal scene, painted in the impressionist style. It was a mysterious peek into a bygone era, taking us down a shaded street which led to a misty seacoast. Many years later, I became an artist and I had to revisit this scene of my childhood. I soon discovered that there was very little written about the artist, F. H. Mckay and for good reason. I was chasing an alias.
 
At the time of this article, I was not able to find much about F. H. McKay. I was only able to accumulate a few descriptive lines regarding this painter from several online auction sites, art and genealogy forums. Luckily, this mystery has since been lifted in the book, Cappy: The Life and Art of C. Hjalmar Amundsen, published in 2011 by Terry Wallace. I would like to officially credit this author for all the information posted here. The mysterious painter was identified as Casper Hjalmar Amundsen III, who was also known as "Cappy." Cappy used several aliases, one of which was F.H. McKay. His other pseudonyms included, J. J. Enwright, W. Hughes, Wm Ward, Jr., Sven Sagg, J.C. Bennett, J. C Bonac, John Dune, and others. The reason cited for creating these aliases is that Cappy didn't want to flood the market with too many paintings from one artist, thinking this would be a good marketing strategy. Cappy would go to lengths creating fictitious biographies for each of his identities, always inspired by actual people he admired.
 
Cappy's father, Casper Emerson, Jr. (1878-1948) was a renowned artist, famously known for creating "The Emerson Girl" for the Broadway Magazine in the New York Herald-Tribune. Born in 1911, Cappy learned much of his basic drawing and painting skills in his father's studio. After graduating from Blair Academy, Cappy attended the Grand Central School of Art studying illustration and painting. In 1932, he founded the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show, along with Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning, Beaufort & Joseph Delaney and others.

Impressionism
To provide a little background, Cappy's style was called impressionism, a movement which began in the 19th century with a group painters based in Paris. One of the more prominent figures was Claude Monet who painted, soleil levant or "Impression, Sunrise. as the painting that helped to coin the saterical title, "impressionism" in a review published in the Parisian newspaper, Le Charivari, in 1874.

Impressionist style was typically characterized by its use of small brushstrokes and rich colors, applied in close proximity to each other, often referred to as broken color. The painter avoided the carefully blended layers and over-glazes used by the academic painters. By keeping the colors vibrant and raw, the viewer would be forced to mix the hues visually. Some common colors of impressionists were cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, viridian, chrome yellow, vermilion, and crimson lake. They worked from the theory of complementary colors, in which colors were opposite each other on the color wheel. Monet said: “Color owes its brightness to force of contrast rather than to its inherent qualities (primary colors) look brightest when they are brought into contrast with their complementaries.”

The House On Seacoast Lane
During the Depression, Cappy could not make a living as an artist. For seven or eight years he traveled along the eastern seaboard working as a commercial fisherman. During this time, he lived in Gloucester and Provincetown where he became an active member of the famous Beachcombers Club and continued to paint local scenes. Later in life, Cappy moved to Sagg Harbor and painted subjects of sail boats, quaint houses, farms, and towns typical of that area. His paintings can be found ranging in size from a small 8x10 on board to larger canvas pieces. Also, prints of his oil paintings were sometimes made. He sold quite frequently to tourists visiting the area who wanted to take home a reminder of their vacation. Current prices for his paintings range from the low hundreds up to 2 or 3 thousand for a large oil on canvas in an original frame. His pieces turn up now and again at some of the established east coast auction houses and a good deal can be found on eBay from time to time.
 
In regards to the featured McKay painting, Seacoast Lane, it typifies the type of subject matter that Cappy enjoyed---Cute little framed print of an idyllic tree lined street with charming cottage style homes, one with a white picket fence. There is an older person strolling along with a walking stick and in the near distance is the sea. Pretty colors and sweet old fashioned charm! Signed F. H. McKay. He generally used a stretcher and canvas made by ANCO Company of Glendale and on smaller works he would use canvas borad. He often used a copyright stamp on the back of most canvases, and would sign the back upper left hand corner of the stretcher. He would often attach labels containing false biographies of each of his aliases.

Puzzled Beginnings
As mentioned earlier, my first encounter with F. H. McKay was through one of my childhood possessions, a jigsaw puzzle manufactured by Tuco in the early 50s. This raises some interesting questions, as to how this painting became an important part of our popular culture through the Tuco company. I am very curious as to what possible connections this company may have with the artist or the artist's family. Perhaps it was chosen only because of its subject matter. After all, impressionist paintings were popular as reproduction or assembly-line paintings, probably due to their pleasant imagery and soothing color schemes. They make excellent color accessories for interiors of homes and seldom distract from color schemes or interior themes.

Undoubtedly, F.H. McKay "Cappy" will continue to fulfill my nostagia of those idealized villages, with their picket fences, seacoast cottages, shady streets that end near the sea, and strolling couples forever frozen in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.


Submitted by Professor Ralph Slatton
 
References:
Terry Wallace, Cappy: The Life and Art of C. Hjalmar Amundsen (M.T. Fine Arts, Inc., 2011).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9BR7HZGPgw
https://paintingthehamptons.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-curious-lives-of-cappy-amundsen.html
 



Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for C. Hjalmar

The following information was submitted in  July of 2006 by Daniel Turner, M.D., a collector of his paintings:


J.J. Enwright (pseudonym for Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen)

He was born Caspar Hjalmar Emerson III in  New York City in 1911, and in 1946 legally changed his name to Hjalmar Amundsen in honor of his great-uncle, explorer Roald Amundsen, who located the magnetic center of the South Pole the year his great-nephew was born.

Hjalmar spent his childhood in Bensonhurst, N.Y., attending grammar school in Brooklyn, and Hackensack, New Jersey, where he went to secondary school.

He was in his early twenties when he first began painting, claiming that he only did so, because it was  easier than any other work he could think of.  Amundsen loved the sea, and had a lifelong interest in sailing and fishing.  While growing up, Hjalmar and his father would drive to the East End of Long Island, and he'd go out in a fishing boat.  Later he bought a small boat and went out sailing and fishing as often as he could. 

As an adult, the young artist moved back to New York and spent time painting in and around Gloucester and Provincetown, Massachusetts.  In his early career, he is believed to have created up to 275 paintings a year over a period of six years under the name of Enwright, and it is now believed that J.J. Enwright and Hjalmar Amundsen is one and the same artist.

Living in Greenwich Village, he was one of the founders of the Washington Square Art Show in New York, where he sold many of his works, and he painted covers for Motor Boating Magazine, which brought in $100 each.  During that time Amundsen was friends with Joe Gould, B. Delaney, and F. Kline.

In 1946 he moved to Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, with his second wife Nancy. Amundsen opened a studio and lived in the same building, becoming a well-liked figure in the community.  He painted waterfront images, sailing ships, fishing boats, and the New England coastline.

In 1948 he and Nancy had a daughter, but divorced in 1951, and he didn't have much contact thereafter with neither his daughter nor his son from a first marriage.

Cappy lived a bohemian lifestyle, making a living with his painting, but by the 1980s  times had become tough, and it was through the initiative of friends and the community that his house was restored.  He died in Brookhaven Memorial Hospital on January 18, 2001.

In September of 2003 the Sag Harbor Historical Society held a posthumous exhibition of his paintings.

Sources include:
"Artist, sailor, or pool shark?" Sag Harbor Herald, September 28, 1989 pp 1 and 10

"Sag Harbor's Artist in Residence, Cappy Amundsen Dies," Sag Harbor Express, February 8, 2001 pp 1 and 5

"Cappy Amundsen, Artist, Sailor" obituary, East Hampton Star, January 8, 2001

"Cappy Sea Paintings" Sag Harbor Express, September 4, 2003



Biography from Wallace Gallery
Biography photo for C. Hjalmar
C. Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen (1911-2001)

Casper Hjalmar Amundsen was born in New York City on June 9, 1911 as Casper Hjalmar Emerson, III.  Since he was a third generation family member with the given name of Casper, he became known from birth simply as "Cappy."  Cappy's father, Casper Emerson, Jr. (1878-1948) was an important artist, creating "The Emerson Girl" for the Broadway Magazine in the New York Herald-Tribune.  As a young boy, Cappy spent many hours in his father's studio, learning first hand the basics of drawing and painting.  After graduating from Blair Academy, Cappy attended the Grand Central School of Art.

In the spring of 1932, Cappy founded the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show in New York City with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Beaufort Delaney and others.  Exhibiting there for over thirty years, he was awarded first place in show many times.  In 1934, Cappy participated in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum.  He exhibited a caricature of Adolf Hitler titled His Best Foot.  Cappy portrayed the German Dictator as half-human and half-devil.  After a strong objection by the German Ambassador's wife, the Metropolitan Museum removed the cartoon from the exhibition.  This brought a strong protest of censorship by artists.  Controversial news articles about the caricature appeared in Time magazine and newspapers throughout the country.

For the next seven or eight years, Cappy traveled along the eastern seaboard in a 33 foot yawl.  Unable to make a living as an artist, he worked as a commercial fisherman.  During this time, he lived in Gloucester and Provincetown where he became an active member of the famous Beachcombers Club.  Becoming a skilled marine artist, he signed his earliest paintings, Hjalmar.  By the late 1930's, Cappy sometimes used another pseudonym, I.Emerson.

Sometime in 1943, Emery Blum & Co. of New York, published a portfolio of prints under the name of Hjalmar Emerson Amundsen. This extensive folio of U.S. Navy ships was meticulously executed, detailing every aspect of their construction.  The portfolio became a popular collectible during the war, selling thousands of editions.

Cappy's popularity with the public continued with naval themes.  In 1944, he illustrated scenes inspired by the U.S. Navy for two covers of Motor Boating magazine.  Paintings used for these illustrations were signed Hjalmar Amundsen, while the byline inside the publication credited C. Hjalmar Amundsen.

Cappy moved to Sag Harbor, Long Island in early 1946.  The same year he legally changed his name from Casper Hjalmar Emerson, III to C. Hjalmar Amundsen.   At this time, he began to sign his paintings with another alias, J J. Enwright.

After moving to Sag Harbor, Cappy made numerous contributions to the community.  He became a highly respected and popular figure in the small waterfront village.  Among his accomplishments was the founding of the first Outboard Racing Regatta which became a forerunner for the Old Whalers Festival.  In the late 1940's, Cappy established two art schools in the village.  He became a licensed U. S. Coast Guard Captain and an almost unbeatable sailor in racing competition.  As a member of the Sag Harbor Recreational Committee he helped obtain a Charter from the Boy Scouts of America, establishing the Sea Scouts.  During the Pelican tragedy in Montauk, he reported to the National Geographic Wire Service about one of the most tragic accidents in recreational boating history.  As a result of this reporting, he was invited to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. where he spoke on boating safety.

As a young man, Cappy Amundsen found employment as a display technician for art publisher Emery Blum.  This was the beginning of a life-long friendship between the two men.  At the same time, Amundsen was an active participant in the Washington Square Art Show and other "street" exhibitions that he usually set up by himself.  These outdoor art shows became a mainstay of Amundsen's livelihood (as he exhibited paintings along busy streets in cities and villages.  It was at these shows that Amundsen saw an opportunity to display paintings with pseudonyms on them, enabling him to place different prices on the various works.  This way certain paintings stood out among the others.  For instance, Cappy Amundsen would display five or six paintings that he had rendered with various names on them, some painted in different styles.  By doing this, Amundsen cleverly created a market with the public for his paintings.  Often he would offer Amundsen paintings at the highest price followed by works with the Enwright name, the Hughes name, etc.  Amundsen may have advised a prospective buyer in this manner, 'You can have an Amundsen painting for $200.00.  The Enwright painting will cost you $175.00, the McKay piece $125.00, the Picot $75.00' and right down the line.  By doing this, Amundsen gave the buyer an opportunity to purchase a piece with a price point that would be affordable.

During the same time, art publisher Blum began to distribute Amundsen's paintings and prints rendered with different names on them to a wide audience in numerous locations throughout the United States.  Cappy now capitalized on an opportunity to create works under even more aliases, having them distributed by Blum.  From the mid 1930's to the 1960's, Cappy signed his paintings with more than twenty aliases. J. J. Enwright, William Ward, Jr., F. H. McKay, W. Hughes, H. Nansen, J. C. Bennett, Sven Sagg, J. C Tarbox, John L. Dunne, J. C. Bonac, W. H.Lawrence, D. Caggiano, R. Aiyle, E.W. Lawrence, Andre Picot, B. Snyder, G. Amato, D.Ainsley, and R. B. Cooper are some of the names he signed to his canvasses.  At times,Cappy executed some of these paintings in a similar style as in the case of paintings signed Amundsen, J.J. Enwright, W. Hughes, W. H. Lawrence, McKay, Snyder and several others.  At other times, the artist painted in a totally different style.  Sometimes this included European themes.  Often these paintings can be found with the signature of Wm.Ward, Jr., D. Ainsley, Andre Picot, Caggiano and a few others.  Meanwhile, Cappy Amundsen painted numerous watercolors under the pseudonyms Ernest Cramer, J.C.Tarbox, E.W. Lawrence and other names.  Often, Amundsen attached fictitious biographies on the back of these paintings.  Usually, these were totally fabricated as if to invent a totally new person.  Birth dates and other biographical information on these labels can be taken with a grain of salt.  However as a creature of habit, Cappy Amundsen often included titles, inventory numbers, signature and identical copyright stamp for whatever name he chose to place on the front of the canvas.

For more information about Cappy Amundsen read Cappy; The Life and Art of C.Hjalmar Amundsen.


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About  C. Hjalmar "Cappy" Amundsen

Born:  1911 - New York City
Died:   2001 - East Moriches, New York
Known for:  Impressionist whaling scenes, harbor views, ships and seascapes