Franz A. Bischoffjames
Franz A. Bischoff
(January 14, 1864 – February 5, 1929)
Franz A. Bischoff was a rare talent. After leaving Austria for the US at just 21 he managed to establish himself and enjoy success as a ceramic artist. A series of moves around the country would ultimately see him settle in California where he would change direction completely to learn – and master – a different medium, and excel at that too, becoming one of the famed California Impressionists.
Early Life and Studies
Franz Anton Bischoff was born 14 January 1864 in Bomen, a small town in northern Bohemia, Austria. He attended a local craft school and continued his studies in applied design, watercolor painting and ceramic decoration in Vienna in 1882. He later traveled to Dresden, Germany to further his studies.
Bischoff emigrated to the United States in 1885 when he was 21. He started working as a decorator in a china factory in New York City before moving to Pittsburgh. He worked at a glass factory there and then in the same position in Fostoria, Ohio, where he would meet his wife. Bischoff and Bertha Greenwald married 24 May 1890 and went on to have a son, Oscar, and a daughter, Frances Matilda.
Bischoff was the most famous ceramic artist of his day. He specialized in painting flowers, mostly roses, earning him the nickname “King of the Rose Painters”. He was persuaded by Mary Leicester Wagner to move to Detroit and work in her studio but he did not work for her very long, instead choosing to set up his own studio in Dearborn where he produced exceptional ceramics and taught classes in china decorating.
In 1893 he served as the vice-president of the Detroit Keramik Club and was elected president the following year. In 1899 He founded the Bischoff School of Ceramic Art in Detroit and established another school in New York. His ceramics won major awards in shows and expositions. Bischoff also manufactured his own colors, and one that proved particularly popular was “Ashes of Roses”.
Vases, 1901, 1903 and 1908, Crocker Art Museum
In 1900 Bischoff visited California and was taken by the climate and scenery of Los Angeles. He and his family moved first to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles in 1906. Bischoff transitioned to easel painting at the height of his popularity as a ceramic painter. While he still painted ceramics, he became increasingly preoccupied with oil painting. He set up his studio at the Blanchard Building which was also rented by other leading artists in Southern California. While he rented, he was also setting up an Italian Renaissance style home and studio in Arroyo Seco, Pasadena. It was completed and opened to the public on February 1908. Bischoff joined the Painters’ Club of Los Angeles which was established in 1906. When the club dissolved in 1909, the California Art Club was founded and held their second meeting at Bischoff’s studio in Pasadena. The California Art Club went on to become the most powerful art organization in Los Angeles in the early 20th century.
His studio had a large window that overlooked the Arroyo Seco which he loved to paint from the vicinity of his own home. Bischoff’s favorite subjects were flowers but landscapes became a part of his oeuvre as well. Most of his early landscapes were created in and around Arroyo Seco. Bischoff once remarked “I never have to go very far away from home for my inspiration to paint”. Only a few of his paintings were dated but a chronology of his works has been established from newspaper / magazine articles and exhibition reviews. The colors in his paintings before the 1920s were softer and more muted.
In March 1912 Bischoff exhibited Roses, Cloud Shadows, White Roses amongst others in his own studio. In September Bischoff, ever ready to learn and improve, traveled to Europe to study the works of the Old Masters and the Impressionists. He visited Naples, Capri, Venice, Rome, Munich, Paris and London. He produced some watercolor copies of pastels by Degas and several oil paintings and watercolors of his own before returning to Pasadena in July 1913. In October 1914 he exhibited 27 paintings at the Friday Morning Club. Among the paintings he displayed at the club were San Pedro Harbor, Fishermen’s Fleet, Moonlight in San Pedro, Delivering the Catch, San Pedro, Midday in the Canyon, Springtime and Venice.
Cloud Shadows, 1912
San Pedro Harbor, 1912
Aside from landscapes and flowers, Bischoff also painted scenes of everyday life. He subjects included fishermen, farmers, farm animals, people picking flowers and others relaxing and enjoying their picnics. He also took painting trips to Monterey, Carmel, Cambria, the Sierras, and the desert near Palm Springs. Bischoff continued teaching in Los Angeles and traveled to San Francisco and Seattle to hold summer courses. He also continued displaying his works in several galleries and exhibits throughout the 1920s. In 1921 he displayed Mount Alice, Black Lake and Glacier at the California Art Club exhibition. He exhibited a painting called Cleft-Born Trees and won the Huntington Prize at the club’s exhibition in 1924. In the summer of 1928 Bischoff took a painting trip to Utah with another artist named J. Christopher Smith. His paintings of Zion National Park were shown at the Kanst Galleries in Hollywood.
Mount Alice at Sunset
Cleft-Born Trees, 1924
Death and Legacy
On February 5, 1929 Franz Bischoff died of heart failure at his home in Arroyo Seco. Most of Bischoff’s works are in the hands of private collectors but the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Irvine Museum were able to gather enough of his work for an exhibit held in November 2010 at the PMCA. While he was influenced by the Impressionists, his experimentation in color seems to be more in tune with Post Impressionism. There are also hints of Expressionism and Fauvism in his paintings. Jean Stern’s book Franz A. Bischoff: The Life & Art of an American Master examines his works as an easel painter and a ceramic artist. His wife Bertha and their son Oscar kept his gallery open to visitors and sold some paintings and ceramics. When Bertha died in 1966, Oscar operated the gallery until his death in 1967. Bischoff’s daughter, Frances, died in 1979.
Note: In the past few months Bischoff’s paintings have proved very popular on our sites, and rank among our best-sellers. It is not hard to understand why – the strong, vibrant colors and evocative landscapes command attention. See a collection of fifty Franz Bischoff paintings here.