ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 23 Rudolph Ingerle
After nearly half a century, Rudolph Ingerle is to get a glimpse this August of the mountains of his native Moravia. The World War has intervened since Ingerle came to Chicago about 1891, when he was 12 years old, and Moravia and its neighbor Bohemia are no longer a part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire but are in the heart of the new independent republic of Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, Mr. Ingerle expects to find villages and people in those picturesque mountains much the same as he remembers them in his childhood.
Ingerle was born in Vienna, but his immediate ancestry was Moravian and Bohemian, and the most vivid recollections of his childhood are the days he spent in Moravia, visiting his grandmother. His grandfather was a combination doctor, jeweler, and clockmaker, a collector of art and of books. The clocks he made had wooden wheels, and the mature Ingerle has here in Chicago as his most prized relic on of the clocks of his grandfather’s manufacture.
On his visits to the mountains, Ingerle, the Vienna city boy, regarded the Moravians he even then saw as “quaint.” Their gay peasant costumes and the laces and trinkets they fabricated aroused his lively interest. Just how much of this he actually remembers and how much he has annexed since coming to America through his continuous study of Moravia and Bohemia, Ingerle doesn’t know. But he’s going to compare, in August and for several weeks thereafter, the impressions that persist in his consciousness with the actuality. His beloved “Smokies” of North Carolina and Tennessee will play second fiddle, for the time being, to the mountains of Moravia.
Speaking of fiddles, Ingerle as a boy in Vienna was destined, to all intent, for a musical career. He was a pupil of Prof. Zieherer, director of the Imperial Band, and was being fitted for a position of violinist in that organization.
But fate intervened, as so often in the European civilizations with an eye to opportunities across the ocean, and Ingerle’s parents brought him to Chicago where, with his cultural Vienna background, he wasn’t long in getting a job in a State Street book store.
Across was the Siegel-Cooper Department Store and in a window one day, Ingerle saw a painting labeled “The Violin Maker,” priced at $300. The subject matter, naturally, interested him but, as he examined the picture more and more closely, strange ideas began to well up.
Someone had made that picture and was going to get a lot of money for it — $300. Why couldn’t he be an artist and make pictures similar to that and get rich?
He went into the store, to the department where they sold artists’ materials. He began to examine tubes of color and to ask questions. A young woman customer watched and listened with amused but sympathetic interest. She finally broke in and helped the boy select a fairly complete and intelligent palette. Ingerle remembers her gratefully to this day, though he never did know her name.
Then he got some canvas and hied himself home. He knew enough not to copy “The Violin Maker.” He looked through his books for a kindred subject, and found it in a black and white picture of choir boys at a rehearsal.
He proceeded to paint his picture, feeling his way technically, as he had had no instruction — his education in “the arts” had been confined to the violin. When he finished, the painting looked good to him, and his mother was good enough to say it looked as good to her.
So he wrapped it up and toted it downtown — the package was as tall as he was! — to the Siegel-Cooper store, where he demanded to see the manager.
“I wish I had now the confidence I had that day,” Ingerle says, smiling as he tells the story.
He was persuaded to tell an underling what he wanted with the manager and was directed, instead, to the store’s chief buyer.
The buyer looked at the picture. Remember that was back in the ‘90s before “wisecracking” became universal. Ingerle offered to sell it to him for $300, although it was a bigger picture than “The Violin Maker.” The buyer told him, gently and kindly, that it was a pretty good picture but would have to be “fixed up” before it could be offered for sale, and that his store, he was afraid, couldn’t handle it. Finally, after much persuasion, he convinced Ingerle that Siegel-Cooper would have to take the risk of losing out on a sale, even though — as Ingerle promised — it would be “fixed up” by him according to any specifications the firm might suggest.
Ingerle reluctantly left after a while, his confidence in Siegel-Cooper shaken. He gave Marshall Field’s next change, then Carson Pirie Scott’s, and then some independent picture galleries. Everybody was incredibly kind but the masterpiece remained in his possession. His mother comforted him by arranging ultimately for him to attend classes at the Art Institute.
This is one of Ingerle’s favorite stories. Years later, when he was an established painter, he told it at a Woman’s Club on Chicago’s West side. One of the club members invited him, urgently but mysteriously, to return for the next meeting. On doing so, he was confronted with “The Violin Maker” — the woman had bought it, in those far-off days, from the Siegel-Cooper window.
Ingerle studied in the night classes at the Art Institute and at Schmidt’s Academy. He also took individual instruction from Walter Dean Goldbeck, a painter who had a studio on the tenth floor of the Fine Arts Building — the floor where Ingerle is now ensconced.
Goldbeck was an “abstractionist” long before the “isms” became rampant. He did an abstraction suggested by musical themes. A visitor to his studio one day was Kubelik, who glanced at the picture cursorily. Somebody explained to him the musical content and asked him if it didn’t inspire him. Kubelik answered with a blunt “No!” Goldbeck became discouraged and destroyed his picture.
Ingerle’s sympathies were with Kubelik instead of with his instructor. From the outset, Ingerle has been respectful to the “traditions.” His aims and purposes in painting are to infuse poetry into naturalistic appearances, and not to experiment with fantastic forms and bizarre colors. He doesn’t paint accurately what he sees — he has been visiting the Smoky Mountains annually for the last ten years, and he doubts if there is among his canvases a solitary one that reproduces a given locality. He makes notes and then retires to his studio where he reconstructs nature in a fusion of his own imagination.
Temperamentally, from his Moravian ancestry and from his love of music, still poignant though he long ago abandoned his violin for brush and canvas, Ingerle is a poet. He dreams in the twilight, the moonlight, and the early dawn. For midday, he has no liking — the sun is brutal and garish.
He was one of the pioneers of Brown County, Indiana, since hallowed by Steele. Then he transferred his allegiance to the Ozarks, helping to form “the school of Ozark painters” that has had considerable influence in the art of the middle west. But he deserted the Ozarks about a decade ago for the Smoky Mountains, which seem to him more poetically beautiful, more mysterious. I wonder what effect the Moravian mountains will have on his “Smoky” dream realm.
Though a poet of paint living in a bluish twilight, Ingerle has not shunned his duties as an “art citizen.” He has been, indeed, one of the most active of Chicago artists in their community affairs. For 12 years, he was treasurer of the old Chicago Society of Artists, and for two years, their president.
He took the initiative in organizing Chicago’s first street and neighborhood pageant many years ago, along Stony Island Avenue between 67th and 79th Streets. He recalls with a laugh the grand event at the wind-up, the staging of a play called “Art Abandoned,” in which Pauline Palmer won the acting laurels.
He also did his share — he says it was a modest one — in persuading the government to set aside the Smoky Mountain region as a national park.
He has served on many juries at the Art Institute and elsewhere, and was chairman of the famous “21” jury when the radicals put over a coup and scandalized the Art Institute in the early ‘20s with a wild and wooly show. Ingerle was helpless in trying to stem the revolt. The juries for the Institute shows at that time were elected by participating artists. The conservatives had been able to muster an overwhelming majority year after year, but on this occasion the “radicals,” led by Weisenborn and Hoeckner, though having a minority of the 21 jurors, succeeded in capturing the machinery by playing one conservative faction against another.