ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 48 Torvald Arnst Hoyer
A genuine “primitive” is being introduced today to Chicago, which should have discovered him 30 years ago, the period of his residence here. He is T.A. Hoyer, and the introduction is under auspices of the Neoteric at the Findlay Galleries, Auditorium Hotel. Hoyer came under the eyes of a discriminating few at the first open-air art fair in Grant Park but except, in his impromptu booth there and in a barnlike gallery operated in the Loop for a time, by Cati Mount, impresario of the only Grant Park Fair that counts. Hoyer remained “undiscovered” until the Neoterics took him up. He had two little pictures in the autumn show of the Neoterics, just closed, and now he is being presented in the full sweep of his talents in his one-man show.
“Primitive” is an unfortunate designation, in a way, for Hoyer. It should be understood here as signifying an artist of original naïve impulses, accompanied by a long-trained, thoroughly assured technique. The “classic” example is The Douanier Rousseau. Of late, particularly in America, the artist considered a “primitive” is likely to be crude in talents, eve though genuinely gifts in inspiration. Such “primitives” have graced Chicago — Rifka Angel, for one, woefully lacking in technical skill, though scoring resoundingly when she happened to “hit;” and the late Abraham L. Pollock, better than Rifka at his best, worse than Rifka at her worst.
Hoyer, born in Copenhagen, Aug 18, 1871, began an almost fanatical study and devotion to art when he was 13, and has not lagged in either application or worship in the 51 years since. He has traveled the world over, from Denmark to Australia, and there is not a museum on the face of the civilized earth that he has not only visited but roamed hour after hour, day after day, carefully studying the pictures, noting how “the old masters” got their effects.
So when you see his “naïve” paintings at Findlays, it is to the advantage of your understanding of Hoyer that you believe he paints that way from choice, long considered, carefully planned. The world is waking up to the fact that the Douanier Rousseau may have known all along exactly what he was doing.
Hoyer, at 13, son of the wealthiest coal dealer in Copenhagen, entered the studio of Franz Hennesen, court painter to Danish royalty. He had been drawing pictures since he was 7. He went to Hennesen as an “apprentice,” rather than as a pupil, first cleaning the painter’s brushes and making himself useful. Hennesen liked his looks and soon had him posing as model, chiefly for children’s heads. Discovering art talents, Hennesen helped develop them and when he noted that young Hoyer’s imagination turned to landscapes, he advised him, “when he grew up,” to go traveling.
Hoyer, meanwhile, at the gymnasium, was growing into an exceptional athlete. He was amazingly strong of muscle but quick and supple in action. He was in demand for acrobatic performances in amateur theatricals. When there were human “pyramids” to be built, he was cast in the role of the base. But he could tumble, too, and flit about in quick somersaults.
At 19, after he had been in Hennesen’s studio for six years, Hoyer took the old painter’s advice and started a tour of Europe. With him was another strong Copenhagen boy. They formed a team known as Max and Harry — Hoyer was Harry. The team later was incorporated into an act consisting of six acrobats whose most spectacular numbers were “pyramids,” with Hoyer on the floor.
The sextette were in constant demand in the huge theaters in the population centers of Europe. They were never without jobs. In London, they played The Palace, where was dancing another Dane, Adeline Genee, probably the most exquisite toe dancer that ever lived. She danced for ten years continuously at another London theater, The Empire.
In Switzerland, Hoyer met on the bill another Danish toe dancer, and married her. Their daughter, long after her parents had retired form the stage, became a member of the ballet of the Chicago Opera. Ballet, as Europe understands it, is a serious and highly honorable profession. The ballet girls are aristocrats of the stage.
Hoyer, making his money as an acrobat — and liking it — nevertheless refused to neglect his painting, even for a week. There was no “five-a-day” then, seven days a week for Vaudeville performers. They played nightly and on certain matinee days. Hoyer reduced his days to a system. Mornings, he rehearsed with his fellows — they were the greatest, most demanded athletic act on the European stage, and they kept always in shape. Evenings, he performed before the footlights. Afternoons, when he didn’t have matinees, he either roamed the art galleries or mingled with the painters of Paris, Rome, Berlin, wherever he happened to be, or sketched the scenery of the neighborhood or actually painted pictures, for he carried with him easel, canvas, brushes, and pigments.
Other continents heard of the European athletic sextette, and they went on a tour of the world. After Australia, where Hoyer made a sketch he later developed into a landscape you will see at the Neoterics show, he and his fellows came to America and Chicago saw their act in the roof garden of the old Masonic Temple in the Spring of 1902.
Hoyer took a liking to America, and particularly to Chicago. He continued his career as an acrobat for another 13 years. The sextette split up, the athletes scattering through the Vaudeville circuits and the circuses. Hoyer eventually joined the Yoskary Trio, becoming an “Italian” for the occasion. He was the “understander” for the two genuine brothers Yoskary, if you happen to remember the act.
But athletic acts were falling on evil days. The Vaudeville houses were using them to open and close the shows — to “ring in” the crowd, and to occupy the stage while the crowd was going out. Pay dwindled., Hoyer eventually, now 43 and his muscles slowing up, found easier and more lucrative ways of making a living that would allow him, too, to devote more time to his beloved paints. He had seen, almost literally, all the pictures in the world. So he settled down in Chicago.
He is a frequent visitor to the galleries of the Art Institute — quiet, unobtrusive. Nobody knows he is there — least of all the officials of the Institute who have overlooked him all these years.
He has the utmost admiration for the museum’s collections, even after visiting all the museums in all the centers of Europe and the world, but he has little more than contempt for the “artists” the Institute’s vast school mill-grinds out. These artists are scarcely worthy of washing the brushes of old Hennesen, you gather from his conversation.
His favorite haunt at the Institute is the Inness Room. Inness does things to him no other American has succeeded in doing — things he used to experience in the presence of the Flemish and Italian “primitives” in the Louvre.
He has sat at the feet of Inness, has noted his effects, has bored into his psychology, has come to “understand Inness as though I were his son.,” He has put some of the spirit of Inness, as he believes, into a few of his own canvases.
Hoyer’s devotion to Inness is a reminder of Rousseau’s worship of Bouguereau. Rousseau tried to paint like Bouguereau, and thought he was doing a pretty good job. Because he couldn’t was the salvation of Rousseau — Bouguereau isn’t worthy to untie the Douanier’s shoe strings.
I’m afraid Hoyer, similarly, is wasting his admiration on a painter decidedly inferior to himself. Hoyer’s “Inness phase” is much more remarkably Hoyer, which means a something in a rarefied realm of talent so high that Inness, for all his “atmosphere,” never could have perceived, let alone achieved it.
Hoyer doesn’t trouble about portraits. Landscape is all in all to him, and particularly clouds. He paints from the clouds down, instead of from the ground up. Once in a great while, he reverses the order, as in a painting of Lake Michigan, scarcely dry.
He sat on the lake shore, day after day, absorbing the color and the glint of the water. Then he went back to his studio and worked with the water as he works with clouds. The result is astounding.
It’s water, all right, but water as it appealed originally only to Hoyer individually — only to one man on earth. The “primitives” are like that.
After he had painted the water, he painted boats on it — again, the “primitive” process.
In painting trees, Hoyer is almost microscopically meticulous. You feel the leaves as well as the general form. The Flemish masters did that to you!