ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 73 Lucie Hartrath
Had Lucie Hartrath been as well up in her music as in her painting, “The Merry Widow” might never have been written, for Prince Danilo of Marsovia, under her tutelage, might have grown up to be a better boy, reading good books instead of wasting his time on such creatures as the girls at Maxine’s.
For in her young womanhood, Miss Hartrath, in Paris, was introduced into the most intimate circles of the royalty of Montenegro — and Marsovia is Montenegro in disguise. Leastwise Montenegro is supposed to have suggested to Lehar Marsovia.
Miss Hartrath was with a great-aunt, a woman of title attached to the court of Russia. This aunt was Swiss, as was the chaperone of young princesses of Montenegro, visiting Paris, and these two ladies-in-waiting were personal friends. It was thus that Lucie Hartrath was drawn into the magic circle, meeting not only the princesses but the crown prince of Montenegro, shortly to become king, and his brother. She was included in the royal party that visited the theater and was a guest friend in the Montenegrin salon.
In course of conversations, the matter of the education of the little Prince Danilo, son of the crown prince and soon to be crown prince himself, came up, and Lucie Hartrath was scanned as a desirable lady-in-waiting. Being American, it wasn’t necessary for her to have a title, but she must be up in languages and music, and must have traveled extensively. She qualified easily in all requirements except music — and more to her chagrin, since her mother was a teacher of music in Chicago in the old Dearborn seminary and of a line of musicians.
So instead of entraining first-class for Montenegro, Miss Hartrath still recalls with a sigh, she took third-class passage to Brittany to sketch. The little Danilo grew up a few years later to be the Danilo of “The Merry Widow,” his career partly fictionized as befits the fictitious land of Marsovia.
Miss Hartrath is Bostonian by birth but her art career belongs to Chicago, with plunges into Brown County, Indiana, where she was of the generation and a good friend of Steele, like herself trained in landscape painting in Munich. Miss Hartrath likes to recall best the “horse and buggy days” in Brown County, whose hilly wilds were undisturbed by even a railroad. Nashville and environs do not look the same to her when approached by automobile. Besides, most of the rooms there that could be engaged by artists are now occupied by CCC workers.
Her grandfather on her father’s side was a judge in the Moselle region — Judge Von Hartenrath. The name, being interpreted, is “hard” or “stern judge,” and Miss Hartrath deposes that she inherited from him not only the name (shortened) but her fate of being chosen to serve frequently on art juries. But she says old Judge Von Hartenrath wasn’t as hard a judge as his name sounds, being in the habit of laughing at the grimness of it, and she denies she is unduly stern when passing on the works of artists submitted to her judgment.
She recalls with a laugh how she got her first picture accepted by a jury before she knew any such thing as an art jury existed. She had been a student at the Art Institute of Chicago for a few months when she went over to Burlington, Wis., for a few weeks’ visit. Securing a big canvas, she painted two small boys in a landscape, and sent it back to Chicago with the request it be hung in a forthcoming show at the Art Institute. It was hung, as she sublimely expected it to be — but only because a jury had passed it. Her instructor, John Vanderpoel, laughed heartily when he heard her naïve story.
Miss Hartrath’s father was born in Moselle, a short distance from the birthplace of the father of her friend in the Tree Studio building,. Pauline Palmer. Two uncles on her father’s side were artists. Her father died when she was a little girl, and her mother married his brother. This stepfather, Medard Hartrath, was an engraver connected with the Western Bank Note Company, the only one in the Midwest of the United States at the time who could engrave a bond. During the Civil War, when only 18, he was employed at West Point Military Academy, drawing maps for the use of the federal army.
The family lived in Cleveland when Lucie was a child, and when they came to Chicago they left her there in a finishing school. She “finished” at 16 and became a teacher in a primary school at 17.
But after a year, her mother sent her to Zurich, Switzerland, for a prolonged visit with an aunt, having a horror of the girl growing into a humdrum school teacher.
Zurich was one of Lucie Hartrath’s ancestral cities. A grandfather, Prof. Graeffe, had gone there in time of the German revolution in the middle of last century, had become a teacher in the Polytechnic and had been given honorary citizenship in the city. His wife was an Englishwoman of a wealthy family who had lost their possessions, mainly extensive estates in Bohemia, in the Napoleonic wars. Lucie Hartrath is thus English and German, with a dash of French, and an urge for Switzerland.
In Zurich, on this visit, Lucie Hartrath received her first art lessons, drawing twice a week in a studio, though at 10 she had painted a picture in Cleveland with a shingle (given her by the aunt of Max Bohn) as palette that had been complimented. Among her associates at Zurich were the renowned painter, Arnold Boecklin and family. She acted as bridesmaid for Boecklin’s daughter and was one of the few outsiders permitted to visit his studio.
From Zurich, she went to Paris, which had been beckoning her ever since she began thinking seriously of painting. She became a pupil there of Andre Rixens, and was received in the circles of Luigi Chialiva, an old friend of her family.
It was Chialiva who was Italian commissioner for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. In his Paris house, open to a favored few, she was nicknamed “Tanagra” and was the only youngster frequenting the circle. Whistler was scheduled as a guest, and the great Englishman had promised Chialiva to do a sketch for him in his house. “Tanagra” had a little green dress and she was to have been presented to Whistler thus attired as a model for the promised sketch, but a week before his expected arrival, Miss Hartrath received a cablegram calling her urgently home. Thus, she missed being sketched by Whistler, as later she was to miss being lady-in-waiting to Prince Danilo.
Back in Chicago, it was now she studied for a few months at the Art Institute. Returning once more to Europe, she wintered in Rome, summered in Austria, and then went to Paris where a painting of hers was accepted for the salon. It was while in Paris this time the Montenegrin episode occurred.
After her excursion into Brittany, she came back again to Chicago and shortly thereafter was offered the position of head of the art department at Rockford College, where she taught for two years.
In Jaffa, on a boat, Lucie Hartrath encountered General Ballington Booth, head of the Salvation Army, who crustily reproached her for being a “social butterfly.”
The reproach amused her, seeing that she was working for her living, even if she was fashionably attired like her patroness and the two girls she was helping show the world.
But at the end of her engagement, during which she received not only her expenses but the equivalent of her Rockford College salary, she went to Munich where for four months she studied painting more intensively than she had ever as yet done. The following winter she was back in Munich again, and these two sessions, both characterized by severe training, she considers as constituting her “art education.” Moreover, they developed in her the elements of a nostalgia for Munich, which persists, as in most painters who have had their training there. Miss Hartrath considers it the most charming spot on earth, with everything of the “big city” atmosphere Paris can offer, combined with an almost rural charm.
Returning to Chicago in 1910, she established a studio and in 1914 she moved to her present quarters in the Tree Studio building. One of the most faithful of her devotions was to her mother, who died only a few years ago at the age of 97.
She has returned to Europe only once in late years, her “travels” being mostly to Brown County where she is rated among the pioneers. She has won many prizes, starting with the Butler prize at the Art Institute in 1911 and finishing, to date, in June of this year with purchase prize in the Hoosier summer salon at Lake Wawasee. This latter prize is for a Brown County canvas, “The Creek.” Like the veteran Steele, she has adapted her Munich technique to the painting of Indiana scenes.