Catalog Essay | October 24, 2019 | Lot 86
Otto Henry Bacher was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to a family of German descent. He first studied art at the age of sixteen with local genre trompe l’oeil still-life artist, DeScott Evans. After a short period in Philadelphia, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), Bacher returned to Cleveland and met Willis Seaver Adams, an artist from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had recently arrived on the Cleveland art scene. Adams was instrumental in the founding of the Cleveland Art Club, as well as the establishment of the Cleveland Academy of the Fine Arts. During this time, Bacher began to learn the process of etching from local etcher and landscape painter Sion Longley Wenban.
In 1878, Bacher and Adams left for Europe. After stopping briefly in Scotland, Bacher went on to Munich, where he enrolled at the Royal Academy. He quickly tired of the rigors of the academy, and soon he was studying with Cincinnati artist Frank Duveneck as one of the celebrated “Duveneck Boys.” Early in the following year, the group proceeded to Venice, where Bacher and several other artists established studios in the Casa Jankovitz. By this time an avid printmaker, Bacher had his etching press sent from Munich, and it was in his Venice studio that he taught Duveneck the rudiments of etching.
It was also in Venice that Bacher met American expatriate artist, James McNeill Whistler. On learning of Bacher’s press, Whistler made himself a regular visitor to Bacher’s studio, eventually taking his own room at Casa Jankovitz. Bacher spent much of the rest of 1880 sharing etching techniques with Whistler. Bacher visited Whistler occasionally in the years that followed, and in 1908 he published With Whistler in Venice, his famous recollections of his time with the great artist. Bacher spent the next two years traveling extensively throughout Italy, with Venice as the center of his operations, and he produced several important etchings of Italian subjects.
Bacher returned to Cleveland in January 1883 as a fully cosmopolitan artist. He set up a lavish studio furnished with exotic items and objets d’art he had collected on his travels and began to hold art classes a means to supplement his income. He soon joined with Joseph DeCamp in forming a summer sketch class in Richfield, Ohio. Bacher and De Camp also planned the Cleveland Room for a major loan exhibition in Detroit that year. During this period, Bacher began increasingly to paint in oil, and he began to produce sun-dappled canvases in an impressionistic mode. Unable to sell any paintings from this early period, however, Bacher left Cleveland for Paris in 1885, where he planned to undertake further studies. Stopping first in London to visit Whistler, Bacher stayed only briefly in Paris before heading to Venice, where he spent the remainder of the year. Bacher, Robert Blum, and Charles Ulrich lived in the Palazzo Contarni degli Scrigni on the Grand Canal. At the end of the year, Bacher returned to New York, and settled there permanently after marrying in 1888.
Bacher received his greatest recognition in 1904, when he won a Silver Medal for his etchings at the St. Louis Exposition. In addition to his work in printmaking, Bacher also produced and sold several oil paintings and pastels throughout the 1890s and early 1900, many of which he exhibited in New York at the Society of American Artists and the National Academy of Design. These works demonstrate Bacher’s assimilation of Impressionism, both in his treatment of genteel interior scenes as well as the landscape. Bacher spent the last years of his life in Lawrence Park, Bronxville, New York. Along with all the members of the Society of American Artists, Bacher was elected as associate of the National Academy of Design in 1906.
Interior of a Fifth Avenue Bank, New York is a canvas very much in line with Bacher’s mature style. The color scheme and broken brushwork are strongly related to Impressionism, but Bacher’s academic training is clear in the firmly realistic rendering of the figures and the crisp outline given to the objects in the painting. In this highly decorative work, Bacher seems to have delighted in depicting the details of the various patterns that define the interior setting, as seen in the wallpaper, the floor rug, and the fabric of the furniture. Bacher has placed a small table with a large, closed book upon it directly in the foreground, a compositional device that distances the viewer from the intimate action of the two figures. Directly behind the table in the distance is a mirror, which is seen head-on. Interestingly, in addition to the reflection of the table and the back of the chair in which the figure on the right is sitting, on sees in this mirror a third female figure sitting in the very position of the viewer. These interest in compositional tricks and challenges in the depiction of interior space share some sympathies with the work of Edmund Tarbell and the other artists of the Boston School, who in the late nineteenth century took a renewed interest in the works of Vermeer and the seventeenth-century Dutch masters. Bacher’s work is different, however, in that it doesn’t incorporate the subdued palette or the dramatic raking light of the Dutch school and is instead a quintessentially American amal-gam of several European styles.
Later research reveals this painting is likely the Fifth Avenue Bank, a bank specializing in serving wealthy society women. In 1893, the bank had a so-called “Ladies’ Room,” similarly appointed to the room in Bacher’s composition.
(Adapted from information accompanying the lot provided on the original documentation by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York, dated Jan. 13, 2005.)