J. Mortimer Lichtenauer: The Diary of an American Art Student in Paris

Every now and then we have an item come in that seems tailor-made for a Swann auction. In Tuesday’s sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana we offer the diary kept by J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, an art student in Paris in the late 1800s. The diary is both an excellent manuscript item and a peek into a community that included many artists whose work now regularly appears in our auctions. 

J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898 (detail).

Lot 59: J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898 (detail). Estimate $800 to $1,200.

 

Joseph Mortimer Lichtenauer (1876-1966), the son of a New York investment advisor, went on to a long career in art and became a member of the Salmagundi Club. Parisian training was considered essential for a serious artist in this period, and Lichtenauer was constantly surrounded by other painters – French and American, students and masters. When the diary opens, he was in attendance at the famed Académie Julian, where his instructors were Jean-Paul Laurens and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. He soon left for a rented studio with friends Arthur R. Friedlander and Augustus M. Gerdes, who both went on to modest success. They solicited useful advice from American expatriate William Turner Dannat, while other artists he met included Cadwallader Washburn (“…a very clever student”, 16 March), Louis Vaillant and Carolus-Duran. He also marveled that “that demi-God Whistler” lived a few doors away (10 March).

 

J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898.

Lot 59: J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898 (detail). Estimate $800 to $1,200.

 

Perhaps the best-remembered artist he actually saw was Henry Ossawa Tanner of Pennsylvania: “I eat my lunch now at the American Club. Today Tanner, a half negro and a credit to his race, I saw there. This young fellow has just been honored by having the French government buy the picture he exhibited in last spring’s salon. The Raising of Lazarus I believe is the subject of his composition” (23 October 1897).

 

J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898 (detail).

Lot 59: J. Mortimer Lichtenauer, diary of an American art student in Paris, 125 manuscript pages, Paris, 13 October 1897 to 23 April 1898 (detail). Estimate $800 to $1,200.

 

Lichtenauer also discusses current affairs. The jingoistic march to the Spanish-American war is traced at length. The anti-Semitic Dreyfus Affair which was then roiling France was also of great interest to Lichtenauer as a Jewish-American. He notes with alarm the student mobs outside Émile Zola’s house chanting “Long live the Army! Death to the Jews!” (20 January). On a more personal note, his efforts to join the American Art Association became mysteriously stalled, and he wrote that “Hartshorne on the committee, being a Jew-hater, I suspect is at the bottom of all this” (9 December). Friends in the club soon expedited his application. Art, however, is at the heart of the diary – an articulate young man struggling to understand his craft while surrounded by brilliant competitors.

A Parisian training was considered essential for a serious artist in this period

Lichtenauer’s paintings can be found in the collections of museums like the Brooklyn Museum and Smithsonian American Art Museum. He also painted several notable murals in New York, including works in the auditorium of Washington Irving High School and in the Shubert Theater

Lichtenauer’s diary is just one of many intriguing manuscript items in the auction, along with the diary of an Englishman’s trip to K featuring a buffalo hunt, a Navy diary kept aboard the sloop of war USS Vincennes, and several Civil War diaries. For additional manuscript material and much more, take a look at the complete catalogue