Carl Bohnen papers, 1892-1974

A Finding Aid to the Carl Bohnen Papers, 1888-1977, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Charles "Carl" Bohnen was born in October 1872 (according to the U.S. Census) in Erie, Pennsylvania, to Nicholas and Marie Jochin Bohnen, who had emigrated from Germany. The family moved to Meyer's Grove, Minnesota in the following year.

Carl Bohnen graduated from St. John's University at Collegeville, Minnesota in 1892, earning a diploma in "Bookkeeping and Penmanship." Soon afterwards, he met Jake Hohman who employed him in a business involving drawing portraits from photographs. In 1896, Bohnen established a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he continued creating portraits from photographs. During this time, he met Charlotte Johnson, whom he married in 1898.

Bohnen moved his studio in 1902 and began painting portraits from life. Paul Manship's family were neighbors of the Bohnens at Bald Eagle Lake near St. Paul, Minnesota. Bohnen studied at the Minnesota School of Fine Arts in exchange for cleaning up the classrooms. He later made space available to Manship in his studio.

In 1904, Bohnen completed studies at the St. Paul Art Institute. He also did commercial work, including doing portraits of sports figures for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch. Through his newspaper connections, he did portraits of many other celebrities, later selling reproductions of these artworks. Eventually, he was hired as a portrait painter by a variety of prominent sitters, including R. A. Jackson, a railroad executive in St. Paul. An exhibition of Bohnen's portraits organized by Jackson resulted in additional commissions.

Through R. A. Jackson, several lumber millionaires helped finance a European trip for the Bohnen family in 1914. Bohnen studied at the Koenigliche Kunst Academie in Munich under Carl Von Marr and Angelo Jank, and established a studio in that city. Travel constraints resulting from the onset of World War I caused the family to remain in Munich for three years. During this time, Bohnen was a member of the American Artist Club that included E. Martin Hennings, Louis Grell, and Emil Frei.

Bohnen and his family returned to St. Paul, Minnesota in May 1918, where he established a studio. He moved to Chicago in the following year, opening a studio in the Fine Arts building where he remained until the 1930s. Bohnen created thousands of portraits primarily of notable people including Edward the Prince of Wales, Ethel Barrymore, Enrico Caruso, Helen Hayes, Charles Lindbergh, Douglas MacArthur, John McCormack, Cardinal Mundelein, and Lawrence Tibbett.

In 1928, Bohnen established a studio in Paris and worked there sporadically through 1933. In 1933, he returned to St. Paul, Minnesota, setting up his studio in the Ryan Hotel. In 1944, he retired to live in Los Angeles, California, with his son, actor Roman Bohnen. After his son's sudden death in 1949, Bohnen lived with his other son, Arthur, in Chicago.

Carl Bohnen died on December 31, 1951 in Willmette, Illinois.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of portrait painter Carl Bohnen date from 1888-1977, and measure 2.8 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical materials; correspondence among family, clients, and colleagues; scattered business records; a sketchbook and loose sketches; miscellaneous notes and writings; three scrapbooks of clippings and additional printed materials. Photographs are of Bohnen, family members, colleagues, views of Paris in the late 1920s, Native American models, portrait clients, and artwork.

Biographical material includes miscellaneous Bohnen family histories and chronologies of Bohnen's career, Bohnen's marriage certificate, school transcripts, and copies of his burial certificate.

Family correspondence consists of letters exchanged between Bohnen, his wife, siblings, and children. General correspondence is with colleagues including Carl Von Marr, and portrait clients including Constance Collier, John Erskine, Edna Ferber, and Frank B. Kellogg. The letters are often emotional and illustrate occasionally volatile relationships between Bohnen, his clients, and his children. Also included are condolence letters received by the family following Bohnen's death.

Business records include a contract for financial backing of artistic activities, insurance records, miscellaneous receipts, and a file concerning the elderly Bohnen's injuries on an American Airlines flight bringing him from California to live with his son in Chicago.

Artwork found within the papers consists of a sketchbook, miscellaneous sketches, hand-lettered signs for Bohnen's portrait business, etchings by Bohnen and others, a bronze plaque displaying a self-portrait of Bohnen, and etching plates. Scattered notes and writings include typescripts of speeches, plays, and poems.

Three scrapbooks of clippings and additional printed material consisting of loose clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, and reproductions of artwork offer a good overview of Bohnen's career.

Photographs are primarily of Bohnen's artwork and protrait clients. Two photograph albums contain scattered photographs of Bohnen, family members, colleagues, and artwork. Other photographs are of Bohnen at his easel, family members, colleagues including sculptor Paul Dubois working in his studio, artist Grace Neal, and views of Paris. There are also photographs of Native American models in ceremonial headdresses. Photographs of clients include Sarah Bernhardt, William Jennings Bryan, Enrico Caruso, Fritz Feld, Mary Garden, and Helen Hayes, among others.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 8 series. Each series is arranged chronologically, with the exception of Series 8: Photographs.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Bernhardt, Sarah, 1844-1923
  • Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925
  • Caruso, Enrico
  • DuBois, Paul
  • Feld, Fritz, 1900-1993
  • Garden, Mary,1877-1967
  • Hayes, Helen
  • Neal, Grace, 1917-

Subjects-Topical:

  • Portrait painters -- Minnesota

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Works of art
  • Sketchbooks
  • Sketches
  • Etchings
  • Writings

Names:

  • Collier, Constance,1878-1955
  • Erskine, John
  • Ferber, Edna, 1887-1968
  • Kellogg, Frank B.
  • Marr, Carl von, 1858-1936

Provenance

The Carl Bohnen papers were donated in 1978 by the artist's daughter-in-law, Dorothy Clark Bohnen, and his granddaughter, Blythe Bohnen.

How the Collection was Processed

The Carl Bohnen papers were processed in January 2008 by Jean Fitzgerald.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Carl Bohnen papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Carl Bohnen papers, 1888-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1898-1952
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Biographical material includes miscellaneous Bohnen family histories and chronologies, Bohnen's marriage certificate, school transcripts, and a copy of his burial certificate.

Box Folder
1 1 Bohnen Family Histories and Chronologies, undated
1 2 Calling Card, Marriage Certificate, School Transcripts, and Burial Certificate, 1898-1952, undated

Series 2: Correspondence, 1892-1977
(Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)

Family correspondence consists of letters exchanged between Bohnen, his wife, siblings, and children. Also included are condolence letters received by the family following Bohnen's death. General correspondence is with colleagues including Carl Von Marr, and portrait clients including Constance Collier, John Erskine, Edna Ferber, and Frank B. Kellogg.

Family correspondence is filed chronologically before General correspondence, which is also chronological. Undated letters are filed by surname.

Box Folder
1 3 Family Correspondence, undated
1 4 Family Correspondence, 1892
1 5-6 Family Correspondence, 1893
(2 folders)
1 7 Family Correspondence, 1894-1897
1 8 Family Correspondence, 1899
1 9 Family Correspondence, 1902-1919
1 10 Family Correspondence, 1923-1924
1 11-12 Family Correspondence, 1928
(2 folders)
1 13 Family Correspondence, 1930
1 14-15 Family Correspondence, 1931
(2 folders)
1 16 Family Correspondence, 1932
1 17-18 Family Correspondence, 1934
(2 folders)
1 19 Family Correspondence, 1935
1 20-21 Family Correspondence, 1936
(2 folders)
1 22-23 Family Correspondence, 1937
(2 folders)
1 24-25 Family Correspondence, 1938
(2 folders)
1 26-27 Family Correspondence, 1939
(2 folders)
1 28 Family Correspondence, 1940
1 29 Family Correspondence, 1941
1 30 Family Correspondence, 1944
1 31 Family Correspondence, 1945
1 32 Family Correspondence, 1947-1948
1 33 Family Correspondence, 1951
1 34 Undated General Correspondence from Individuals with Unknown Surnames, undated
1 35 Undated General Correspondence from Individuals with Surnames "A"-"C," undated
1 36 Undated General Correspondence from Individuals with Surnames "D"-"Z," undated
1 37 General Correspondence, 1892-1898
1 38 General Correspondence, 1910-1911
1 39 General Correspondence, 1912-1919
1 40 General Correspondence, 1922-1923
1 41 General Correspondence, 1924
1 42 General Correspondence, 1925-1926
1 43 General Correspondence, 1927
1 44 General Correspondence, 1928
1 45 General Correspondence, 1929
1 46 General Correspondence, 1930
1 47-48 General Correspondence, 1931
(2 folders)
1 49-51 General Correspondence, 1932
(3 folders)
1 52 General Correspondence, 1933
1 53 General Correspondence, 1934
1 54-56 General Correspondence, 1935
(3 folders)
1 57 General Correspondence, 1936
1 58 General Correspondence, 1937
1 59 General Correspondence, 1938-1939
1 60 General Correspondence, 1940-1951
1 61-63 General Correspondence, 1952
(3 folders)
1 64 General Correspondence, 1970
1 65 General Correspondence, 1971-1977

Series 3: Business Records, 1914-1952
(Box 1; 10 folders)

Business records include a contract for financing backing of artistic activities, insurance records, miscellaneous receipts, and a file concerning Bohnen's injuries on an American Airlines flight.

Box Folder
1 66 Contract for Financing Artistic Activities, 1935
1 67-70 Insurance Records, 1933-1939
(4 folders)
1 71-72 File Concerning Bohnen's Accident on American Airlines, 1951-1952
(2 folders)
1 73-74 Miscellaneous Medical Records, 1951-1952
(2 folders)
1 75 Miscellaneous Receipts, 1914-1935

Series 4: Artwork, 1900-1935
(Box 1; 8 folders)

Artwork consists of a sketchbook, miscellaneous sketches, hand-lettered signs for Bohnen's portrait business, etchings by Bohnen and others, a bronze plaque displaying a self-portrait of Bohnen, and etching plates.

Box Folder
1 76 Sketchbook, circa 1900
1 77 Miscellaneous Sketches, undated
1 78 Hand-Lettered Signs, 1927, undated
1 79 Etchings by Bohnen and Others, 1935, undated
1 80 Bronze Plaque Portrait of Bohnen, 1916
1 81 Zinc Etching Plate, undated
1 82-83 Copper Etching Plates, undated
(2 folders)

Series 5: Notes and Writings, 1917-1974
(Box 1; 8 folders)

This series includes miscellaneous notes, typescripts of speeches, plays, and poems, and miscellaneous writings.

Box Folder
1 84-85 Miscellaneous Notes, 1928-1974
(2 folders)
1 86 Typescript of Speech about Dr. Ridlon, undated
1 87 Typescript of Speech "The Statesmen of Europe Will Be Forced to Make Peace," 1917
1 88 Typescripts of Plays, circa 1935
1 89 Miscellaneous Poems, undated
1 90 Copy of Chapter 13 of Book The Last Round Up by Harry Johnston, undated
1 91 Miscellaneous Writings by Others, undated

Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1904-1962
(Boxes 1-2, OV 5; 15 folders)

Three dismantled scrapbooks of clippings document events in Bohnen's career as a portrait painter.

Box Folder
1 92-102 Scrapbook 1, 1904-1962
(11 folders)
Box Folder
2 1-2 Scrapbook 2, 1913-1928
(2 folders; see also OV 5)
2 3 Scrapbook 3, 1914-1952
Box
OV 5 Oversized Pages of Scrapbook 2, 1913-1928

Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1977
(Boxes 2, 4; 19 folders)

Printed material consists of clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, reproductions of artwork, and miscellaneous printed material.

Box Folder
2 4 Clippings, undated
2 5 Clippings, 1907-1917
2 6 Clippings, 1920-1921
2 7 Clippings, 1925-1926
2 8 Clippings, 1927-1929
2 9 Clippings, 1930-1931
2 10 Clippings, 1933-1939
2 11 Clippings, 1940-1947
2 12 Clippings, 1952-1977
2 13 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1921-1928, undated
2 14-16 Reproductions of Artwork by Bohnen, undated
(3 folders; see also Box 4)
2 17 Reproductions of Artwork by Others, 1932, undated
2 18 Programs, 1936, undated
2 19 Booklets, 1942, undated
2 20 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1943, undated
Box
4 (sol) Oversized Reproductions of Portraits by Bohnen, undated
(2 folders)

Series 8: Photographs, 1888-1951
(Boxes 2-4; 1 linear foot)

Photo Album 1 contains photographs of Bohnen, family members, colleagues, and scattered printed material. Photo Album 2 contains photographs of artwork. Other photographs are of Bohnen at his easel, family members, colleagues including sculptor Paul Dubois in his studio, artist Grace Neal, and views of Paris including street scenes, café scenes, and the funeral procession of General Foch. There are also photographs of Native American models in ceremonial headdresses, photographs of clients including Sarah Bernhardt, William Jennings Bryan, Enrico Caruso, Fritz Feld, Mary Garden, and Helen Hayes, and photographs of artwork.

Photographs of Clients and the Photographs of Portraits of Clients, are arranged alphabetically.

Box Folder
2 21-25 Photograph Album 1, 1888-1951
(5 folders)
2 26-28 Photograph Album 2, undated
(3 folders)
2 29-31 Photographs of Carl Bohnen, 1940, undated
(3 folders)
2 32 Photographs of Family Members, Colleagues, and Unidentified Individuals, 1925-1936, undated
2 33-36 Photographs of Miscellaneous Views of Paris, 1929-1933, undated
(4 folders)
2 37 Photographs of Native American Models, undated
(see also Box 3, F21)
2 38-40 Photographs of Unidentified Female Clients, 1936, undated
(3 folders)
2 41-43 Photographs of Unidentified Male Clients, undated
(3 folders)
2 44 Photographs of Clients Miss Alexander and Mrs. Alfring, undated
2 45 Photographs of Clients Vicki Baum and John Golden, 1933
2 46 Photograph of Client Sarah Bernhardt, undated
2 47 Photographs of Client William Jennings Bryan, undated
2 48 Photograph of Client Pierce Butler, undated
2 49 Photographs of Client Enrico Caruso, 1921, undated
2 50 Photographs of Clients Mrs. Clark, Dr. Cook, and William Cosgrave, undated
2 51 Photographs of Clients Mrs. Cunningham and Her Daughter, undated
2 52 Photographs of Client Fritz Feld, 1926, undated
2 53 Photographs of Clients Miner Gallup and Mary Garden, 1912-1924
(see also Box 4)
2 54 Photographs of Client Helen Hayes, undated
2 55 Photographs of Client Miss Hope, 1937
2 56 Photographs of Clients Ferdinand Inetz, Isabel Irving, and Edward Johnson, 1913, undated
2 57 Photographs of Client Frank B. Kellogg, undated
2 58 Photographs of Client Mrs. Kenney, undated
2 59-62 Photographs of Clients the S. F. King Family, 1937, undated
(4 folders)
2 63 Photographs of Clients Andrews Lang and Anton Lang, 1922, undated
2 64 Photographs of Clients Mr. and Mrs. Little, undated
2 65 Photographs of Clients Mr. Miranda, Miss Marlow, Riccardo Martin, Mr. Mather, John McCutcheon, Frank McNally, and Cardinal Mundelein, 1911, undated
2 66 Photographs of Client Governor Floyd Olson, 1930-1933
2 67 Photographs of Clients Mrs. Mulroony Olson and L. P. Ordway, undated
2 68 Photographs of Clients Mildred Potter, Francis Reitz, and Mr. and Miss Shimoneck, undated
2 69 Photographs of Client Ernestine Schumann-Heink, undated
2 70 Photographs of Clients Dr. Wieland, Benno Ziegler, and L. Ziegler, 1923, undated
2 71 Photographs of Miscellaneous Portraits, undated
2 72-76 Photographs of Portraits of Unidentified Women, undated
(5 folders; see also Box 3, F22)
2 77-81 Photographs of Portraits of Unidentified Men, undated
(5 folders; see also Box 3, F23)
2 82 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "A," undated
2 83 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "B," undated
2 84 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "C," undated
2 85 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "D," undated
2 86 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "E," undated
(see also Box 4
2 87 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "F," undated
2 88-89 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "G," 1912, undated
(2 folders)
2 90-91 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "H," 1942, undated
(2 folders)
Box Folder
3 (hol) 1 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "I"-"J," undated
3 (hol) 2-3 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "K," 1937, undated
(2 folders)
3 (hol) 4-5 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "L," undated
(2 folders)
3 (hol) 6-7 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "M," undated
(2 folders)
3 (hol) 8 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "N," undated
3 (hol) 9 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "O," undated
3 (hol) 10 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "P," undated
3 (hol) 11 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "R," undated
3 (hol) 12-13 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "S," undated
(2 folders)
3 (hol) 14 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "T," undated
3 (hol) 15 Photographs of Portraits with Client Surnames "W," undated
3 (hol) 16-20 Photographs of Miscellaneous Artwork, undated
(5 folders; see also Box 3, F24)
3 (hol) 21 Glass Plate Negatives of Native American Models, undated
(see also Box 2, F27)
3 (hol) 22 Glass Plate Negatives of Portraits of Unidentified Woman, undated
(see also Box 3, F72-76)
3 (hol) 23 Glass Plate Negatives of Portraits of unidentified Men, undated
(see also Box 3, F77-81)
3 (hol) 24 Glass Plate Negatives of Miscellaneous Artwork, undated
(see also Box 3, F16-20)
Box
4 (sol) Oversized Photographs of Mary Garden and of Edward, Prince of Wales, 1924, undated