Skip to main content

Carl Bohnen papers, 1892-1974

Carl Bohnen papers, 1892-1974

Bohnen, Carl A., 1872-1951

Painter, Portrait painter

Collection Information

Size: 3.3 linear feet.

Summary: 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.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter and engraver; Minneapolis, Minn.


Donated 1978 by Mrs. Arthur Bohnen and Blythe Bohnen, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of Carl Bohnen.

A Finding Aid to the Carl Bohnen Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
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.
The collection is arranged as 8 series. Each series is arranged chronologically, with the exception of Series 8: Photographs. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1898-1952 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1892-1977 (Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 3: Business Records, 1914-1952 (Box 1; 10 folders)
Series 4: Artwork, 1900-1935 (Box 1; 8 folders)
Series 5: Notes and Writings, 1917-1974 (Box 1; 8 folders)
Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1904-1962 (Boxes 1-2, OV 5; 15 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1977 (Boxes 2, 4; 19 folders)
Series 8: Photographs, 1888-1951 (Boxes 2-4, 6; 1.5 linear feet)
Donated 1978 by Mrs. Arthur Bohnen and Blythe Bohnen, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of Carl Bohnen.
Processing Information
The Carl Bohnen papers were processed in January 2008 by Jean Fitzgerald. Glass plate negatives were re-housed in 2015 with a grant provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Carl Bohnen papers, 1892-1974. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available