Ideal Beauty?

Charles Waltensperger in his studio, 1929.

Charles Waltensperger in his studio, 1929.

Charles Waltensperger was a Detroit artist born on April 10, 1871.  His first job was as an elevator operator at the Detroit Free Press. The paper’s editor, William E. Quinby, noticed some of Waltensperger’s drawings of elevator passengers. Quinby was so impressed that he paid for Waltensperger’s tuition at the School of the Detroit Museum of Art and asked him to illustrate for the newspaper.

Waltensperger’s talent soon won him the James E. Scripps scholarship at the age of 14, which led him to study in Europe for the next two years.  In Paris, he studied at the Académie Julian and also attended the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Following his education, he returned to the United States and worked as both an artist and illustrator for the Detroit Free Press.  From then on, he continued to travel to Europe at least a dozen times.  In fact, his paintings were such a success in Detroit, he was able to spend all of 1912 in Laaren, Holland.  It was here, he was inspired by the Dutch masters and their genre scenes.

Pencil sketch, c. 1920

Pencil sketch, c. 1920

If you look at the work of Charles Waltensperger you can easily see these European influences.  Many sketches that are in our collection depict women in every day, casual scenes like reading, tending to young children, and arranging flowers.

He contributed to an article entitled “Ideals of Detroit Artists” published in the Detroit News Tribune on February 12, 1905.  This article asked several local artists what their ideal woman looked like.  Waltensperger’s response was “she is neither conceited nor cynical, but just a whole-souled, pure, sweet womanly girl, and anyone looking at her face can see it all in a glance.” Perhaps he was attempting to portray this ideal beauty as the woman on this postcard for Detroit Air Line!

Postcard, c. 1910

Postcard, c. 1910

This postcard, produced by Cornell Studio, was taken with fellow artist Joseph Gies (at right), another Detroit-based artist.  While there is no documentation of why the postcard was made, it shows Waltensperger’s whimsical side.  Gies and Waltensperger had exhibited together in several shows at venues like Crowley Milner Co. and Seventh Floor Picture Studio.

In Detroit, Charles was well established and had exhibited at the Detroit Museum of Art, and was involved in the Hopkin Club, which established the Scarab Club in 1907.  In his career, he was very successful.  Today his work can be found in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Louvre in Paris, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Pencil sketch, c. 1920

Pencil sketch, c. 1920

Charles passed away on December 12, 1931 in Detroit.  Although he had advertised his description of his ideal woman, Charles never married.

– Angie Yip, Wayne State University Graduate Student

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