Friday, July 8, 2011

Count Berthold Von Imhoff

To listen to the story of Count Von Imhoff, please click here to be taken to the CBC archives.

The small town of St. Walburg, Saskatchewan is an unlikely place to find the grave of a German nobleman, let alone one whose talents make him one of the most accomplished religious painters of the early 20th century.

Born in Mannheim, German in 1868, Imhoff showed great artistic talents from an early age. He studied at many prestigious European schools, sometimes studying and working as foreman on major projects simultaneously. After marrying the daughter of one of his art instructors, he immigrated to North America in 1892 where he worked in Ohio and Philadelphia before finally setting up shop in Reading, Pennsylvania where his studio employed a staff of five full time artists. During his time in Reading, he decorated over 100 churches and private homes but still found the time to travel to Europe where he continued studies and improved his technique.

In 1913, Imhoff and his family immigrated to north western Saskatchewan where he could continue his work in an area of peace and tranquillity, just outside of the town of St. Walburg. Here that he completed the paintings for a major commission: the Cathedral in Reading, Pennsylvania, which some consider his greatest work. Saskatchewan also afforded him an opportunity to pursue his second great love, hunting. Apart from his talents as a painter, Imhoff was also an expert marksman and had won trophies in hunting competitions in the United States before coming to Canada.

Imhoff's output of work was immense, but the parishes who commissioned him were very poor and Imhoff often worked more for the love of his art than for any financial gain. For his talent, hard work and dedication to the faith, he was awarded a Knighthood in the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Pius XI in 1937. When he died in 1939, he was far from wealthy, but his work lives on and can be seen at the Barr Colony Museum in Lloydminster, his original studio outside St. Walburg, and many churches of all denominations throughout the area. Count Berthold and his wife Matilde are buried in the Catholic cemetery within the town of St. Walburg.

Some analysts have passed Imhoff's work off as mere decoration, but that categorisation is both unfair and inaccurate. Even though his themes are classical in nature, a closer examination of his characterisations and background elements reveal an artist who was not only a superb technical painter, but also quite aware of the artistic movements of the time.

In 1998, the community of St. Walburg honoured Imhoff by erecting a statue in his memory. The life sized equestrian sculpture, by St. Walburg artist Susan Velder, can be seen as you enter the town from the south. His beautiful north light studio, constructed in 1920-25 is open to the public for viewing from the May long weekend until Labour Day. The Imhoff Heritage Society is currently fund raising for the conservation of the studio and its exterior frescos. The photo below shows the studio as it appeared in 1996.

To see this article on the University of Calgary website, please click here.

The copy of the painting was extracted from Virtual Please click here.

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