Sadakichi Hartmann's Life and Career
Son of a multi-lingual and affluent German trader and a Japanese mother, Carl Sadakichi Hartmann was born in about 1867 on the island of Desima in Nagasaki harbor. After his mother, Osada, died in childbirth, Sadakichi and an elder brother, Taru, were taken to Hamburg, Germany, where they were brought up in luxury and given excellent schooling, primarily under the care of a wealthy uncle and their grandmother. Sadakichi was baptized a Lutheran, attended private schools (reading all of the works of Goethe and Schiller by the age of nine), and wore a uniform for a time at a preparatory naval school at Steinwaerder, Hamburg. Upon the remarriage of his father, Hartmann was placed in a naval academy in Kiel, but he rebelled against the Teutonic discipline and ran away to Paris. His angered father disinherited him, shipping the thirteen or fourteen-year-old boy off to an uncle in America.
When he arrived on a hot June day in 1882 in America, Hartmann discovered an environment that was, by comparison with his aristocratic surroundings in Germany, drab and barren. Working at menial jobs in printing and engraving shops, he discovered the Philadelphia Mercantile Library and spent his nights studying a variety of subjects, steadily gravitating toward the arts in search of a career. He visited Walt Whitman at Camden, and occasionally translated German correspondence for the aged and ailing poet. These visits are recorded by Hartmann in a small book entitled Conversations with Walt Whitman (1895).
During intermittent associations with the poet, Hartmann made four summer trips to Europe to further his study of literature, the theatre, and the visual arts. He studied stage machinery under Lautenschlaeger at the Royal Theatres, Munich, and art and literature in Berlin, Brussels, and Paris. He met Liszt, Bjornson, Carducci, and Gabriel Max, glimpsed Ibsen in awe from a distance, and was briefly a protege of Paul Heyse. During a trip through Belgium and Holland in 1888, he spent three months of near-starvation in London, where he also met Swinburne and the Rossettis. In 1891, he journeyed to Europe as a foreign correspondent for the McClure Syndicate, interviewing many of the most prominent artists, writers, and poets of the day. He became acquainted with Stephane Mallarmé in Paris, and continued corresponding with the poet as late as 1897. In one of his articles ("A Tuesday Evening with Stephane Mallarmé"), he described the literary salon of the Symbolist poet. His subsequent studies of the Symbolist movement are reflected not only in much of the art criticism and many of the essays he wrote in the 1890's, but in his own plays and poetry.
As an art critic, Hartmann began writing essays for the Philadelphia newspapers in the 1880's. Between 1887 and 1889, he essayed the role of a Society Lion in Boston, giving readings, receptions, and concerts. Here he also wrote for the Advertiser and the Transcript, as well as for Poet-Lore, The Theatre, and The People. In literary circles, he met Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, and John Boyle O'Reilly. An effort to introduce Ibsen to America failed through lack of sufficient financial backing. Disillusioned, Hartmann spent several nomadic years in New York, barnstorming, engaging in hack writing, frequenting the Cafe Manhattan, and finally becoming discouraged to the point of attempting suicide.
While serving on the staff of the Weekly Review (1 893), Hartmann issued 1,000 copies of his symbolist drama Christ, deemed by James Gibbons Huneker as "absolutely the most daring of all decadent productions." Almost all copies of the play were burned in Boston by the New England Watch and Ward Society, and Hartmann was arrested and spent Christmas week in Charles Street Jail, No. 2. This play was followed by his second symbolist drama Buddha (1897), which Vance Thompson referred to as "strange, gaudy, fantastic -- a thing all color and incense; something gilded and monstrous and uncouth as the temple of Benares." Other religious dramas also followed: Confucius, Mohammed, Moses, and the unpublished Baker Eddy. A volume of short stories, Schopenhauer in the Air, appeared in 1899.
In 1893, Hartman launched his magazine the Art Critic, visiting over 750 studios in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to drum up subscriptions. In an 1894 letter which addresses Hartmann as "My Dear Symbolist," the noted American muralist F. D. Marsh writes from Paris to describe meetings with Whistler and Sargent and his own enthusiasm in acting as an unofficial promoter of Hartmann abroad. But the magazine was soon doomed to failure; Hartmann had ranged too far ahead in his appreciation of European dramatists and painters, and America was incredibly indifferent and unreceptive to what had already been accepted on the Continent.
Hartmann was forced once more to turn his hand to what he considered hack work and journalism. Between 1898 and 1902, he turned out more than 350 sketches on New York life -- ranging from studies of the poor to essays on high society -- for the New York Staats-Zeitung. He served on the staff of The Criterion, wrote numerous articles on pictorial photography, and lectured widely on art. He also continued his efforts as a dramatist, and his realist play, A Tragedy in a New York Flat, was praised by Edmund Clarence Stedman in 1896. He recognized early that he lacked the talent to achieve fame as an artist, but throughout his life he painted and did pastels (almost 350 works in this medium), and his first exhibition of pastels was held in 1894. His pastels were often strikingly interesting, enough so that he was exhibited with Glackens, Fuhr, Perrine, and Lawrence at the Allen Gallery in 1900. He was also a critic of the dance and had unique ability as a dancer. Edward Weston said that no woman could approach "his feeling and understanding" for this art form.
In 1896, the same year that Alfred Stieglitz launched his Camera Notes, Hartmann attempted to revive his art magazine under the name of Art News in New York City. The venture soon failed, although artists such as Augustus St. Gaudens hailed Hartmann for his perspicuity in art matters. Stieglitz was quick to recognize that Hartmann was a man he needed. During the next two decades, Hartmann was at his most prolific, contributing important critiques on both art and photography to Stieglitz's Camera Notes and later to his more famous and innovative Camera Work.
Hartmanns first book on art, Shakespeare in Art, was published in 1900. His two-volume History of American Art, used as a standard text-book for many years and revised in 1938, was published in 1901. Other works of a popular nature on art followed, including Japanese Art (1903) and The Whistler Book (1910). Some of these works appear to have been hastily turned out by a man whose reputation as an art critic was rapidly growing. Meanwhile, his most incisive essays were being published by Stieglitz, with whom he enjoyed a respectful relationship, and in the pages of many now defunct journals. Many of his pioneering essays on photography as an art form and photographic techniques were published under the pen-name of Sidney Allan.
Among photographers whom Hartmann wrote about with originality, tact, and discrimination were Steichen, Keiley, White, Stieglitz, Eugene, Käsebier, Curtis, Strand, and Day. He also encouraged recognition of many contemporary painters and sculptors, e.g., Ryder, Tryon, Maurer, Hartley, Marin, Sloan, Luks, Lawson, Henri, and Max Weber. Similarly, in a later period, he promoted the work of Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and others whose reputations testify to his prescience. In a recent letter, prior to this exhibition, Thomas Hart Benton wrote to say Hartmann "was far more intelligent about art problems than Huneker, and that a collection of his writings, letters, and other kinds, is due." His exotic Eurasian face made him a favorite subject of painters, sculptors, and photographers. He was painted by many of the great and near great, and, as he once said, "photographed by everybody."
The many-sided Hartmann has left diverse impressions; he could be enigmatic as well as uncompromisingly clear in his positions: "I am neither a freethinker who denies everything in playful irony, nor a devotee capable of performing rituals with a constant, bewildered enthusiasm. My ways are those of an agnostic. My father was a genuine freethinker; the rest of my family were mildly Lutheran. My stepmother was a Catholic. One of my aunts a French Jewess. My mother presumably was a Buddhist. These influences shaped my early view point." Near the end of his life, living in poverty on the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California, he could say in summary: "I have devoted my long literary career largely to a promotion of a National U.S. Art and a lifelong plea for tolerance in religious matters. I wrote six dramas to prove that every religion has profound merits and deplorable defect. . . ."
Hartmann's entire life seems to have been an impassioned search for identity. En route he assumed many roles and guises: the sensitive, austere young poet and dramatist of the 1890's; the iconoclastic, fiercely uncompromising art lecturer of the turn of the century; the serious Sidney Allan with the omnipresent cigar and eye-piece; the roistering irresponsible King of Greenwich Village; and finally the aged clown in rags, court jester to the John Barrymore circle in Hollywood.
Although he was far less political than aesthetic in orientation ("I was always somewhat of an esthetic sybarite, looking primarily for manifestations of Plato's fine frenzy, Aristotle's purification of thought and sentiment, and Schopenhauer's moments of cognition."), Hartmann was a participant in the anarchist movement, joining Emma Goldman, Edwin Bjorkman, and John R. Coryell in founding the magazine Mother Earth. While he remained friendly with the anarchists, he never was able to commit himself to the movement in a genuinely activist way. Rather, he remained throughout his life skeptical, even pessimistic, about extreme political ideologies. As for the possibility that anarchism might work, his philosopher Kung in Confucius (1923) warns: "A cook is needed even for the most frugal brew."
From the turn of the century to the end of his life, he lectured on art and photography in cities throughout the nation. He assisted in bringing together various collections, reorganized art departments in libraries and museums, and stimulated interest in art in many cities from New York to Los Angeles. He was instrumental in discovering many young artists, whom he spoke of as "my art children," young men and women who in turn responded to the elderly Hartmann with fierce, devoted partisanship.
Throughout his life, Hartmann suffered from severe asthmatic attacks which became worse as the years went by, making it impossible for him to work at any steady job, and forcing him by the early 1920's to settle in the San Gorgonio Pass near Beaumont. He continued to make lecture forays eastward, but his health steadily deteriorated, and more and more he relied heavily on alcohol. During these years of physical and professional decline, his increased drinking, the shambles he made of his private life, his dependence upon patronage which he exacted from friends and admirers as tribute, and his acting out of Bohemian roles made him appear to many to be a grotesque caricature of the artist manque -- even a charlatan.
He cultivated Hollywood, trying to write motion picture scripts. He wrote the first script for Don Quixote, but it was never filmed. For many years he was Hollywood columnist for The Curtain, published in England. He even appeared in a brief part as the Court Magician in Douglas Fairbanks The Thief of Bagdad. As the years passed, he did less and less publishing on art, although between 1923 and 1932 he struggled intermittently on a 278,000-word book, EstheticVerities, a critical summing-up of all his ideas on art. Occasionally, in the pages of Art Digest and other magazines, there appeared Hartmann's annual Art Handicap Derby in which he placed his bets on future winners. His best works had passed silently into oblivion. By the 1920's, noted artists who had once been his friends looked upon him as the disreputable Gully Jimson of American art. Even Jo Davidson, who had rousted with him in New York and written him enthusiastically from Paris in the early 1900's, wrote of Hartmann in his biography as a more casual acquaintance than appears to be indicated by recent evidence. There were a few last sparks, among them an impressive book titled The Last Thirty Days of Christ, praised by Ezra Pound and eulogized by Benjamin De Casseres as one of the strikingly original works of American literature.
Although a failure in Hollywood, Hartmann found himself adopted as a drinking companion by the John Barrymore crowd, a group that often centered its doings in the studio of artist John Decker on Bundy Drive. Before this group, Sadakichi displayed his mordant wit and fatalistic humor. His tales of Whitman and Mallarmé, of Isadora Duncan and Greenwich Village characters -- tales related with a half-mocking quality and often fantastic embellishments -- were regarded as sheer invention by the Hollywood crowd that kept the old man in drinks in order to be entertained by his talk, recitations, and bizarre dancing. They liked this shabby self-proclaimed genius with termagantish tongue, and they brought him to parties as a put-on guest to shock the easily outraged. But they were convinced, nonetheless, that he was essentially a hoax and a poseur. How else explain the sly mockery of a man who would outrage all credibility by beginning an anecdote: "On a day like this, there were Rodin, Whitman, myself and three beers in a cafe in Vienna . . ."
One should know, however, that during this same period Hartmann was also well known to a very different circle, whose activities centered around the home of a vivacious young woman, Margery Winter, at 1640 Sargent Court. Here a varied association of artists and intellectuals, some of them immigrants from Russia, offered Sadakichi a very different milieu from that described by Gene Fowler in his Minutes of the Last Meeting, which recounts the activities of the Barrymore circle. It was here in this house, overlooking Elysian Park, that many artists--Ben Berlin, Raymond Brossard, Ronald Paintin, Einar Hansen, and others--often gathered for lively discussions and parties.
These were painters who he numbered among his "art children," just as there were many more in cities throughout the nation. The Detroit painter Marvin Beerbohm recalls that he and his wife "knew and loved Sadakichi from the time we first met him in 1934 in Detroit until his death." On his many visits to Detroit, Hartmann scolded, cajoled, and encouraged Beerbohm unceasingly. "As a struggling young painter and his wife, fighting the financial and cultural despair of the Depression years," writes Beerbohm, "we were proud to be numbered among Sadakichi's 'art children' of whom he had many across the country." Similarly, the Florida photographer, C. Verne Klintsworth, recalls it was Hartmann who first made him realize that photography was something much more than a commercial profession.
In the last six years of his life, Hartmann retreated to Catclaw Siding, a shack he built adjoining the home of his daughter, Wistaria Linton, on the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. There, he continued to paint pastels and write sporadically.
World War II imposed its horrors on the old man when the FBI started inquiring into his Japanese-German background, despite the fact that he had been a citizen since 1894. After they were interviewed by FBI agents, many of the Hollywood crowd quickly dropped Hartmann and invitations to parties ceased. Only Gene Fowler continued to show interest in the old man. In numerous embittered letters, Hartmann pleaded with high government officials not to intern him, arguing that there could be nothing more American than to have written the first modern History of American Art. The harassment never completely ceased, and sheriff's deputies again and again received reports from townspeople that Hartmann made periodic climbs to the top of Mt. San Jacinto to signal Japanese planes with a lantern.
In 1944, the 77-year-old Hartmann set out on his final journey east to visit another daughter, Dorothea Gilliland of St. Petersburg, Florida. He had in mind gathering material to complete his long unfinished autobiography, but instead he died in his daughter's home while sitting in a chair in November, the month of his birth.
By George Knox. Excerpted from the Introduction of The Life and Times of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1867-1944. An Exhibition Presented and Co-sponsored by the University Library and the Riverside Press-Enterprise Co. at the University of California, Riverside, May 1 to May 31, 1970.
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