Born in Germany, Frederick Ferdinand Schafer emigrated to the United States in 1876. He was active in Northern California after 1878, where he created some 500 paintings of western American landscapes. Schafer maintained a studio in San Francisco where he exhibited regularly with the San Francisco Art Association and the Mechanics Institute Fairs.
What art training Schafer had is unknown; he may have been self-taught. An itinerant painter, he made regular sketching trips throughout the Northwest including Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. During his later years he supplemented his income as a painter of theatrical scenery in San Francisco and Oakland theaters. The bulk of Schafer’s work was done before 1890; his later works are lighter and more Impressionist in style. Many of his canvases have a dramatic appearance, arising from use of large areas of intense, saturated color and contrasting light.
In mountain, forest, and river landscapes, foreground deadwood in the form of a leaning or fallen tree, or a river snag, appears so frequently that one can almost depend on finding it. Small midground figures, usually of Indians but occasionally of trappers, hunters, prospectors, or even bear or deer, often appear as part of the natural landscape, providing an iconic, rather than explicit, genre touch. By their small size these figures provide the eye with a measure of, and emphasize, the large scale of the scene. Another frequent feature in Schafer paintings is small spots of bright color, representing wildflowers, a campfire, lights from a ship, or dappled spots of sun in the shade of a tree.
Schafer usually varies the level of control of the brush greatly within a single picture. Background mountains, especially foothills and intermediate ranges, may be shapes developed with only a few wide brushstrokes, middle and foreground components are substantially more controlled, and features that draw the attention of the eye, such as a campfire, tepee, or person’s face, are often more controlled than their surroundings.
Works held: Alameda (California) Free Library, Art Museum of Greater Victoria (British Columbia), Bancroft Library (Honeyman collection), British Columbia Archives, California Historical Society, Craigdarroch Castle (British Columbia), Crocker Art Museum, Hoover Institution, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey State Historic Park, Museum of Church History and Art (Salt Lake City), The Oakland Museum of California, Seattle Art Museum, Shasta (California) State Historic Park, Society of California Pioneers, Sonoma County (California) Museum (Hart collection), and the Yosemite National Park Museum.
October 27, 1998
(Source: Hughes, Edan Milton. “Artists in California, 1786-1940, Vol. II” Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum, 2002.)