Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Herman Wessel was a child of Prussian immigrants. He attended the strict German Lutheran school in Vincennes and became fluent in the German language. At age 13, he inherited money from his father, who had died, and he moved to Cincinnati to study art in this community whose prominent art leaders were Henry Farny, L.H. Meakin, Edward Potthast, Joseph Sharp, and Frank Duveneck.
He enrolled in the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1896 and studied with Caroline Lord and Duveneck, and from Duveneck learned the principles that guided his painting throughout his career.
In 1904, he went to Europe and studied at the Royal Academy in Munich, where Duveneck had studied. Wessel attended the Acadamie Julian in Paris under Jean Paul Laurens. While in Paris he also studied at the Academie Colarossi and was honored with a medal for excellent draftsmanship and was a part-time instructor.
In 1908, he returned to Cincinnati and began a forty-year teaching career at the Art Academy. Many traveling exhibitions came to the Academy, and through these, he was exposed to Impressionism. He exhibited paintings all over the country including the San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Society of Western Artists and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art.
He traveled extensively in Europe and painted in Rockport and Gloucester, Massachusetts and did numerous murals for public buildings. While in Europe, he stayed in Brussels, Paris, and Brittany on the Ile aux Moines. In Paris, Wessels and Jacob Kunz, a fellow artist, frequented the Dome Cafe, a favorite of Parisian artists, and often joined such patrons as Picasso. As soon as World War I broke, the two artists were forced to return to Brittany and eventually home.
In 1917, he married Bessie Hoover, also an Academy faculty member, and together they became leading figures in the art world of Cincinnati. They shared a studio near their home in Eden Park, where they spent the rest of their lives and often exhibited together. They spent most of their summers away from home traveling in Europe and throughout the United States.
Herman enjoyed artistic challenges and the complex procedures and strategies involved in mural painting. Throughout Cincinnati he completed murals for the Belvedere apartments, Federal Reserve Building, the Salem Presbyterian Church and the solarium of Holmes Hospital. In the 1940s, he became an active restorer of paintings of Cincinnati collectors, and he and Bessie became experts on authenticating Duveneck paintings. In the 1960s, he produced etchings and monotypes as well as paintings and, having experimented a bit with modernism, returned to a more naturalist-impressionist tradition.
He suffered a severe auto accident and had cataracts but continued to paint until the autumn of 1967. That same year he was awarded the Cincinnati MacDowell medal for distinguished service in the arts. At age ninety-one, he died having touched the lives of many well-known artists and created paintings of lasting quality.
Cyran, C. “Herman & Bessie Wessel, At Home and Abroad” American Art Review, Vol. IX No. 2, 1997.