Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Odon Hullenkremer (1888 – 1978)

Santa Fe’s Odon Hullenkremer was an artist of international stature; a brilliant draftsman and colorist whose devotion to traditional realism made him one of the great portrait painters of his time.

Born in Budapest, Hungary on June 1, 1888, Odon Hullenkremer showed both skill and passion for art even as a small child. At age 15, the self-taught artist entered a painting competition in Budapest, taking first prize. Because Odon Hullenkremer was an unknown, the judges went to his home to verify authorship of the painting. When Odon’s mother and sister professed no knowledge of his entry in the competition, the judges thought they had uncovered a fraud. The sister did say, however, that Odon spent a great deal of time “fussing around” in the attic. Up the stairs they went, only to find the teenager furiously painting at his easel.

With his talents confirmed and prizes conferred, young Odon Hullenkremer was presented at the Hungarian Royal Court to Emperor Franz Josef I. Many years later Hullenkremer recalled that, upon seeing the skinny youth, the Emperor exclaimed, “You mean to tell me that painting was done by this kid!” Then the aged monarch laid his hand on Odon Hullenkremer’s shoulder and said, “Boy, if you keep this up you will be a great painter some day.”

Having earned such a remarkable honor, Odon Hullenkremer immediately was admitted to the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he began his formal art instruction in 1904. After stints at the University of Alexandria in Egypt and the Kunstgewerbe Berlin, he settled in for advanced study at the Royal Academy of Arts in Munich in 1909 and 1910.

Odon Hullenkremer’s experience in Germany led to a commission from Kaiser Wilhelm in 1911 to paint a fresco in Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Memorial Church which the Kaiser was then building on the Mount of Olives. His time in the Middle East seemed to have whetted Hullenkremer’s appetite for travel. Odon Hullenkremer spent most of the next three years touring North Africa, South America, the West Indies, and finally, Canada and the United States, visiting museums and sketching the people and landscapes. In 1914, Odon Hullenkremer decided to emigrate permanently, landing briefly in New York and then Toronto. After the Canadian police began to suspect (quite wrongly) that the young man with the thick accent was a German spy, Hullenkremer moved to Toledo, Ohio where he lived and painted for the next fourteen years.

During his time in Toledo, Odon Hullenkremer studied art with Wilder Darling and took courses at the University of Toledo where he developed an abiding interest in psychology and the social sciences. Rather than being a diversion from his art, he saw these studies as a way to deepen his artistic vision. Odon Hullenkremer had long since specialized in portrait, figure and genre painting, and increasingly felt that he needed a more thorough understanding of both the mind and body. Typical of the methodical and scientific way he approached all things in life, Odon Hullenkremer wanted to systematically identify the underlying principles of human reasoning, emotion, intelligence and motivation. He felt an individual’s psychological make-up greatly affected that person’s physical appearance. Therefore, knowledge of psychological principles would enable him to see and reveal the deeper truths about the people in his paintings.

Having created a solid basis for his art, and developing it into a successful portrait career during the 1920s, Odon Hullenkremerr’s teacher felt it was time for him to return to Europe to continue his progress with other instructors. In 1928, he returned to the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts, then taught for several months at his Munich alma mater, and in 1929 won a scholarship to Academie Julien in Paris. Throughout 1929 and 1930, Odon Hullenkremer traveled between Paris, Munich and Budapest to study with favored teachers as he felt it impossible to gain everything he needed from just one school or instructor. As he later said, “France taught me modeling, Germany taught me color, and Hungary taught me draftsmanship.” Odon Hullenkremer’s second round of European study culminated with his diploma from Academie Julien and the Grand Prize Medal in the academy’s annual competition which drew students from 22 countries.

Back in the United States in 1931, Odon Hullenkremer resumed his schedule of gallery exhibitions, and in 1932 was invited to show his work in Denver. While on a side trip to New Mexico, he was so taken with the people and landscape that he decided to make an extended visit to area. He recalled having met an artist from Taos who told him that the artists in Santa Fe were just “pink tea,” and the “real artists” were in Taos. However, Odon Hullenkremer could not find a suitable studio space there, so decided to check out the scene in Santa Fe. He soon befriended the artist Gerald Cassidy who helped him find a studio, and in 1933 Odon Hullenkremer began his working visit to Santa Fe. That “visit” lasted 43 years.

Odon Hullenkremer quickly gained a reputation as a leading portrait and genre painter in Santa Fe. He established his home and gallery at 820 Canyon Road, where he happily welcomed friends, tourists, and the many foreign dignitaries the town sent his way because he was fluent in six languages. In addition to gallery and museum shows in New York, Miami and other cities, Odon Hullenkremer’s work appeared in four one-person shows and eighteen group exhibitions at Santa Fe’s Museum of Fine Arts between 1931 and 1975. During the 1930s he worked on a variety of WPA projects, completing murals for Conchas Dam Visitor Center and Conchas Dam Church (now a New Mexico State Park,) Carrie Tingley Hospital in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (now relocated to Albuquerque,) and the public libraries in Galveston, Texas and Raton, New Mexico. Odon Hullenkremer also contributed to the renowned Portfolio of Spanish Colonial Design in New Mexico.

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