“Plains Indians”, 1931 | 12"x16" - Lithograph
“Central City”, 1933 | 14.5"x10" - Lithograph
Modernist sculptor, lithographer and museum administrator, Rönnebeck was a noted member of European and American avant-garde circles in the early twentieth century before settling in Denver, Colorado, in 1926.
After studying architecture at the Royal Art School in Berlin for two years beginning in 1905, he moved to Paris in 1908 to study sculpture with Aristide Maillol and Émile-Antoine Bourdelle. While there he met and befriended American modernist painter, Marsden Hartley, of whom he sculpted a bronze head that was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1912 and the following year at Hartley’s solo show of paintings at Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291 in New York. A frequent guest of Gertrude Stein’s Saturday “evenings” in Paris, she described Rönnebeck as “charming and always invited to dinner,” along with Pablo Picasso, Mabel Dodge (Luhan) and Charles Demuth.
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Rönnebeck returned to Germany where he served as an officer in the German Imperial Army on the front lines. Twice wounded, including in the Battle of Marne in France, Kaiser Wilhelm II awarded him the Iron Cross. During the war Hartley fell in love with Rönnebeck’s cousin, Lieutenant Karl von Freyburg, who was killed in combat. As a tribute to Freyburg, Hartley created Portrait of a German Officer (1914) now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
After the war Rönnebeck traveled in Italy with German writer, Max Sidow, and German poet, Theodor Daubler, doing a series of drawings of Positano and the Amalfi Coast that formed the basis for his lithographs on the subject. The death of his finacée, the young American opera singer Alice Miriam in 1922 and his own family’s increasing financial problems in post-World War I Germany led him to immigrate to the United States in 1923. After living briefly with Miriam’s family in Washington, DC, he moved to New York where he became part of the avant-garde circle around Alfred Stieglitz. His essay, “Through the Eyes of a European Sculptor,” appeared in the catalog for the Anderson Gallery exhibition, “Alfred Stieglitz Presents Seven Americans: 159 Paintings, Photographs & Things, Recent & Never Publicly Shown, by Arthur G. Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Charles Demuth, Paul Strand, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz.”
In New York Rönnebeck began producing Precisionist-style lithographs of the city’s urban landscapes which he termed “living cubism.” Some of them were reproduced in Vanity Fair magazine. Through Stieglitz he met Erhard Weyhe head of the Weyhe Gallery who, with its director Carl Zigrosser, arranged Rönnebeck’s first solo American exhibition in May 1925 at the gallery in New York. Comprising some sixty works – prints, drawings and sculpture – the show subsequently traveled on a thirteen-month tour of major American cities. Until the end of his life, the gallery represented him, along with other American artists Adolf Dehn, Wanda Gag, Rockwell Kent, J.J. Lankes, Louis Lozowick, Reginald Marsh and John Sloan.
In the summer of 1925, as the guest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Rönnebeck first saw Taos, New Mexico, which Marsden Hartley had encouraged him to visit. It was there that he met his future wife, Louise Emerson, an easel painter and muralist. A year later they were married in New York before relocating to Denver. He served as director of the Denver Art Museum from 1926 to 1930 where he invited Marsden Hartley to lecture on Cézanne’s art in 1928. Rönnebeck fostered the development of the museum’s collection of American Indian art and the curation of modernist art exhibitions. In addition to his work at the museum, he was professor of sculpture at the University of Denver’s College of Fine and Applied Arts from 1929 to 1935, and wrote a weekly art column in the Rocky Mountain News.
His best known Denver sculptures from the late 1920s in bronze, copper, stone, wood and terra cotta include a reredos, The Epiphany, at St. Martin’s Chapel; The History of Money (six panels) at the Denver National Bank; The Ascension at the Church of Ascension; and the William V. Hodges Family Memorial at Fairmount Cemetery. At the same time he did a series of terra cotta relief panels for La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the 1930s his bas-relief aluminum friezes of stylized Pueblo and Hopi Indian Kachina masks were installed in the auditorium of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. In 1937 under the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts program he did three terra cotta reliefs, Ways of the Mail (since lost), for the Longmont, Colorado, post office.
In Colorado the subject matter of his lithographs became the state’s landscape and its mining towns, as well as Native Americans from the pueblos in neighboring New Mexico. In Taos Corn Dance (1931), which he saw on location, the monochromatic composition focuses the viewer’s attention on the dancers by placing them outdoors in a long, receding line running parallel to the multi-storied pueblo set against the towering peaks in the background. The circle of drummers creates a counterpoint in the foreground. That same year he did a lithograph, Plains Indians, showing two males on horseback wearing war bonnets and armed with a lance and a bow. Centrally placed in a minimalist landscape, the eagle feathers in their headdresses and their seemingly conjoined horses produce arresting patterns.
In Central City (1933) he employed intersecting lines and planes in a vignette of the historic mountain mining town founded in 1859 during the Pike’s Peak Gold that came to be known as the “Richest Square Mile on Earth.” Visible at the top of the lithograph is St. Aloysius Academy which was torn down in 1936. Structures in his vignette were also depicted in Boardman Robinson’s lithograph, Midnight Central City (1932) and Eve Drewelowe’s watercolor, Central City (1940).
By the early 1930s Colorado’s old mining towns became a popular genre for artists because they were easily accessible and their architectural components provided a welcome break from the nineteenth-century panoramic landscape tradition and the overwrought cowboy-and-Indian subject matter of the previous generation. As an amateur actor and music enthusiast, Rönnebeck had an additional connection with Central City. The year he did his lithograph he performed with the Central City Opera in its presentation of The Merry Widow with Natalie Hall, Gladys Swarthout and Richard Bonnelli.
In June1947, some five months before his death, the Denver Art Museum organized a solo exhibition of his sculptures, watercolors and prints.
"Sculpture, Drawings and Lithographs by Arnold Rönnebeck," Weyhe Gallery, New York (1925)--also shown at the Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego and the Los Angeles Museum, California (both 1926); "Arnold Rönnebeck: Sculpture and Photographs," Dallas Museum of Art, Texas (1932); "Sculpture, Lithos and Drawings of Arnold Rönnebeck with Sculpture by Gladys Caldwell," Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado (1935); Chappell House (Denver Art Museum), Colorado (1943); Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California (1943); Chappell House (Denver Art Museum), Colorado (1947); “Arnold Rönnebeck: Avant-Garde Spirit in the West,” Denver Art Museum (1990); Arnold Rönnebeck: A Commemorative Exhibition of his Works on Paper," Albuquerque Museum of Art, New Mexico (1991); “A Journey West: The Graphic Art of Arnold Rönnebeck," Arizona State University Art Museum - Nelson Fine Arts Center, Tempe, Arizona (1992); "Works from the Estate of Arnold Rönnebeck,1885-1947," Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico (1996).
"Salon d’Automne," Paris, France (1912); "Thirty-Third Annual Exhibition of Society of Washington Artists," Corcoran Gallery of Art,” Washington, DC (1924); "First Annual Sculpture Exhibition," Whitney Studio Club, New York (1928); "The Architect and Industrial Arts Exhibition of Contemporary American Design," Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1929); “Exhibition of Contemporary American Prints,” Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England (1929); "Exposition de la Gravure Moderne Américaine," Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France (1929); Ralph T. Walker, "Man's Study for a Country House," The Architect and Industrial Arts Exhibition of Contemporary American Design--Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1929); "Second International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving" Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois (1930); "Drawings by Sculptors Assembled by the College Art Association," Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York (1931); "Fifty Modern Prints of 1932," Weyhe Gallery, New York (1933); “Exhibition of Modern Painting, Sculpture and Prints,” Macy Galleries, New York (1933); "Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors and Prints," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1933); “A Century of Progress,” Chicago World's Fair, Illinois (1934); "Fifty Modern Prints of 1933," American Institute of Graphic Arts, New York (1934); International Olympic Fine Arts Exhibition, Berlin, Germany (1936); "First Exhibition of New Etchings, Woodcuts and Lithographs," American Artists Group, New York (1936); Society of American Etchers - National Arts Club, New York (1937); “Sixth International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving,” Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois (1937); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1938); "American Art Today, 1939," New York World's Fair, Queens, New York (1939); "American Prints at the Grolier Club," Grolier Club, New York (1939); “Between the Wars, Prints by American Artists 1914-1941,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1942); “Sculpture of the Western Hemisphere,” Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C (1942); "First Spring Annual Exhibition," California Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1946); "Prints and Drawings of the Southwest," Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania (1958); "The American Landscape in the Inter-War Period," National Museum, Warsaw, Poland (1979); "Precisionist Perspectives: Prints and Drawings," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1988); "Robert Laurent and American Figurative Sculpture 1910-1960," The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Illinois (1994); "Precisionism in America 1915-1941: Reordering Reality," Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey--exhibition also traveled to Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; and Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska (1994-95); "The Real West,” Denver Art Museum (1996); "Icons of Industrial Expansion: American Precisionist Prints, 1925-1941," Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, New York (1999); “Figures and Forms: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts," Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (2001); "Metropolis in the Machine Age," Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2002); “Paris to New York Round Trip: Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Huntington Library,” Musée d’Art Américain, Giverny, France (2002); "The History of Printmaking: Selections from the Permanent Collection," Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, Arizona (2002-03); "8 Painters and Sculptors at the University of Denver 1930-1965," Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, University of Denver, Colorado (2007); "Pressed in Time. American Prints, 1905-1950," Huntington Library, Art Collection and Gardens, San Marino, California (2007-08); "Denver Artist Guild Founders - 52 Originals," Denver Public Library (2009).
Smithsonian American Art Museum and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, both in Washington, DC; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library-Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Denver Art Museum; Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, University of Denver; Western History Art Collection, Denver Pubic Library; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, Colorado.