George Hetzel

(17 January 1826 - 4 July 1899)

Born in an ethnically mixed part of Alsace, France; Hetzel’s family spoke primarily German and emigrated to the United States when he was aged two. They travelled from a Baltimore port to a small farm in Allegheny City, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hetzel attended Allegheny City school and was apprenticed to a local sign- and house-painter. After four years' training, he earned an artisan’s apprenticeship, painting the interior murals of riverboat public rooms and local Pittsburgh saloons.

George was sent to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Arts Academy), between 1847-49 and studied Da Vinci’s Chiaroscuro (the use of light and dark shadows to heighten depth and drama), which became a signature stroke in his later works.

It is thought that Hetzel was first introduced to the bucolic setting of Scalp Level (at the intersection of Paint Creek and Little Paint Creek outside of Johnstown, Pennsylvania) around 1866 during a fishing trip. He was then an instructor at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women and encouraged his colleagues and students to make Scalp Level their summer retreat and work "en plein air".

Hetzel exhibited at the National Academy in New York between 1865-1882 and at the Pennsylvania Academy until 1891. He was included in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and shown in the first Carnegie International in 1896. He also exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition, 1892-1893. The J. J. Gillespie Gallery sold his works and he kept an independent studio. His career was established before the Scalp Level works, but they are currently foremost in his legacy.Wikipedia


The Hetzel family moved to Pittsburgh when he was two. As a boy, he was apprenticed to a house and sign painter, later gaining experience as a muralist for riverboats, cafes and a penitentiary. With the money he earned from interior decorating (murals), Hetzel went to Germany in 1847 to study for two years at the Düsseldorf Academy. On his return in 1850, Hetzel painted very precise, representational portraits with smooth, even strokes, following the current Düsseldorf style. In the late I850’s, Hetzel joined a group of Pittsburgh painters at the mountain retreat called Scalp Level and began to paint very precise landscapes, bucolic scenes of pleasant beauty. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, he continued to rely on realistic detail to convey texture and reflected light. In the 1870’s, Hetzel began to use his brush more freely. He is considered one of Pennsylvania's most significant landscape, portrait and still life painters of the nineteenth century. From his studio in Pittsburgh, he painted highly detailed, realistic views of nature, moving increasingly in the latter part of his career to impressionistic concerns with light. He was also very popular as a portraitist, noted for his sensitivity. All of his work possesses a quality of benevolent quiet and pensiveness. © Copyright Ownership: All Paintings.org


George Hetzel was born in the small village of Hangviller in the province of Alsace, France. Although Hetzel claimed to be French, German was the family's native language. Alsace was a bilingual area were both German and French were spoken. George Hetzel was two when his father moved the family to America. After arriving in Baltimore, the family moved over land to Western Pennsylvania and finally took a riverboat on the Monongahela to Pittsburgh.

It was an apprenticeship to a house and sign painter that would be the catalyst for what lead George Hetzel to becoming the leading artist of his day in Pittsburgh. After a similar job with a mural and riverboat interior painter, George Hetzel, Sr. felt his son would benefit from formal training. In 1847, George Hetzel left for the Düsseldorf Art Academy. After returning from Dusseldorf in 1849, it was not long before Hetzel received portrait commissions. He supplemented those works with both still life and landscape paintings. He would soon maintain a studio where his produced works would later be displayed and sold at J.J. Gillespie Gallery. Founded in 1832, it was the focal point of all the artists in Pittsburgh and remained so for some time.



His daughter Lila B. Hetzel was also a well-known artist and kept the Hetzel Inn, which later became ''Hetzel Studio''.



When Hetzel neared forty a fishing trip would introduce him to an area outside Johnstown, called Scalp Level. An immediate attraction for the natural beauty of the area would lead George Hetzel and many other artists such as Charles Linford, Alfred S. Wall, A.F. King, W.C. Wall, E.A. Poole and Joseph Woodwell to make Scalp Level their summer retreat. Pittsburgh artists of Hetzel's generation and beyond would make annual trips to Scalp Level for the next forty years.

At the age of seventy-three, George Hetzel died leaving a body of work that captured his talents as well as a region's beauty before the spread of industrialization would alter those pristine landscapes the artist had come to cherish. During his life, George Hetzel exhibited both regionally and nationally, receiving his due honors along the way. Today, he is not only recognized for being the guiding force of the Scalp Level tradition, but included in many publications and discussions regarding the Hudson River School. © Copyright Ownership: Gilliland Fine Art


George Hetzel (1826-1899) was a major figure in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania. He was also one of the few to study in Düsseldorf (from 1847-1849) and fully absorb the earth toned palette and penchant for realism characterized by the German school. Further, Hetzel studied still life painting as a subject while in Düsseldorf, perhaps even under the tutelage of one of the great proponents of the subject, Johann Preyer.

Hetzel's interest in still life painting was strong and continued throughout his career. From exhibition records from the Pittsburgh Art Association beginning in 1859, we have learned that Hetzel exhibited both still lifes and landscapes together. Hetzel exhibited eight times at the National Academy of Design in New York (1857-1882).

Hetzel's paintings most strongly resemble those of Johann Preyer and the German school; Gerdts and Burke refer to Hetzel as "the Düsseldorf painter" in their book, American Still-Life Painting. This is obviously due to Hetzel's direct contact with the style in Düsseldorf, although other influences could have affected his adhering to this style throughout his career. His brushwork reflected the pristine and sharp delineation of objects with attention paid to the texture of objects.

One of Hetzel's greatest contributions was that of teacher: whether in a formal classroom setting at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women, congregating around a table at J. J. Gillispie's (Studio), or in the field at Scalp Level with his fellow artists. © Copyright Ownership: Western Pennsylvania Plien Air Painters.
Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., [Excerpts] By Judith Hansen O'Toole



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Friedrich Boser
Karl Friedrich Adolf Boser (1809-1881), Düsseldorf artists in the Gallery Room of the Dusseldorf Art Academy, 1844


View painter's art: George Hetzel (1826-1899)
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External Link:
The Stonycreek


Of Interest:
George Hetzel and the Scalp Level Tradition



Birth: Jan. 17, 1826
Death: Jul. 4, 1899
Painter. Born in Hangviller, a small village in the province of Alsace, France, in 1826. Hetzels father decided that America offered unparalleled opportunities for a better life, however, and when George was two years of age, his family left Hangviller for the New World. George attended Allegheny City school and was apprenticed to a local sign- and house-painter. After four years of training, he earned an artisan's apprenticeship, painting the interior murals of riverboat public rooms and local Pittsburgh saloons. His father realized that his son possessed an outstanding artistic talent. He decided George should further his studies at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in Germany, which was one of the foremost art schools in Europe at that time. George departed Pittsburgh in late 1847, and for the next two years devoted himself to the study of portraiture, landscape and still-life painting. He received instruction in anatomy and the fundamentals of draftsmanship, sketched from plaster casts and, later, live models. He studied Da Vinci's use of light and dark shadows to heighten depth and drama, which became a signature stroke in his later works. George exhibited at the National Academy in New York between 1865-1882 and at the Pennsylvania Academy until 1891. He was included in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and shown in the first Carnegie International in 1896. He also exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition, 1892-1893. The J. J. Gillespie Gallery sold his works and he kept an independent studio. His career was established before the Scalp Level works, but they are currently foremost in his legacy.
Burial: Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, USA

Maintained by: © Copyright Ownership: Find A Grave.