Edward Cucuel, who enjoyed a successful career as a Munich artist, was, in fact, an American, a California native who was born in San Francisco and died in Pasadena. In the interim he studied art in San Francisco and Paris, found international success as an illustrator, and expatriated to Munich where he married a German wife and painted with a group of local artists loosely allied with the Munich Secession. (Information about Cucuel is sketchy and, in some details, inconsistent. The primary source, which informs this essay unless otherwise indicated, is Cucuel, a catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Guarisco Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1996.) As is the case with many expatriate artists, the success which Cucuel enjoyed during his lifetime has proven difficult to sustain in the years since his death with the result that his work, not quite German and not quite American, has yet to find its proper audience. Cucuel began his art studies at the San Francisco School of Design in 1889 with Arthur Mathews (1860–1945). Mathews, who went on to become a seminal figure in the California Arts and Crafts movement, had, in 1889, just returned from training in Paris. Cucuel’s father was a native of France; his mother was born in California to English parents. The family has been identified as being in the publishing business. When he was only 15 years old, in 1890, Cucuel exhibited at the San Francisco Mechanics Institute. He worked as an illustrator for the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Call before going to Paris in 1892 to pursue a serious art education. Cucuel’s first stops in Paris were the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi, both popular schools with Americans. At Julian, Cucuel studied with Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, Jean-Paul Laurens, and William Adolphe Bouguereau, all leading academic figure painters. In 1894, Cucuel was admitted into the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux Arts. (His name is recorded in the official records as Edward Alfred Cueull. See Barbara Weinberg, “Nineteenth-Century American Painters at the École des Beaux-Arts,” in The American Art JournalXIII [Autumn 1981], p. 84.) Cucuel returned to the United States in 1896 and worked briefly in New York as an illustrator for The New York Herald before returning to San Francisco in 1897. He exhibited again at the Mechanics Institute and rejoined the San Francisco Examiner. In 1898, he went back to Paris and joined the Old American Art Club, supporting himself through freelance illustration work for Le Figaro and L’illustration and, across the English Channel, the Illustrated London News. In the beginning years of the twentieth century, Cucuel fashioned a successful career as an illustrator for books and for major publications in Europe and America. He collaborated with a noted author of the day, W. C. Morrow, providing over one hundred illustrations for Bohemian Paris of To–day, a memoir of his days as an American art student in Paris. (His name is spelled, on the title page, Edouard Cucuel.) In 1899, Cucuel moved to Berlin and made that city his home as he continued to work as a journalist-illustrator. In the early years of the twentieth century he exhibited in Düsseldorf (1901), at the Munich Secession (1902), in Berlin (1904), and repeatedly at the Société National des Beaux-Arts in Paris between 1902 and 1912. (This was an 1890 breakaway group from the official Paris Salon, holding its exhibitions at the Champ de Mars.) Cucuel was dispatched by European publications to report on the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 (The Louisiana Purchase Exposition), sending back illustrated accounts. After his St. Louis assignment, he stopped at home in San Francisco, and then proceeded to the Far East, visiting Japan, China, India and Ceylon, before returning to Germany. Cucuel had already arrived back in Berlin when news reached him of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. He immediately traveled home to help as he could. Afterward, he returned briefly to Berlin, but, in 1907 made a decision which proved crucial to his future career in art. He moved to Munich. In 1909, Cucuel made the acquaintance of Leo Putz (1869–1940), a leading figure in the Munich artists’ community. Putz was a founder of a diverse group of modernist Munich artists who called themselves “die Scholle,” and showed together at Joseph Brakl’s Moderner Kunsthandlung (Modern Art Gallery) from 1899 to 1911. Putz was devoted to plein-air painting, making a specialty of summer images of young women posed on or near rivers and lakes in the countryside near Munich. Cucuel apprenticed himself to Putz, focusing all his attention, for the first time in his career, on painting in oil. The two artists became firm friends and spent summers painting in tandem, sharing models. Cucuel’s career as an oil painter can thus best be understood in the context of early twentieth-century Munich art. While much of his work comes close to Impressionism and recalls the painting of Frederick Frieseke produced during the same period in Giverny, France, there are echoes of Art Nouveau, Symbolism and Japonisme on his canvases.
Cucuel married Claire Lotte von Marcard in 1913. She was a painter of floral still lifes and the daughter of a prominent German politician. The two had met shortly after he arrived in Berlin where von Marcard had facilitated his access to German society. According to the Guarisco exhibition catalogue, the marriage in 1913 was the second for Cucuel. The couple may have spent as long as two years in Japan, from 1913 to 1915, where Cucuel deepened his study of Japanese art. Cucuel returned to Munich and prospered there. Remarkably (for an American), he appears to have spent the World War I years largely in Germany. In 1918, he bought a country home and estate on the Ammersee outside of Munich, where he settled his family and painted during the summer. Although Cucuel found reputation and financial success in Germany, he never entirely gave up an American presence. In 1915, he sent five pictures to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and was awarded a silver medal. He sent pictures to The Carnegie International Exhibitions in 1914, 1920 and 1921, and showed work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, in 1914 and 1920. In 1921 and again in 1928, full color reproductions of his pictures appeared on the cover of Town & Country magazine. In 1920, he had a gallery show at the Howard Young Gallery in New York which was favorably reviewed in the New York Times (“Notes on Current Art,” New York Times, March 28, 1920 p. XX6). Cucuel remained in Munich through the 1920s, although he traveled frequently. In 1928, he moved to New York City and painted some New York cityscapes. Through the 1930s he spent winters in New York and returned for the summer to Bavaria. His last visit to Germany was in 1939, after which he moved permanently to Pasadena where he remained living in relative obscurity until his death.
(Biography provided by Hirschl & Adler)