Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

William Oberhardt, a Noted American Artist, Portrait Painter, Illustrator and Sculptor Lived in Pelham

During the first half of the twentieth century, the Town of Pelham had an amazingly-robust artists' colony that was closely aligned with an equally-robust artists' colony resident in nearby New Rochelle.  One of the many Pelham artists at the time was William Oberhardt, a noted portraitist, illustrator, and sculptor who was hailed for his amazingly-lifelike portraits that captured the essence of their subjects and was known for his patriotic and recruiting posters created during both World Wars.

Oberhardt created portraits of U.S. presidents Taft, Harding, and Hoover and of U.S. Vice President (later President) Richard M. Nixon as well as portraits of captains of industry, political figures, and the wealthy and famous.  His portrait of Joseph Gurney Cannon, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, appeared on the cover of the first issue of Time magazine on March 3, 1923.  The original of the portrait was so widely admired that it was selected to be placed on the top of the 1939 World's Fair Time Capsule, scheduled to be opened in 2039.  

Cover of March 3, 1923, Vol. 1, No. 1 Issue of
Time Magazine Featuring Portrait of Joseph G. Cannon,
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives,
by William Oberhardt of Village of North Pelham.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Oberhardt became known for his special skills at portraying portraits focused entirely on "the human head."  "Oberhardt's Heads" became the subject of articles and multiple exhibits.  The phrase came to be known throughout the art world.  

Clearly Oberhardt was a master at capturing the essence of the personality of his subjects.  It often is said that one of the reasons Oberhardt's portraits were so effective and portrayed subjects with such realism was that he "relaxed his sitters with 'his own warm personality' in a way that 'relaxed and charmed his subjects.'"

Perhaps the most interesting explanation of William Oberhardt's philosophy of portraiture appeared in The Print Connoisseur published in 1921.  See Rihani, Ameen, The "Heads" of Oberhardt, The Print Connoisseur:  A Quarterly Magazine for the Print Collector, Vol. 1, Jun. 1921, p. 323 & pp. 322-43 (NY, NY:  Edited and Published by Winfred Porter Truesdell) (includes reproductions of eighteen of Oberhardt's portraits).  In that article, Oberhardt is quoted as saying:  "My aim . . . is to achieve in every drawing a perfect character delineation."  Id., p. 328.  

Advertisement for A&P Coffee that Included
Portraits Created by William Oberhardt.  Source:
A Picture of Millions on Thanksgiving, Woman's Day
Magazine, Nov. 1, 1938, p. inside back cover.  NOTE:
Click on Image To Enlarge.

Oberhardt was born in Guttenberg, New Jersey on September 11, 1882.  He was a son of William Oberhardt, Sr. and Amalia Wass Oberhardt (born in Bavaria).  William and Amalia immigrated to the United States in 1880 and had their first son, William Jr., barely two years later.

Oberhardt studied at the National Academy of Design from 1897 to 1900.  He next studied under Carl von Marr at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.  

According to one biography, Oberhardt "painted formal portraits in oil, but charcoal, crayons and lithographic crayon were his favorite mediums.  He worked most of his career in New York City and lived in North Pelham, New York."  For much of his career, Oberhardt maintained a studio at 41 Union Square in New York City and lived at 538 Second Avenue in the Village of North Pelham.  Both of his parents lived with him at that address until their deaths.

Oberhardt joined his parents in coming to the Village of North Pelham in 1921.  Oberhardt lived in the village for nearly forty years and became a beloved figure and active member of the community.  He exhibited his portraits at the Manor Club (in addition to exhibitions held at many other places.)  He was a member of the New Rochelle Art Association for many years.  He exhibited his work in New Rochelle as well.  See Pelham Artists Show Paintings In New Rochelle, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Nov. 19, 1935, p. 10, col. 3.  

In 1945 Oberhardt was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design.

Oberhardt died at his home at 538 Second Avenue in North Pelham on July 22, 1958.  He is buried in the Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hartsdale, New York in plot "St. Paul, Plot 659A."

"Portrait of a Well-known Pelhamite, Mr. Franciss A. Wilson
Drawn By William Oberhardt"  Source:  Portrait of a Well-Known
The Pelham Sun, Dec. 15, 1922, p. 10, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:
Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of a number of articles from local newspapers.  Each sheds a little light on the life of William Oberhardt when he lived in Pelham.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Portrait of a Well-Known Pelhamite, Mr. Francis A. Wilson Drawn By William Oberhardt

THE PORTRAIT  of Mr. Wilson has a two-fold interest for the readers of The Pelham Sun.  Wherever advertising men gather the name of Francis A. Wilson is recognized as one that stands for the highest type of publicity.  The public announcements for which he is responsible are works of art; beautiful in composition, in execution, in the harmony between illustration and lettering and in appropriateness to the object for which they are designed.  Aside from their effectiveness as commercial publicity they are worthy of reproduction as enjoyable illustrations.

During Mr. Wilson's career as advertising manager of Youth's Companion in earlier years, later as head of the advertising department of the American Tobacco Company, and for the past ten years or more advertising manager of Liggett & Mayer, he has been responsible for many forward-looking innovation in pictorial publicity and the use of simple copy with an illuminative urge.  His work in newspaper advertising has had a large influence in the marked improvement in daily paper advertising in the metropolis.

William Oberhardt is a distinguished artist who has lately taken up his residence in North Pelham.  His advent in the community is a distinct addition to the list of notable men who have recognized the attractiveness of this beautiful town.  Following a brilliant succession of achievements in portraiture, including such well known men as Hudson Maxim, Joseph Pennell, Douglas Volk, and Charles Dana Gibson, Mr. Oberhardt has recently completed portraits of President Harding and many Washington notables. One of his best works is the portrait of the well known illustrator, Arthur I. Keller, whose sister is the wife of our popular townsman, Dr. A. C. McGuire.

Mr. Oberhardt's work has had wide recognition.  Originals of twenty-five of his drawings of war artists are now in the Government archives in Washington, a number of them having been reproduced for the Commission of Fine Arts.  A recent issue of The Print Connoisseur has an appreciative article on 'The 'Heads' of Oberhardt,' with reproductions of eighteen of his drawings.

The portrait of Mr. Wilson is a happy example of Mr. Oberhardt's characteristic success in putting into his work not only remarkable likeness to his subject, but lifelike exposition of character."

Source:  Portrait of a Well-Known Pelhamite, Mr. Francis A. Wilson Drawn By William OberhardtThe Pelham Sun, Dec. 15, 1922, p. 10, cols. 1-3.  

Joseph Pennell in 1918, by William Oberhardt.
NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

"Oberhardt's Work On Vew At Art Center
Renowned Portrait Artist Has Many Brilliant Pictures in Society of Illustrators' Exhibit

Interesting to Pelhamites is the exhibition of 'The Heads of Oberhardt' which is now taking place at the Art Center, 65 East 65th street, New York.  William Oberhardt is one of Pelham's well known residents and has achieved great fame for his portraiture.  During the war he was a member of the Division of Pictorial Publicity, and at the conclusion of the war he was commissioned by the U.S. Government to make portraits of all of that division, to be placed on record as a permanent exhibit in the national archives of the War Department.

His portraits at the recent Manor Club art exhibition aroused a great deal of enthusiasm for their depth and life.  Among the many portraits on exhibition at the Art Center are those of President Harding, Senator Lodge, ex-President Taft, and 'Uncle Joe' Cannon.  Among hhis recent works are exhibited two well known residents of the Pelhams.  Francis A. Wilson and Robert A. Holmes.  Pelhamites would do well to visit this exhibition."

Source:  Oberhardt's Work On Vew At Art Center -- Renowned Portrait Artist Has Many Brilliant Pictures in Society of Illustrators' Exhibit, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 6, 1923, Vol. 14, No. 6, p. 6, col. 2.  

Father Of Noted Artist Died After Operation

NORTH PELHAM, Dec. 9 -- Private funeral services for William Oberhardt, Sr., father of William Oberhardt, noted portrait artist, will be held tomorrow afternoon at the Brunner Mortuary Chapel on Fifth Avenue.  Mr. Oberhardt, who was seventy-nine, and well known in Pelham where he had lived for the last 12 years, died yesterday morning in New Rochelle Hospital where he recently underwent an operation.  

He was born in Heilbronn, Germany, was a retired cabinet maker and in his younger days had been active in German musical societies.  He held a warm place in the hearts of residents in the village where it was his daily habit to stroll and pause for neighborly visits.  He was always accompanied by his pet, and dutiful companion, a police dog.

Mr. Oberhardt's home was at 538 Second Avenue.  He is survived by his wife, Amalia Wass Oberhardt, his sons William and Rolland and daughter Lorianne.  Interment will be at Englewood, N. J.

His son, William, listed in 'Who's Who', is internationally known as a portrait artist.  He has made pictures of many outstanding men, including Charles Dana Gibson, Warren G. Harding, Henry Cabot Lodge, Joseph G. Cannon, Thomas A. Edison, Luther Burbank and Harry Emerson Fosdick.  He was commissione[d] by the Federal Government in 1919 to portray 25 members of the Division of Pictorial Publicity for the archives at Washington."

Source:  RITES PLANNED FOR OBERHARDT -- Father Of Noted Artist Died After Operation, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Dec. 9, 1933, p. 11, col. 1.  

"William Oberhardt, Sr.
Father of Artist, Dies

William Oberhardt, Sr., of No. 538 Second avenue, North Pelham, died this morning in New Rochelle Hospital after an illness of about two weeks.

Mr. Oberhardt, who was 79 year old, was born in Heilbrun in Germany.  He had resided in Pelham for twelve years, and previous to that time, made his home in New York City.  

Surviving are the widow, Amalia Oberhardt, and a son, William Oberhardt, famous artist, and two grandchildren, Rolland and Lorianne Oberhardt, all of Second avenue.

Private funeral services will be held on Sunday afternoon at the Brunner Mortuary chapel on Fifth avenue.  Cremation will follow."

Source:  William Oberhardt Sr. Father of Artist, Dies, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 8, 1933, p. 8, col. 5.  

"Mrs. Wm. Oberhardt, Sr. Died on Wednesday

Mrs. Amalia Wass Oberhardt, 82, widow of William Oberhardt, Sr., and mother of William Oberhardt, Jr., noted portrait artist, died at the home of her son, No. 538 Second avenue, on Wednesday morning after a short illness.

Mrs. Oberhardt was born in Bavaria.  She came to the United States in 1880, and had been a resident of North Pelham for 18 years."

Source:  Mrs. Wm. Oberhardt, Sr. Died on Wednesday, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 12, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 2, p. 4, col. 8. 

"Oberhardt Elected To Academy

PELHAM -- William Oberhardt, of 538 Second Avenue, a resident of Pelham since 1941 [sic, should read 1921], has been elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design.  

The prominent artist, illustrator and portrait artist, has his studio at 41 Union Square, New York City.  Several of his portraits are in the permanent collection of the 

Source:  Oberhardt Elected To Academy, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 26, 1945, p. 12, col. 5.  


WILLIAM OBERHARDT, seventy-five, portraitist, illustrator and sculptor who did likenesses of Presidents Eisenhower, Hoover and Harding, Cardinal Spellman, Vice President Nixon, Bernard Baruch and Secretary of State Dulles, at Pelham."

Source:  WESTCHESTER DEATHS WILLLIAM OBERHARDT, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Jul. 23, 1958, p. 2, col. 2.  

"OBITUARY . . . 



William Oberhardt, seventy-five, portraitist, illustrator and sculptor died of a heart attack yesterday at his home, 538 Second Ave.  Among the many famous people whose portraits he had painted from life were four Presidents, Eisenhower, Hoover, Harding, and Taft."

Source:  OBITUARY . . . WILLIAM OBERHARDT, The Daily News [Tarrytown, NY], Jul. 23, 1958, p. 2, col. 1.  

"Josephine M. Oberhardt, 94

Josephine M. Oberhardt, a resident of Pelham for 73 years, died August 7, 2000 at her Pelham home.  She was 94.

Mrs. Oberhardt was born June 20, 1906 in Munich, Germany to Maximilian and Therese Sonnleitner.  She was educated in Munich, German and graduated from The Riemerschmidt, Munich.

On Aug. 18, 1927, she married William Oberhardt in Munich.  They came to Pelham as newlyweds in 1927.

Family members said Mrs. Oberhardt will be remembered for her high standards of integrity, her kindness to and consideration of others, her love and devotion to family, her wide diversity of interests in politics, finance and literature.

She is survived by her son, Rolland B. Oberhardt of Tallahassee, FL; her daughter, Lorianne Kelly of Allendale, NJ; two granddaughters, Heather Woodhurn of Olney, MD and Kristi Thomas of Panacea, FL; four great grandchildren; and her sister, The-Rder of Munich, Germany. 

Her husband, William Oberhardt, a noted portraitist and illustrator, died in July 0f 1958.

A funeral gathering was held at her home on August 10.  Interment was private."

Source:  Newspaper Deaths from Newspapers - NY (ca. Aug. 2000), First Page & Second Page.  

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