Carl Eytel (September 12, 1862 – September 17, 1925) was a German American artist who built his reputation for paintings and drawings of desert subjects in the American Southwest. Immigrating to the United States in 1885, he eventually settled in Palm Springs, California in 1903. With an extensive knowledge of the Sonoran Desert, Eytel traveled with author George Wharton James as he wrote the successful Wonders of the Colorado Desert, and contributed over 300 drawings to the 1908 work. While he enjoyed success as an artist, he lived as an ascetic and eventually died in poverty. Eytel's most important work, Desert Near Palm Springs, hangs in the History Room of the California State Library.
Carl Eytel was born as Karl Adolf Wilhelm Eytel in Maichingen, Böblingen to Tusnelda (née Schmid) and Friederick Hermann Eytel, a Lutheran minister in the Kingdom of Württemberg (now the state of Baden-Württemberg, near Stuttgart), Germany.:V.I,p.30 As a boy, he became a ward of his grandfather when his father died. Eytel was well educated in the German gymnasium and became enamored of the American West while reading the works of Prussian natural science writer and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, which he found in the Stuttgart Royal Library.:41,47:xxxvii From 1880 to 1884 he studied forestry in Tübingen and then was drafted into the German Army.:V.II,p.17 He first traveled to the United States in 1885 aboard the Suevia and worked as a ranch hand in Kansas. Later he worked at a slaughterhouse for 18 months to earn his living and to study cattle.:xxxviii In 1891, he read an article about the Palm Springs area in the San Francisco Call and was "incited" to visit the California desert.
Eytel returned to Germany to study art for 18 months (1897–1898) at the Royal Art School Stuttgart and then re-immigrated to the United States.:V.II,p.18:2 Wanting to be a cowboy, he worked as a cowhand in the San Joaquin Valley and he eventually settled in Palm Springs in 1903.:V.II,p.18 Living in small cabins he built himself, Palm Springs remained his home. Eytel often walked on his travels, covering 400 miles in the Colorado Desert on foot.:xl On one of his travels he was nearly lynched as a horse thief and in 1918, during a trip to northern Arizona, he was threatened with lynching as a German spy.:xliii:16
By 1908 Eytel was exhibiting works in Pasadena and enjoying the patronage of socialite Martha M. Newkirk. He was also planning to build a bungalow in Beaumont, California. And, in 1909, his work was being exhibited in major art venues and the Kanst gallery in Los Angeles. Later, in 1911, after traveling with Chase on horseback, he contributed 21 realisticline art drawings to Chase's book, Cone-bearing Trees of the California Mountains.
Besides his work in Wonders of the Colorado Desert and Cone-bearing Trees, Eytel contributed (both drawings and articles) to the best periodicals, including the Los Angeles Times and, for nearly 14 years, the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung.:85 (During his travels in the southwest he became friends with Los Angeles Times city editor Charles Lummis.) A stone wall in the dining room of Dr. Welwood Murray's early hotel was covered with an Eytel mural of Palm Canyon. His hundreds of drawings of native palms were his trademark and he became known as "The Artist of the Palms".:33:103 His work helped publicize early Palm Springs. In 1977 his works were selling for $10,000 and under.
Along with naturalistEdmund C. Jaeger, and authors Chase and Charles Francis Saunders, Eytel was a core member of what University of Arizona Professor Peter Wild called a "Creative Brotherhood" that lived in Palm Springs in the early 20th century. Other Brotherhood members included cartoonist and painter Swinnerton, author James, and photographers Fred Clatsworthy and Stephen H. Willard.:106–13 The men lived near each other (like Eytel, Jaeger built his own cabin), traveled together throughout the Southwest, helped with each other's works, and exchanged photographs which appeared in their various books.
The Brotherhood lasted from 1915 when Jaeger, who was the teacher in the Palm Springs one-room school house, met Eytel and Chase. It ended in 1923 when Chase died. (In 1924, after completing his studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Jaeger began a 30-year teaching career at Riverside Junior College in Riverside, California.) Jaeger wrote the initial eulogy for Eytel upon his death and in 1948, recalling his time with him, Jaeger said:
As an artist Eytel was largely self-taught.... Not widely schooled, but widely read. Eytel possessed a knowledge not only of the Greek and Roman classics but of the best literature of England, America and his native Germany. I never knew Eytel to sleep indoors. Trying to inure himself to hardships in the belief it would toughen his constitution....
Over the years it was Eytel who served as their "spiritual figurehead". Even after Jaeger left to complete his studies and Chase married the wealthy Isabel White (1917), the three, plus Saunders, often exchanged letters.:126–31,153–8 Suffering from a "hacking and persistent cough", Eytel remained in Palm Springs, impoverished, and Swinnerton would buy art supplies for him. Later Eytel became a recluse.:50
Eytel was a friend of the Cahuilla people and they allowed him to be buried in their cemetery in Palm Springs after he died of tuberculosis in a Banning, Californiasanatorium.:100–1 His funeral and burial were arranged by Nellie Coffman, who had established the original Desert Inn in the Palm Springs village in 1909.
Eytel received the following eulogy from Saunders writing in August 1926:
But to Carl Eytel, pioneer of Palm Springs artists, working there long before the world of fashion had heard of the place, Palm Springs was his home, and the desert his life. He knew it in all seasons, in all moods, and he painted it with a sort of religious ardor springing from unfailing love, in season and out. Others have been better draughtsmen than he, but when you look at a canvas by Eytel at his best you are looking into what seems the desert’s heart.
^ abLarson, Roger Keith (1996). "Part Five, Carl Eytel, 1862–1925". In Kurutz, Gary F. (ed.). California Book Illustrators: a Keepsake in Fourteen Parts for the Members of the Book Club of California (Keepsake Series ed.). San Francisco: The Book Club of California. LCCN97157635. OCLC36888109. "No phrase epitomizes the life of Carl Eytel better than the cliche 'art for art's sake,' or for those who prefer the original language, L'art pour l'art." Also available at: University of California, Riverside, Rivera Library
^ abcdefWild, Peter (2007). News from Palm Springs: The Letters of Carl Eytel, Edmund C. Jaeger, J. Smeaton Chase, Charles Francis Saunders, and Others of the Creative Brotherhood and Its Background. Vol. I and II. Johannesburg, CA: The Shady Myrick Research Project. OCLC163456618.
^ abcdefAinsworth, Ed (1970) . Painters of the Desert: Glimpses at Those Who Captured for Themselves and Their Fellowmen the Beauty and Message of the American Desert. Palm Desert, CA: Desert Magazine. p. 111. LCCN61016101. OCLC1814783.
^ abcHudson, Roy Fred (1979). Forgotten Desert Artist: The Journals and Field Sketches of Carl Eytel, an Early-day Painter of the Southwest. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Desert Museum. p. 118. OCLC5802826. "[James'] epic, two volume book...[is] now a collector's item." Hudson's book was reviewed in: "Books for Desert Readers". Desert Magazine (Palm Desert, CA: Desert Magazine) 42 (4): 6–7. April 1979. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
This same issue has the following as a side story: Lloyd, Elwood (September 1948). "Of Such As These Is the Spirit of the Desert". Desert Magazine (Palm Desert, CA: Desert Press) 11 (11): 18. "It was in Tahquitz canyon, where he wanted to show me the hidden waterfall....[Some] little spotted skunks...were playing and frolicking.... I...pulled my pistol...and fired.... 'A clean hit! I got him!' Carl...peered, [then] said to me, 'Yes, you did.... [B]ut what are you going to do about giving back that life you took from him? It was giving him joy but it gives you nothing. Alive he did you no harm.'" Originally published as: Lloyd, Elwood (1939). Enchanted Sands. Los Angeles, CA: Arthur H. Steake. p. 61. OCLC8796275.
"A Guide to the New Books". The Literary Digest (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls). XXXIV (7): 263–264. February 16, 1907. "This elaborate treatise is a distinct contribution to the literature of the natural wonders of our country....The illustrations...are a notable feature...and admirably illustrate the text."
Gilmour, John Hamilton (February 3, 1907). "The Wonders of the Colorado Desert, California". San Francisco Call101 (65): Magazine, 3. "He has written admirably and knowingly...and this...is in line with his previous works. ...It is a pity, though, that he has trusted to statements of a few people rather than investigated for himself....The book is well illustrated by Carl Eytel."
^Rucker, Kathryn (July 27, 1909). "Art". Los Angeles Herald36 (299): II, 2. Retrieved August 31, 2012. "Among the pictures now hung in the Kanst gallery are a number that were exhibited at the world's fair, St. Louis, others at the Royal Academy and Royal Scotch Academy....Arizona landscapes by C. Eytel, among which is a translation of a mirage very well expressed, are rather too vivid to be pleasing to those of quiet tastes...."
^ abcJaeger, Edmund C. (September 18, 1925). "Eulogy: Death Claims Noted Painter of Desert". Riverside Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA). "His illustrations are to be found in many of the best periodicals and in the publications of Little, Brown & Co., of Boston. Many Southern California homes carry his canvases on their walls and hundreds of former guests of the Desert Inn treasure his remarkably executed pen drawings...."
^His reputation as "the desert artist" continued. In 1913 he was visited by Ulysses S. Grant IV, then age 20. "1913 / A Midsummer Motoring Trip". Desert Magazine25 (3): 20. March 1962. "'Then we went on toward a small settlement called Palm Springs....' The desert artist, Carl Eytel, was living alone in a shack.... I recall him well as a lean man with a large moustache, seemingly of frail constitution but wiry and actually, when under stress, possessed of great endurance." Also available at "A Midsummer Motoring Trip". Historical Society of Southern California43 (1): 85–96. March 1961. doi:10.2307/41169503.
^Henderson, Moya; Palm Springs Historical Society (2009). Images of America: Palm Springs. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 127. ISBN978-0738559827. OCLC268792707.
^ abAt the start of World War I Eytel took the conflict personally towards his old English friend Chase; but they may have reconciled when peace was achieved. Wild, Peter (2005). J. Smeaton Chase. Johannnesburg, CA: The Shady Myrick Research Project. pp. 40, 127. OCLC62232191. "Eytel could get testy about Chase's marriage to a wealthy woman. Also, as to Palm Springs gossip, [he] could have a fishwife's tongue; and the ascetic's prerogative, he carped about the horror of declining morals in the village..."
^Japenga, Ann (March 2004). "Bloomsbury, P.S.". Desert Magazine. "Now and then a knot of likeminded artists and writers converges in one place and you get a Bloomsbury Circle or an Algonquin Roundtable. Such a conﬂuence happened in Palm Springs early in the 1900s. But instead of paneled drawing rooms, the artists convened in a couple of oil can shacks beside the Tahquitz ditch, near where the Tennis Club is today."
^Japenga, Ann (Winter–Spring 2011). "The Smoketree School: Painters respond to the call of the desert". Palm Springs Life (Desert Publications). Retrieved November 27, 2011. "The Smoketree School encompasses not only traditional landscape, but also modernist and Western works, watercolors, and even abstract painting, as well as contemporary artists, such as Terry Masters, Elaine Mathews, and Diane Best."
^Chase, J. Smeaton (1920 (republished 1987 by the Palm Springs Public Library)). Our Araby: Palm Springs and the Garden of the Sun. Pasadena, California: Star-News Publishing Co. p. 83. ISBN0-9618724-0-3. LCCN24010428. OCLC6169840. "It looks more than likely that by ten or fifteen years from now a school of painters will have made Our Araby their province, just as now there are the Marblehead and Gloucester men in the East and the Newlyn men in England. A forerunner of the group I forecast has already been working for many years with Palm Springs for his headquarters, Mr. Carl Eytel, whose knowledge of his field has been earned, as it were, inch by inch and grain by grain, and whose conscientious work gives a truer rendering of the desert than do sensational canvases of the popular Wild West sort."Check date values in: |date= (help) (Electronic copy)
^Gerdts, William H. (1990). "The Pacific: Southern California". Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710–19203. New York, NY: Abbeville Press. pp. 311, 322. ISBN1-55859-033-1. LCCN90000598. OCLC755165724. "The style adopted by almost all of the leading Los Angeles-area artists in the early twentieth century was Impressionism...The proximity of Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert attracted a whole group of scenic painters to investigate this motif..."
^Bright, Margorie Belle (1981). Nellie's Boardinghouse: A Dual Biography of Nellie Coffman and Palm Springs. Palm Springs, CA: ETC Publications. pp. 35, 58, 83. ISBN0-88280-068-X. "...arranging for [the] funeral service to be read by his favorite Moravian minister from Banning."LCCF869 P18 C63
Professor Wild disputes that the Indian cemetery burial was a particular honor, contending that non-Indian burials were fairly common. Wild, Peter (2007). Tipping the Dream: A Brief History of Palm Springs. Johannesburg, CA: The Shady Myrick Research Project. p. 159n67. OCLC152590848. He also documents this contention in his 2007 Letters from Palm Springs (1:140–142).
^Saunders, Charles Francis (August 25, 1926). Carl Eytel: Artist of the Colorado Desert, California. Sacramento, CA: Unpublished typescript, California History Section, California State Library. OCLC58931532.
^Young, Patricia Mastick (1983). Desert Dream Fulfilled: The History of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Desert Museum. p. 80. LCCN83080384. OCLC19266381.
Ainsworth, Katherine (1996 (reprint of 1976 edition published by the Palm Springs Art Museum)). The McCallum Saga: The Story of the Founding of Palm Springs. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Public Library. ISBN0-9618724-1-1. LCCN96052785. OCLC799840. "The friendship between the little reclusive artist, hiding the scars life had inflicted upon him and who found cruel life almost beyond endurance, and the lonely, overburdened young woman deepened into a close friendship. It was not until Eytel proposed marriage that Pearl realized such a relationship would be wrong for both of them. [p.169]"Check date values in: |date= (help) – Pearl McCallum McManus was a major figure in the development of early Palm Springs. This book also contains some 26 of Eytel's pen and ink drawings.
Chase, J. Smeaton (Fall 2005). "California Coast Trails: A Horseback Ride from Mexico to Oregon". The Double Cone Register (Santa Cruz, CA: Ventana Wilderness Alliance) VIII (1). Retrieved December 2, 2011. "Ever since I had lived in California I had been waiting for an opportunity to explore the coast regions of the State. At last the time had come when I could do it; and Eytel, my companion on other journeys in the mountains and deserts of the West, was free to join me for the southern part of the expedition." (Electronic copy)
Jaeger, Edmund C. (1922). Denizens of the Desert: A Book of Southwestern Mammals, Birds, and Reptiles. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. LCCN22023350. OCLC1459267. – Jaeger credits Eytel for a drawing of Washington Palms in a rocky gorge (p. 82). He also relates a story told to him by Dr. J. H. Kocher when Eytel and Kocher were camping in the mountains at Keyes Ranch near the Colorado Desert – a spotted skunk had come into their tent while they were sleeping. Eytel's advice to Kocher was a whispered "Better keep still." (pp. 288–290).
Starr, Shannon (April 12, 2003). "Artist Eytel sketched pioneer life: History: The German immigrant developed an affinity for the desert and American Indian culture". The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA). p. B: 3. ISSN0746-4258.