Karl Baumann Biography

Karl Baumann




Karl Herman Baumann, painter and printmaker, was born in Leipzig, Germany, on December 26, 1911. His father Willie was an engraver and embosser from a prosperous family who immigrated with his wife, Augusta, and son to the U.S. just before the outbreak of WWI.Willie found work as a lithographer for a time before he and Augusta separated, at which point he left for San Francisco and Karl stayed in New York with Augusta. Around this time, Karl began learning to draw from his mother. An artist herself, she held a job as a postcard artist and a toymaker, pouring lead moulds of toy soldiers; this ultimately led to her death by tuberculosis via lead poisoning, and Karl was sent to live with his maternal grandparents who helped foster a love of painting in the young boy.

By 1929 Willie had saved enough to bring Karl to San Francisco, where they worked together as commercial printers at Schmidt Lithograph. Karl married in 1934 and he and his new wife, Naomi Pratt, had a son who they named Nicholas. Meanwhile, Karl would continue to draw and paint on his own time, focusing on themes of social realism, industrial impact on nature, and increasingly abstracted landscapes. He was eventually fired from the lithography company for trying to unionize, but in 1936 the WPA employed Karl as an easel painter, and he was able to focus entirely on fine art and exhibiting. Establishing himself as a modernist landscape painter with roots in German Expressionism, he won his first major commission in 1940 from the U.S. Maritime Commission for a large painted panel. He soon began to gain a reputation as a leading California Abstract Expressionist, and in 1947 he was hired by the California College of Arts and Crafts as a professor of painting. He also taught for a time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In 1974 Baumann was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given six months to live. However, he went into remission after a debilitating treament, and within two years he was cancer-free. He was active until May of 1976 when the sudden death of his son ended his desire to paint. Karl Baumann died on January 30, 1984 in San Francisco, California.

Exhibited: GGE, 1939; Oakland AG, 1939 (hon. men.), 1940, 1948; Riverside Mus., 1940 (Calif. WC Soc.); Dayton AI, 1940; CPLH, 1945, 1951; SFMA, 1940, 1942, 1945 (solo), 1949 (solo); Gump's Gal., San F., 1947 (solo); La Jolla A. Center, 1947 (solo); San F. AA, 1949 (prize); PC, 1949; City of Paris, San F., 1945, 1950, 1952-1956 (solo); Portland AM, 1948; MMA, 1952; Cal. State Fair, 1953; Labaudt Gal., 1957 (solo); Mezzanine Gal., Oakland, 1956 (solo); galleries in San Fran. and Los Angeles, 1950s-60s; Maxwell Gal., 1989.