Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982) was born in San Francisco of German descent; his mother (née Kafka)  died in childbirth, and he was legally adopted and raised by his grandmother and aunt.  After attendance at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts in the early 1920s, by age 22 he had a studio in the famed "100" block of Montgomery Street ("the Monkey Block,") then a haven for bohemians.

In 1926, a year of tremendous importance in California artists' embrace of modern art, the Oakland Art Gallery, with the guidance and inspiration of their European representative Emmy (Galka) Scheyer, was the first museum in the United States to show the art of the "Blue Four," among the leading artists of International Modernism--Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, and Wassily Kandinsky.

The overwhelming influences in Scheyer's exhibitions in Oakland and later in Pasadena, were German art movements. She appreciated the abstractionist teaching of Hans Hoffman, who later taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and his Munich students, as well as the increasing importance of Bauhaus, Dada, and Surrealist aesthetics. Hagedorn, of German extraction, was drawn to these influences. Scheyer offered to represent his work, inviting the young artist to become the fifth member of her distinguished group. He rejected her overtures.  Scheyer's group of Hagedorn drawings was left to the the Norton Simon Museum, together with her important collection of works by the Blue Four, and major examples by Dix, Kirchner, Kokoschka, Leger, Lissitsky, Nolde, Schwitters, Schlemmer, and Picasso.

"Ed was an outsider, a loner, a tall thin man who walked down the street looking like a question-mark; he had no use for success," according to fellow artist Paul Carey. Financially independent from the 1930's on, having inherited a sizable income from his maternal family's insurance agency, Hagedorn made little effort to market his art, but continued to work prodigiously in the seclusion of his studio/residence in Berkeley, and was active in bohemian North Beach, San Francisco, a friend and illustrator of writer Kenneth Rexroth and poet Czeslaw Milosz.

Oakland Museum Director William Clapp was intellectually open to the entire spectrum of modernism, and in 1927 included Hagedorn's painting of a female nude wearing nothing but silk stockings. It created a scandal reminiscent of the first exhibition of Courbet's 1866 oil, "Origin of the World," or recently Robert Mapplethorpe's explicit photographs.  Then critic for The Chronicle, Gene Hailey, together with a "lady's committee" demanded the painting's withdrawal in newspaper articles and in letters to Director Clapp who steadfastly supported freedom of expression.  Despite attempts at censorship and disinheritance by his wealthy father, Hagedorn persisted in his convictions, and refused to withdraw the work; he continued to depict the female nude throughout his long life.

Edward Hagedorn achieved critical national acclaim exhibiting widely, and winning print competitions at the De Young Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, participating as well in the Works Progress Administration (the WPA.) In the 1960s, eminent San Francisco Chronicle critic Alfred Frankenstein stated, "Hagedorn is one of the finest draughtsman I ever knew."

Some public collections holding Hagedorn's work include the Norton Simon Museum; Chicago Art Institute; National Museum of American Art,  Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Art, San Francisco; Carnegie Art Institute, the Huntington Museum; Oakland Museum of Art; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Instituion; Library of Congress; Whitney Museum of American Art;  Getty Center; and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.

Edward Hagedorn's art is a major discovery in American Modernism. He conveyed more forcefully than most of his contemporaries the darkness and upheaval that gripped the country in the years between the two World Wars and during the Great Depression. This exhibition reveals the hand of a master draftsman and the mind of an astute political observer who rejected bucolic landscapes.

Hagedorn’s images insist on eidetic registration: skeletons, ferocious yet somehow endearing, printed in dark black ink on off-white paper, marching across Lilliputian landscapes of grim disorder and destruction; comets and volcanoes exploding in other-worldly colors, their fluorescent temperas framed in thick black outline; nude female figures in exquisitely refined pen and ink or graphite line drawings, as economical in their means as Matisse or the neo-classical drawings of Picasso occasionally splashed with watercolor or pastel reminiscent of Schiele. He also created lyrical landscapes, Surrealist experiments, and homages to the female form in a compelling decades-long production of watercolors, pastels, ink, monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and relief prints.  This first retrospective of the art of Edward Hagedorn reveals an artist powerfully in command of marks on paper, wryly observant of human folly; he was a gifted draftsman who created indelible images and unforgettable impressions of the most powerful forces of nature. 

When Hagedorn died intestate in 1982, the bulk of his life's work was discovered in the Woolsey Street attic in dozens of boxes filled with hundreds of prints, watercolors, temperas, and drawings. Heir-finder attorneys settled a million dollars in cash and securities on a distant relative the artist had never met.

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