Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A'Cousining In San Francisco with Julian Walbridge Rix, Landscape Painter, Part 2, by Susan Kinsella

(In which I "interview" Julian and compare our experiences as cousins living in San Francisco in different centuries - see genealogy in Part 1)

See Part 1, Julian’s Early Years in San Francisco, here

(Also note that if you click on the photos, many will open in much larger formats on a photo page - especially many of the paintings.)

Julian Walbridge Rix, about 21 (~1872)
When Julian arrived in San Francisco at 17, he needed a profession. His father, Alfred, put him to work in his law office but it soon became clear that Julian was not suited to the copying work required. So within just a few weeks, Alfred apprenticed him to Charles Hopps & Son, a business that painted houses, signs and decorative scenes, such as on the doors of safes. 

A San Francisco document from 1868 locates the Hopps business at 212 Sansome Street, in the heart of today's financial district, at the corner with Pine Street. Again, it is an area I know well. For several years, I worked for an environmental paper company with its offices in an old railroad engine roundhouse by the wharves at the end of Sansome. 

Julian turned his apprenticeship in house painting into his entrée into the artistic life that he craved. He had already begun drawing during his teen years when he lived in Vermont. Now, as a house and sign painter, he soon blossomed into also painting on canvas, and went from etchings into oil paintings, watercolor and pastels. When Julian announced his intention to become a full-time artist, his father was appalled and refused to help him financially. But his little brother, Edward, stood by him. Later, when Edward graduated as a mechanical engineer in the first class of California’s new university in Berkeley, he started his own business and made good on his promise, helping Julian when finances were tight. Julian, in turn, repaid him with gifts of his landscape paintings.

The first record of Julian’s success was in 1872, when he exhibited an oil painting at a city art gallery, the Snow and Roos. The local newspaper praised it, noting that it “has great merit for a first attempt from nature and gives promise of talent.” 

Sunshine and Shadows, Julian Walbrige Rix, 1876
SUSAN: Julian, tell me about how you learned to paint landscapes. Some people today think that you might have studied with Albert Bierstadt because he often worked closely with your Uncle Edward, his brother, who was a photographer and printer. Both of them were in San Francisco when you were there. 

JULIAN: No, I met Albert a few times and I greatly admired his paintings, but I did not study with him. I gained all my artistic ability on my own. San Francisco was bursting with talented artists in the 1870s – painters, poets, writers, actors, musicians, so much creative talent when I was living there! After New York City, San Francisco was the most prolific art center in America, even though the city had actually only burst into being a couple of decades before. And what a time it was! Robert Louis Stevenson was there, and Oscar Wilde came through at one point as well. We were all great friends, sharing art studios and painting techniques and learning so much from each other. 

Sunset In Yosemite
Julian Walbridge Rix
Indeed, Julian was quite popular. He and his friends lived decidedly bohemian lives, living for the moment, drinking lavishly and smoking cigars, reveling with their fellow artists whenever one of them received payment for a painting or a story, and running tabs at their favorite cafes when times were tough. They shared other kinds of expertise, as well. The wife of one of Julian’s artist friends described him as, “A big, fair New Englander, [he] taught us to cook codfish and Boston brown bread.” 

In 1876, Julian was invited to join the recently founded Bohemian Club, originally a gathering of journalists, artists and musicians. Today it is better known for the heavy-weight politicians and wealthy businessmen who join its secret summer revels - men only - in the woods north of San Francisco. But in Julian’s day, it fit right in as an extension of the wild artistic life that he and his friends created in the city. Each year it held an art exhibition, where artists displayed and sold their paintings and drawings. In the summers, it organized exuberant and often ribald revels in the woods by the Russian River, 75 miles north of San Francisco. 

Many of Julian’s closest friends were fellow Bohemian Club members. When not carousing in San Francisco, the artists often made extended trips together up and down the Pacific Coast and throughout California, camping for weeks at a time while they turned out dozens of glorious landscape paintings. 

JULIAN: Ah, yes, two of my favorite places to paint were the Sacramento River valley and Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate.

SUSAN: I totally understand. I lived for several years in Sacramento and now for the past more than 20 years I have lived in Marin County. You’ll be glad to know that the whole western half of the county has been preserved as open space, so many of the places you painted probably still look just as they did when you were here. 

Sacramento River At Sunset, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1876
Jules Tavernier, 1844-1889

Julian was especially close to Jules Tavernier, a wildly talented painter from France and a firecracker of a guy who lived a particularly dissolute life. Many of Jules’ considerable troubles seemed to stem from his belief that tasks such as paying bills were just too mundane to hold his attention.

A Balloon In Mid-Air, Jules Tavernier, 1875

SUSAN: Julian, tell me about when you and Jules shared a studio in San Francisco. 

JULIAN: Oh, yes. Life was always wild with Jules. Our studio was at 758 Montgomery Street, near the corner of Jackson Street. He did magnificent paintings, and sometimes we even did paintings together. He always had something going. He couldn’t sit still for a minute; he always had to be moving. 

SUSAN: Apparently part of why he was always moving was because he often skipped out on his bills. 

JULIAN: Well, yes, he was a bit loose with those kinds of things. Most of the time, we made our rent enough to keep our place, but then . . . . I guess it doesn’t matter anymore if I tell this story . . . . We were down on our luck, for about the hundredth time - you know, starving artists and all. Actually, to be honest, we were desperate to figure out how to bring in enough money to pay our rent. We’d run out of time. In fact, our rent was overdue and we were being threatened with losing the rest of our paintings to make good on it. But Jules had a patron who agreed to pay $300 for a painting we had made together. So he went to the patron’s house to collect the money. 

On his way back, he noticed that Roman’s bookstore was having a sale of rare books, so he stopped in, just to look, you know. But before he left he’d spent $245 of our $300.

SUSAN: You’re kidding! Your rent money!?!

JULIAN: Yes, and not only that, after spending most of it, he figured the rest didn’t matter anymore, so he stopped into some more shops along the way home. I didn’t know anything about this until he got back and danced excitedly through the door of our studio, with a big book under each arm and a parade of clerks carrying armfuls more. 

I got a horrified suspicion and screamed at him, “Where’s the money?” A huge grin spread across Jules’s face and he told me, as if this was the best present ever, “Here are the books! And the wines and cigars will be along presently!” I nearly fainted. I was sure that all was lost. 

And, indeed, it was. Next day the Sheriff came, put a huge lock on our studio door, and stationed a guard outside, preparing to empty out all our paintings and equipment. But Jules . . . he was certainly the most intensely creative person I have ever known. He also realized that the Sheriff didn’t know that our studio had a large window in its roof. That’s why we loved that studio, it had such great light. 

So Jules got one of his young pupils, a Spaniard, and convinced him to come up on the roof with us. There, he opened the window, tied a rope to a hook and lowered the pupil into the studio. Forthwith, the student gathered up everything we had in there of value and, one by one, tied them to the rope so we could hoist them up. At the end, we hoisted him up, too, and quickly got away. So when the Sheriff arrived to unlock the big lock he had put on that fiercely guarded door . . . he opened our studio to find that it was empty!

Jules Tavernier was also a magnetic leader within their artistic community. When, in 1876, he decided to move to Monterey, then just a small sleepy fishing village, to concentrate on painting its quaint fishing scenes and beautiful coastal landscapes, Julian moved with him and opened a studio in the French Hotel. So many of their other friends moved with them as well that they established an influential artist colony there. Even Robert Louis Stevenson joined the colony in late 1879, spending several months there writing Old Pacific Capital. Today the French Hotel is called the Stevenson House and is a California State Park. 

While in Monterey, Jules Tavernier married, although the relationship was always volatile. Julian, however, had no such luck.

La Barranca Honda, Carmel Valley, Monterey, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1877

SUSAN: Julian, if you’re willing to talk about this, I’d like to know what happened with Nellie Hopps.

JULIAN: Oh, now you’re really slaying me. My heart aches just thinking about her.

SUSAN: I’m sorry. If it’s too much, I have lots of other questions to ask you.

Ella C. (Nellie) Hopps, 1855-1956
Forest Scene by Nellie Hopps
JULIAN: No, no, after all this time, I might as well talk about her. She was the daughter of Charles Hopps, the house painter I was first apprenticed to. My father figured that I’d get to play with paint there and give up my notions of being a fine artist. Instead, I quickly graduated from painting signs to selling landscape paintings in the San Francisco art galleries. And over time I fell in love with Nellie. She was the most beautiful and fascinating woman I’d ever known.

SUSAN: Apparently you were pretty handsome yourself. I found an article about local artists in the San Francisco Chronicle that refers to you, when you were 26, as “the Adonis of the Profession.”

JULIAN: Where did you ever hear that?!? I am shocked that something like that would not be kept private!

SUSAN: Ha, ha! Not only is the San Francisco Chronicle still around, but there is no privacy left these days. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of things that get printed! But tell me more about Nellie.

JULIAN: I only wish she’d agreed with the newspaper article . . . . She was a mighty fine painter herself. We used to go off on rambles in the country – Marin County and Mt. Tamalpais were among our favorites - and set up our easels wherever we found a scene that pleased us. Then we would paint all day and often camp for a couple weeks at a time, producing painting after painting.

SUSAN: Oh, I love Mt. Tamalpais, too! I used to lead hikes on the full moon there for many years. Every one of them was different, even when we went on the same trails, and all were such great adventures! I can understand why you two loved it. It sounds like you were made for each other. Whatever happened?

Mt. Tamalpais Landscape, Julian Walbridge Rix

JULIAN: She knew I wanted to marry her and she turned me down. Then she went flaunting her supposedly broken heart all over San Francisco. But secretly, she was seeing another man. Eventually she told me she was in love with him and they were going to be married. That’s when I bolted. Just got on a train – because by then the railroad had been finished across the country – and left for the East Coast. At the time, I thought I was just going for a few months. But I ended up staying there and opening a studio in New York City. I had to get away from all the pain I left behind in San Francisco. 

SUSAN: Ah, yes, well, San Francisco is known for being the place where people leave their hearts. 

JULIAN: I never did get over Nellie, never found anyone else I wanted to marry. My one regret was that I didn’t tell my Aunt Clara before I left San Francisco, and for years she thought I had run away from her, too. 

In 1881, Nellie may have motivated Julian to run away from San Francisco. But a financial slump had also hit the art world, the city’s art collectors had shifted their allegiance from local artists to European scenes and artists, he was down to his last dollars, and his friend Jules was descending into alcoholism.  Fortunately for Julian, a businessman from New Jersey, William T. Ryles, traveled to San Francisco and was quite taken with his paintings. He loaned Julian $6,000 to establish a new studio at his summer estate in Patterson, NJ and another later in New York City, and became his art patron for the rest of Julian’s life. Ryles and his wife also became close friends with Julian and, ultimately, Julian left most of his artistic estate to them when he died.

Winter, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1880

California Coast, Sunset by Julian Walbridge Rix
Once he moved to New Jersey, the painting rambles and camping trips shifted from California and the Pacific Coast to Maine, the Adirondacks, and all the beautiful places in between. But Julian kept ties to San Francisco, sending loads of paintings back to its art expositions for sale each year and occasionally returning for new painting inspirations.

In 1885, Julian created a series of forest drawings to illustrate an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. In 1888, a number of his etchings were used to illustrate a widely popular book titled Picturesque California, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Slope, which was edited by the famous naturalist, John Muir. 

SUSAN: Julian, it’s now more than 110 years since you died in 1903. Do you know that your paintings are still in demand? They’re in great art museums all around the country, and they still sell well at the big art auction houses. 

JULIAN: Really? I sure wish they would have sold better when I lived in San Francisco.

SUSAN: You might also be interested to know that many of the businesses that you probably knew in your San Francisco days are still here. I drop into the Boudin Bakery when I’m in the city for their French sourdough bread that they developed here in 1849, and I often give Ghirardelli chocolates as gifts. Everyone still wears Levi's jeans - including women! I even wonder if you might have had a bank account at my bank, Wells Fargo, which opened here the year before you arrived as a toddler. 

JULIAN: It would have helped if I had had enough money to put in a bank when I lived in San Francisco!

SUSAN: And Julian, you won’t believe this, but I also have a copy of the journal your parents wrote together when you were born.

JULIAN: What! Now you’re really flabbergasting me. How could you possibly have that?

SUSAN: It was passed down in your father’s family and eventually shared with an archivist who transcribed, edited and published it. Your parents’ stories about your first steps, your first haircut, and your first words are now available for everyone in the world to read. For the record, by the way, your mother said that some of those first words were “horse and wagon” and, when asked about your father, “Papa in Fannyforny.”

JULIAN: I am dumbfounded. I don’t even know what to say. 

SUSAN: Well, I just want you to know that you’re not forgotten, not by your family nor by the larger world. And I’m so delighted that we could spend this time a’cousining together. Thanks, Cuz!

JULIAN: Hey, how about rambling with me on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin? 
SUSAN: Next full moon - It’s a deal!

California Sunset, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1885


Susan Kinsella said...

In addition to consulting many different sources, I want to give great thanks and special appreciation to Lynn A. Bonfield, an archivist at the California Historical Society and San Francisco State University, who researched and co-authored Roxana’s Children: The Biography of a Nineteenth-Century Vermont Family (University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), about Chastina Walbridge Rix’s family, which includes my family, as well. It is here that I first met Julian Walbridge Rix. Lynn also transcribed, edited and published Alfred and Chastina’s joint journal, New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Chastina W. Rix, 1849-1854 (The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2011), a treasure trove of commentary for our Taylor family that mentions letters (some corresponding to the letters that we hold) to and from, as well as visits with, several of our direct ancestors.

Evelyn Taylor said...

Sue. What a treat was in store for me when I tuned in to your Interview with Julian Walbridge this morning. I have spent a delightful hour reading both articles and enjoying the history and paintings Of your cousin.

May I say that your format was exceptional It was a wonderful respite from our Presidential campaign, on this the final debate day.


Pat Herdeg said...

Sue, Wonderful story and filled with such details. Thank you for all of this research on another of our 'far flung' cousins.

Carly24 said...

Where did you find the picture of Nellie?

Unknown said...

Nellie Hopps Howard was my great great grandmother. I am curious to know where you got the photo of her. My cousin Bo gave me a copy of the only known photo you are using in your blog. And may I say your blog is beautifully put together. I have a writing (draft) written by Alice Erskine of Alameda which elaborates on Nellies life and times and includes Julian Rix.

Pat Herdeg said...

I have forwarded on your comment to my sister Sue, who wrote this blog story. I am sure she will answer you about the picture of your Nellie.

Susan Kinsella said...

Thank you so much for being in touch about Nellie! At the moment, I don't remember where I got her photo, but I may be able to determine that when I can research the computer on which I wrote the story (not the computer I'm using right now). I did read a lot of the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune editions from the 1870s, which had ads for both Julian's and Nellie's paintings and reviews of their art shows (usually part of the larger group of their artist friends). Those newspapers also had wonderful stories about the early Bohemian Club summer revels and the story about Jules buying rare books instead of paying the rent and several others. Sometimes it sounded more like People magazine than a newspaper.

I was particularly interested in Nellie because it seemed that Julian was so besotted with her and it sounded like they were such good friends who liked being together. So I wondered why Nellie turned him down. I learned more about her and how she went to Japan with her husband and lived there much of her adult life. So it seemed as though she may have decided that was a better life plan than what still seemed would be a hand-to-mouth artist's life in San Francisco if she had stayed with Julian.

You say that you have a story that tells more of her life and includes Julian as well - I would LOVE to see it, if that is possible. My email address is seek@susankinsella.com.

As to where I found Nellie's picture - as I mention above, I don't remember exactly, at least right now, but I do remember that I wanted to find out more about her and was intrigued about the possibility that she could have been the daughter of the owner of the sign painting company that Julian was apprenticed to. I found the address for the business in an archival document from the San Francisco Public Library online, and was charmed to realize that I had been right and that's who she was. That document also provided a little more information about her family. I was so impressed with the painting of hers that I found, as well as a couple more from later in her life in Japan. I wondered what her life had been like, as a woman painting along with a dynamic group of men in San Francisco. From the articles I read, her painting talent seemed to be taken seriously.

Oh, I think I found the story about her online that you referred to! I notice that Julian Rix is described as having moved to Petaluma with his aunt, but that is mixing him up with his younger brother, Neddy (Edward). As I describe in this article, Julian's uncle Dustan took him back to Vermont, where he was educated in the school where his father had been the headmaster, and he returned as soon as he graduated at 17. His younger brother, however, was apparently given to his Aunt Clara to raise in the San Francisco area, and he's the one who moved first to Petaluma and then to a farm-like property near Mission Dolores in San Francisco (which apparently was the "boonies" at the time).

I also found a photo of the stained glass in Nellie's burial site in Colma - it's gorgeous!

Searching online now, I am finding her photo that you asked about at https://www.geni.com/people/Ella-Howard/6000000042893222203 and a couple photos in Japan that I think are also her, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Howard-10509. If I find more info about my original source when I get back to my older computer, I'll add another note here.

What wonderful stories come up in the treasure hunt of genealogy! I get so fascinated by them that I feel as though I get to meet, share moments and "hang out" with the people in them. Hence the way I wrote this story about Julian, which was so much fun.