The narrative below primarily concerns itself with William Chandler since he has been considered to be the best of the artists of the American Pastel Period; however, many other artists also presented great works for the public that approached the level achieved by Chandler in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
STYLE: Chandler is known for his use of lavenders, pinks, and blues and with his light and delicate touch his work is extremely appealing to the collecting audience. The use of blue in his work is less severe than Gunderson’s use of the same color with the final achievement of a mysterious yet welcoming look to his works. When he uses brown or earth tones the result is arresting with his light and shadow mixing in a manner that draws the viewer into the picture. Chandler’s style is very recognizable and very sought after by collectors.
CHANDLER’S TRAVELS AND HIS FAMILY: As is the case with all artists Chandler needed to work at other jobs in the area to support his family and his children; however, he returned to his real passion, art, when he came back to finally settle down in Summit, New Jersey. Chandler worked in Toroto, Canada in the 1917/1918 period and painted many pieces of the beautiful countryside in that area and these scenes are sometimes difficult to differentiate from the Northeastern part of the United States which Chandler captured on paper. Chandler had an emotionally tumultuous life having a hunting accident when he was young that left him with a permanent disability and limp for the remainder of his life. While Chandler and his wife Jenny Freeman were living in Chicago she died at child birth with their third daughter Nellie and a few months later Nellie succumbed to an illness and died. After Nellie’s death this left Chandler with his very young daughters Kathleen(Kitty) and Annabel to raise so he returned to his father’s home in Summit where his 17 year old sister Elizabeth or Aunt Lizzy took on the responsibility of raising the girls and later devoting herself to them and their families. Chandler went back to Chicago to earn a living etching jewelry and silver for the next year and then returned home to Summit and his family. In Annabel’s memoirs she writes that her father must have first worked in someone else’s studio before setting up his own studio on Barkley Street in New York City. Annabel recounts that the highlight of her life was meeting Annie Oakley at Madison Square Garden. Annabel’s son Allen Chandler Tunis wrote about his grandfather’s attempts to hire bowery bums to do pastel work in his studio; however, that never amounted to much since most of the bums hired would take money for the day and then go back on the street to drink and disappear. A helper in Chandler’s studio would prepare paper for the sand and grit that would be applied prior to using the pastels in order to assure better adherence of the chalks. This process was very fine and did not result in any coarse sand or grit. It had been suggested that “all pastels” were done on sand paper; however, after many examinations of pastels by professional appraisers it is obvious that sand paper is quite rare in its use for pastel work and quite the unusual find. Finally the great volumes of work produced by
Chandler required many assistants in his studio working for him with different levels of expertise working on the same painting. Some of the assistants were excellent at skies while others presented fine earth lines and still others streams and water that were alive with action. Although all these assistants helped it was the master himself that put the final finishing touches on the piece and then signed the work.
SIGNATURES ON THE WORKS: Collectors have always argued about the signature of Chandler on his various works. There are four main acceptable signatures which can be found with further investigation of his bio: the first and second are primarily found on his lithographs while the third signature is the most common found. The fourth signature shows a different type of C and is more backhand in style. Beyond the penmanship there has been a myth concerning the color of his signature. The myth was that if the signature was not in black then it was not a true Chandler. This was just not true since many times a black signature would not show up so Chandler would sign in white chalk for contrast. Black was Chandler’s preference but definitely not exclusively used.
INTEREST IN HIS AND OTHER PASTEL ARTISTS OF THIS PERIOD: Initially pastels were sought after by the masses since they were much more affordable as works of original art as compared to other works created in oils and watercolors. In order to survive as practicing artists many of the known group of American pastel artists created their works in the Northeast region of the United States and offered them for sale to the public. Since the works were very affordable it became popular for families to purchase these original pieces of art for their homes; however, it was only in the early years of the 21st century that people have rediscovered the wonderful work of the American pastel period and with that discovery the prices have dramatically changed. In the mid 1890’s pastels by masters such as Chandler, Gunderson, Braley, Phillips, Wude, DeGraff, Shoup, and others would be lucky to achieve $150.00 for the finest examples and as little as $25.00 for the lesser works. Today, works are selling in the $1200 to $1800 area and continue to move upward as more and more people discover the beauty and soft elegance achieved with this most difficult medium. At these levels pastels by masters are a bargain and afford the art collector an opportunity to acquire very fine art that is still quite affordable.