Edmund H. Wuerpel

Edmund H. Wuerpel

Edmund H. Wuerpel (May 13, 1866- February, 1958) was an American Tonalist painter and an important art educator who was head of the Washington University School of Fine Arts for many years. He was also a friend of James Allen McNeil Whistler who helped spread the influence of the "Tonal School" in the Midwest. Wuerpel also played an important role in the development of Orthodontics, collaborating with the "first great teacher of orthodontia" Edward H. Angle and lecturing in the Midwest and western United States on aesthetics and Orthodontics.[1]

Early years

Edmund Wuerpel was born in St. Louis, to a German father and Austrian mother in comfortable circumstances, his family decided to move to Mexico when he was a child and the family moved south in a covered wagon He was a frail child and was plagued with eye problems as a child and these difficulties continued for the rest of his life. His father worked in mining and railroads and he did a "man's work" in these industries as a boy. Because the family moved and a conventional education was not possible, Wuerpel was home schooled by his mother. He learned to speak German and English and Spanish from people around him in Mexico. In 1879, when he was 13, his family sent him back to family members in St. Louis to further his education. He was an outstanding student and graduated from the Manual Training School and was awarded the Selew Medal for the highest four year average. He was unable to see for the last year of his career in high school. After his high school graduation, he entered the School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He was struck down by illness in 1887 and traveled to Australia to recover.[2]

Art & Orthodontics

About the turn of the twentieth century, Wuerpel became friends with the early Orthodontics pioneer Edward Angle. At that time Angle was struggling to develop aesthetic criteria for dental orthodontics. He sought out models to give his students when they were working on creating a better bite and smile for their patients. With his artistic ability, knowledge of anatomy and taste Wuerpel was instrumental in developing aesthetics for dentists and he lectured at the Angle School in St. Louis, New York as well as New London, Connecticut and Pasadena, California. With Angle he developed the Angle-Wuerpel orthodontic table. He was an Honorary Member of the Angle Society for dentists.[3]

Artistic career

Because he had an interest in art, Wuerpel entered the Washington University School of Fine Arts upon his return to St. Louis in 1887.[4] In order to further his training, he left for Paris, which was then the most popular training grounds for American art students. He studied at the private Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the official state sponsored art school, where the tuition was free if you passed the "concours" for admission. Wuerpel studied with Jean Aman-Jean, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Tony Robert Fleury. In Paris he became close friends wirth James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the expatriate American painter and eccentric raconteur. Whistler wrote to his sister Beatrice of him:

As I told you this morning Wink, poor Mortimer seems to have had rather a cold time of it with this spoil he meandered back from Wuerpel's country with! - don't you think so? Dear me! when are we going to write to the good kind Wuerpel! - Well when I am sitting by you in a day or two! we will get off a whole batch of letters! wont we Chinkie -[5][6]

In old age he recalled that Whistler had requested that his painting - "Nocturne: The Solent" - hang next to Wuerpel's at the Paris Salon.[7] Wuerpel had a reputation for being an interesting man and he also became acquainted with Rodman Wanamaker, Sarah Bernhardt and Whitelaw Reid. John Wanamaker, Rodman's father and the founder of the famous Philadelphia store of that name was one of his first clients and he purchased a painting in 1894,[8] the year that Wuerpel returned home.[9] and soon began teaching at the Washington University School of Fine Arts. He initially taught the life class.[10] The American Impressionist Richard E. Miller was one of his first students and began painting in a tonal style while working under Wuerpel.[11] Wuerpel succeeded Ives as director of the School of Fine Arts and went on to teach for 58 years, the longest career of any member of the staff at Washington University. Wurpel remained director for more than thirty years and taught more than 10,000 young art students.

Personal life

Soon after returning from his studies in France, he wed Minnie Clay Johnson. The couple had three daughters: Althea (1896-1923?), Lois (1898-1992) and Margaret (1900-1942). Henry Wuerpel died at the age of 91 while he and his wife were living with his daughter Lois Bowles. His wife died only a few months later, on May 18, 1958.[12]

Analysis of Wuerpel's Art

Wurpel's work must be classified as Tonalism. He used a limited palette and painted intimate landscapes, usually of trees. Wurpel was also known for his unusual palette and thus was often referred to with the appellation "Purple Wuerpel." He was not a prolific painter and there is not a lot of paintings in gallery inventories or that have sold at auction.[13] This is probably due to the fact that he taught for well over fifty years, served as the administrator for a large art school and was also involved with helping his friend Edward Angle develop the new field of orthodontics. In an interview late in his life, he estimated his artistic output at about 1,100 paintings and that he had sold about 400.

See also



  • Pinx, Edmund H. Wuerpel (Review of a solo exhibition at the Washington University School of Fine Arts, 1920
  • W. R. Bernhardt, Edmund H. Wuerpel, Biography in Orthodontics publication
  • Mallett's Index of Artists, Pg. 264, 1935 (Biographical Dictionary - Listing)
  • Mary Louis Kane, A Bright Oasis: The Paintings of Richard E. Miller, Exhibition Catalog (1997), Jordan-Volpe Fine Art, p. 8-9
  • Jeffrey Morseburg, Theodore Lukits: An American Orientalist, Exhibition Catalog, Pacific-Asia Museum (1998)
  • Reed Hynde, Dr. Wuerpel, at 73, Turns to New Idea of Figure Painting, St. Louis Star Times, February 22, 1940 (From Theodore Lukits Archive)

External links

  • [1] St. Louis Art Guild