Theme/Style – Landscapes, Modernism
Media – Oils, watercolors, pastels, etchings, printmaking
Artistic Focus – Ferdinand Burgdorff’s love for the western United States is evident in his landscape paintings, which he imbued with a sense of space, light, and, above all, wonder. His bold and unusual color palette takes his scenes of the southwest desert and California’s coastal areas beyond the romantic into a dreamlike, sometimes surreal, and decidedly Modernist realm. Called a “poet” by L.A. Times critic Antony Anderson, Burgdorff was described by another critic thusly: “He felt the decorative in nature, and knew the laws of simplicity.”
Career Highlights –
- Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1881, Ferdinand Burgdorff studied at the Cleveland School of Art, and also in Paris with Rene Menard and Florence Este.
- Burgdorff headed west to paint landscapes, living in box cars with railroad builders, accompanying surveyors on many trips into the desert by wagon or horseback, and working for a period in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he painted the sandy wastes near Albuquerque.
- In 1907 Burgdorff moved on to California. He first lived in Carmel where he was an active member of the area’s art colony, and exhibited at the Del Monte Gallery in Monterey in 1910.
- He also worked as an illustrator for Sunset magazine, then a new publication, where many of his earlier paintings were reproduced, and from 1907 to 1924, he made numerous painting trips to the Grand Canyon and the Hopi Reservation in Arizona.
- In 1911, Burgdorff used the proceeds from an exhibition of his desert paintings in his home town of Cleveland to finance a two-year trip, sketching in the desert areas of Greece and Egypt, and along the Nile, which reminded him of the Colorado River. Burgdorff also visited China, Japan, and the Philippines before working his way back to the U.S. as a night watchman on an army transport ship.
- Around 1919 Burgdorff lived for a time in Marin County’s Mill Valley and was a member of San Francisco’s Bohemian Club, exhibiting desert and coastal paintings in the club’s exhibitions in 1919 and through the 1930s.
- By 1920 Burgdorff had moved back to the Monterey Peninsula, building a home designed by Bernard Maybeck on Ronda Road in Pebble Beach, were he would remain for the rest of his life.
- Using his car as a portable studio, Burgdorff painted along the Central Coast and throughout the desert southwest. He exhibited at the Del Monte Gallery in 1921; the California State Fair in 1921 and 1926; the Carmel Annual in 1922; the Stendahl Galleries in Los Angeles in 1926; the Carmel Art Gallery, 1936; and the California Society of Etchers in San Francisco in 1929, 1936, 1939, and 1940.
- In 1934 Burgdorff worked under the New Deal’s Civil Works program, managing a studio in Berkeley that produced a series of relief maps of the area.
- Burgdorff exhibited at San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, the California Historical Society in San Francisco in 1958, and at the Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California in 1965.
- When Ferdinand Burgdorff passed away in Pebble Beach in 1975, he was the oldest working artist on the Monterey Peninsula. His paintings are in the collections of the De Young Museum, San Francisco, the Oakland Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among many others.
Bibliographic references are available upon request.