Karl Adolph Hagedorn, RBA RI RSMA NEAC NS (1889-1969)
German-born Karl Hagedorn made a consciously pioneering attempt to introduce Modernism to Manchester in the early decades of the twentieth century, through his work as a painter and designer. Later, he tempered his style so that it fitted more easily into England’s naturalistic watercolour tradition. Karl Hagedorn was born in Berlin on 11 September 1889, and brought up in Freiburg-im-Breisgau. He went to Manchester in 1905 to train in textile production at the School of Technology, and also studied under Adolph Valette at the School of Art. At the School of Art, he befriended local girl, Nelly Stiebel, who would become his wife, and Francis Sladen Smith, with whom he founded the art club, Der Künstler Zwei. By 1911, he was boarding with Sladen and his parents at 289 Great Western Street, Moss Side, and working as clerk.
His development into a Modernist was achieved in Paris, in the years 1912-13, when, working under Maurice Denis, he met a number of artists – notably Henri Matisse – and absorbed a range of avant-garde styles.
On his return to England, he made a consciously pioneering attempt to introduce Modernism into Manchester through his work as both painter and designer. As a freelance designer, he worked in the areas of commercial art, advertising, window display and textiles, and many of the cottons that bore his patterns sold in the African market. He was the outstanding contributor to the controversial second exhibition of the Manchester Society of Modern Painters in 1913, and would continue to exhibit with the society until 1916.
Becoming a British subject at the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, Hagedorn married Nelly in Honiton, Devon, in 1915, and she gave birth to their daughter, Elinor Anne, in Newton Abbot in 1916. In that year, he became a Lance-Corporal in the Middlesex Regiment, and during active service found time to produce some landscape studies.
In Manchester, and then in Buxton, Derbyshire, during the 1920s, Hagedorn worked in a distinctive geometric manner, which applied Cubist draughtsmanship to the tradition of the English landscape watercolour. However, on holidays in France and Italy, he began to relax the degree of abstraction and emphasised instead the element of close observation. Following his move to Belsize Park Gardens, in London, in 1927, he befriended Randolph Schwabe, who encouraged him in this direction (though it is said that the tragic death of his only child, in 1928, also had an effect on his change of style).
Hagedorn exhibited at a number of leading galleries in London, the provinces and France, and was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Royal Society of Marine Artists, the National Society of Artists, the New English Art Club and the Salon d’Automne.
During the Second World War, Hagedorn contributed views of Derbyshire to Sir Kenneth Clark’s Recording Britain project and four works to the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. By the late 1940s, he and Nelly were living in a converted eighteenth-century coach house at Feltham, he was teaching part-time at Epsom School of Art. Latterly, they lived at 7, The Little Boltons, Kensington.
Karl Hagedorn died on 31 March 1969.
In 1995, the Chris Beetles Gallery hosted ‘Manchester’s first Modernist’, an important retrospective exhibition of the work of Karl Hagedorn organised in conjunction with the Whitworth Art Gallery of the university of Manchester. It was accompanied by an illustrated biographical catalogue. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including The Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester).