Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel Biography

Marion Wachtel’s career in the southland spanned the first half of this century, distinguishing herself as one of southern California’s finest women artists. Equally adept in both watercolor and oil, she made her reputation primarily as a watercolorist.

When Marion Kavanaugh married Elmer Wachtel in 1904 she stopped painting in oils and took up watercolors. Since Kavanaugh and Wachtel were happy artist companions who often painted the same scenes, it made sense to work in different media, and Kavanaugh was assuredly a fine watercolorist. Whether or not marriage sidetracked Marion Wachtel’s painting career, she was never derailed, and she returned to oil painting after Elmer’s death.

The Wachtels’ marriage of twenty-five years was filled with extensive travel, by horse, on foot, and in a custom-designed and –equipped automobile, throughout Southern California, the high Sierra, and the Southwest.

Marion Wachtel exhibited widely – with two one-woman shows at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art – and received several prizes from the Pasadena Society of Artists. She was the only woman artist included in The Ten Painters Club of California, established in 1919 as the “foremost Painters of the West.”

Pedro de Lemos, director of the Stanford University Museum and Art Galleries, best described why Marion Wachtel’s paintings will endure: “Wachtel paints livable pictures. No other artist has created as much romance in California landscape painting as this talented California woman…No California artist has had more of…[her] paintings reproduced in color printings for use in American home decoration than Marion Wachtel.”

Source: “Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945” - Patricia Trenton, editor; Autry Museum of Western Heritage/1995. Illustrated  plate 43, page 54.

A very early San Francisco Chronicle review of Wachtel’s watercolors, written in 1903 when she was just arrived from Chicago, praised especially her depiction of mountains. The reviewer could have been writing about this painting when he said, “One does not think of watercolor as a medium for the expression of mountains, that seem in their strength and grandeur to stand for the eternal, but Miss Kavanaugh has made a notable success of the venture. In a free, fearless way, more like a man than a woman.”

Source: “Superbly Independent/Early California Paintings by Annie Harmon, Mary DeNeale Morgan and Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.” Exhibited:  Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary’s College of California, 2010.