William Henry Chandler (1854-1928)
Chandler was born on June 9, 1854 in New York City. One of seven children born to Mr. & Mrs. Asa Byram Chandler, they lived in the New Jesery towns of Elizabeth, East Orange, and Summit as he was growing up. Born into a deeply religious Christian household, William displayed an interest in art during his youth but had other interests as well. A hunting accident early in his life left him with a lifelong limp. And a strong religious belief remained with him for his entire life.
As a young man Chandler moved to Chicago and obtained artistic work as a cameo engraver in a pearl button manufacturing business. While in Chicago he met and married his first wife, Jennie Freeman. Together they had three children (Kathleen, Annabel, and Nellie). Tragedy struck the Chandler household hard as Nellie died when only a few months old. And then Chandler’s wife Jennie died shortly thereafter from typhoid fever. With his wife gone and two remaining children to raise, Chandler returned to northern New Jersey where he lived for the rest of his life and raised his daughters with the help of his sister.
Starting around 1887 Chandler began producing his original art as an alternative to the larger-scale print runs of Currier & Ives, Taber-Prang, and other major print-makers of the time. Chandler operated under the trade name of “W.H. Chandler and Co.” in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, a business that he ran with his brother, Frank Chandler (1857 to 1912). William Chandler was responsible for creating the original art while Frank was responsible for the framing, packing, shipping, and at times, for retail and wholesale art sales. Although his business started small, it eventually grew to where he was employing nearly twenty people at its peak.
Most of the firm’s artistic work took place in a large open room called “The Loft” where up to twenty easels were usually set up at any given time. A variety of employees could be working on up to three easels concurrently. Some artists worked directly in the studio while others worked out of their homes on a per-picture basis. The vast majority of the studio’s output was in the form of pastel chalk art, although oils, watercolors, and charcoals were occasionally sold as well.
The chalk used on Chandler pastels was imported from France in a variety of colors. A Chandler employee then blended these imported colors into a wide variety of bright and pleasing pastel colors, adding a bonding liquid, and then molding the chalks into easily-usable pastel sticks. The same employee prepped the various sized pastel boards before use, preparing them with glue and sand so the final pastel colors would adhere better. After the picture was completed by the artist, it would be sprayed with a fixative to help the chalk to adhere better, and then usually sent to be framed by Frank.
Most Chandler pastels come in the form of landscapes. Although supposedly modeled after the rivers and mountains of New York or New England, many seem to be modeled after places much farther away. Most landscapes feature some form of water such as a lake, stream, river, or waterfalls. Mountains were usually included, often with another focal point such as a cabin, house, trees, mill, boats, cottages, etc. Flying birds or sailboats were often added in the distance for visual effect.
Chandler’s most uncommon scenes include such topics as floral still lifes, fruit bowls, and hanging wild game such as fish or rabbits. Chandler ocean seascapes and foreign scenes are also considered rare.
Chandler pastels were sold through art stores, art dealers, gift shops and department stores such as Marshall Fields, Sears, Higbee’s and The May Company in the United States, and through Simpson’s, Eaton’s, and Hudson Bay in Canada. Chandler prints were sold through the Taber-Prang print catalog and through various calendar and print publishers. Initial sales contacts were made by Frank Chandler, other sales representatives, and often by Chandler himself.
As his reputation grew, Chandler exhibited his work at the 1900-01 International Exposition in Paris. His name appeared on the membership list of the prestigious Century Association of New York, among other professional groups. A signed Chandler pastel even hangs today in the Royal British Columbia Museum Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Between 1917 and 1918 Chandler spent a limited time in Canada producing his work. Apparently around that time Canada had levied a twenty-five percent import tax on certain American goods which made it prohibitively expensive to import certain goods from the U.S. into Canada. Some American businesses attempted to set up a Canadian subsidiary in order to avoid this import tax (e.g., Wallace Nutting briefly set up a Canadian operation). However, Chandler’s Canadian operation was short-lived and he returned to New York after only a few months.
Original pastel art obviously cost more and had a much more limited distribution than machine-produced prints. At the turn of the century Chandler developed several arrangements with certain lithographers and print makers whereby some of his original pastels would be converted into art prints, calendar prints, or other print form. Between 1887 and 1903, Chandler’s work was produced as color or chromolithograph prints by such publishers as Hallen and Weiner (New York), Joseph Hoover (Philadelphia), and Mueller and Lucksinger Co. (New York). His work appeared as machine-produced prints in the Taber-Prang Art Catalog as well. Art prints were often 15″ by 20″ in size, although many were cropped over the years to fit into specific frames. Calendar prints and other print forms were usually produced in a multitude of sizes. Chandler prints do seem to be relatively uncommon in today’s market, probably because the vast majority of turn-of-the-century prints have been discarded, but very few people ever discard original art.
All original Chandler pastels are unique; no two are exactly alike. Chandler himself probably set the standards for most scenes, perhaps drawing an original model picture that the other artists were supposed to follow as closely as possible. However, since each Chandler pastel is an original piece of art, and although certain images may look similar, each is unique.
Chandler pastels fall into several primary categories. From the most common to the most unusual, these would include: (a) landscapes with water and mountains, (b) landscapes with mountains but without water, (c) landscapes without mountains or water, (d) landscapes including buildings (other than distant cabins), (e) still lifes, with fruit, wild game, or flowers, (f) foreign scenes (eg, English thatch-roofed cottages), (g) ocean or seascape scenes, with or without boats. Most Chandler pastels seem to be untitled.
Chandler pastel sizes were usually large format. Although some were executed in sizes as small as 8″ by 12″ or smaller, most were in the 14″ by 18″, 16″ by 20″, 20″ by 24″ size, or larger. And it was quite common to over-mat a pastel thereby requiring an even larger frame. Quite often Chandler pastels were framed in large ornate frames.
Most Chandler pastels are signed in one of several different ways: (1) Chandler (far and away the most common form of signature), (2) W.H. Chandler, (3) Wm. H. Chandler, (4) W.H.C. Did Chandler himself sign each and every pastel that was ever produced in his studio? Peter Neeley believes that Chandler himself did indeed sign all pictures, and that he doubted whether the Chandler employees were ever allowed to sign the Chandler name. His opinion is backed up by comments from the Chandler family. Whether signed by Chandler himself, or periodically by one of his key employees, any piece of art signed “Chandler” came to connote a quality pastel drawing of a specific style and vintage. And although Chandler himself most likely signed all of his own art, a fair number of original Chandler pastels completed by one of his employees may have left the studio un-signed. There are likely a significant number of “un-signed” original Chandler pastels still in circulation. According to Chandler authority Peter Neeley, when Chandler pastels were produced in pairs, usually only one was signed. And since most “pairs” have been broken up over the last 100 years, that would mean many original Chandlers are un-signed today.
Unfortunately, 100-year old pastels are much more fragile than oils or canvases and face a myriad of problems that sometimes need to be addressed. Many original Chandler pastels were backed with several pieces of soft wood which may have made sense in the short term, but have caused significant damage in the long-term. The biggest problem caused by the wooden backs is called “acid burn”. The wood’s chemical content has literally leaked through the pastel board, usually near the cracks between the individual wooden pieces, and now appears as a darkening on the image itself. In addition, after nearly 100 years of being in its original frame it is quite common for the pastel to meet the glass, thereby leaving a small pastel smudge on the glass. This is a very common problem and the smudged pastel is easily removable. Seemingly most original Chandler pastels were framed within large and elaborate frames which now after nearly 100 years have become damaged. This damage is usually in the form of broken corners, damaged ornamentation, or edge flaking or chips. It is preferable to keep the Chandler within its original frame.
William Henry Chandler died on February 26, 1928 and was buried at the Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. Chandler had lived his entire life as a devout Christian, a great humanitarian, and had spent his entire life dedicated to God’s work. While in Chicago, he worked with small children in a mission school; while working in New York, he continued his humanitarian work with the derelicts and downtrodden in New York’s Bowery district. He was very active in the affairs of the Oakes Memorial Methodist Church while he was living; they saw fit to honor William Henry Chandler in 1964, 36 years after his death, for his fine work in establishing their Sunday School and for his many other accomplishments.
Upon his death, Chandler’s business was purchased by another well-known name…William McMurray Thompson, whose pictures are often confused with R. Atkinson Fox. Thompson had started as a clean-up boy in Chandler’s studio, later apprenticed under Chandler, and then he purchased the entire studio upon Chandler’s death in 1928.
This information on William Henry Chandler is provided courtesy of Michael Ivankovich, auctioneer and authority on early 20th century art, prints and photographs.