Originally featured in Points West in Winter 2008
Carl Preussl’s Old Faithful
At home in Chicago, German-born painter Carl Conrad Preussl (1894 – 1951) filled canvases with the smoke of factories, the steel gray of train tracks, and upward stretches of window-studded skyscrapers. When he painted Old Faithful in 1929, fourteen years after automobiles were admitted into Yellowstone National Park, perhaps it is not surprising that industry crept in at the corners. Finely rendered White Co. touring cars in sparkling crimson and tangerine, their engines stalled, decorate his landscape at lower right and left. Their occupants—diminutive men and fur-coated women—litter the bottom edge of the painting, dwarfed by that un-stalled natural engine: Old Faithful.
Preussl exhibited land and cityscapes regularly at the Chicago Art Institute during the 1920s; by 1930, he was considered one of the city’s “serious, successful” artists. Yet little else is known about Preussl’s life. He vanished from the record in 1934, leaving behind scant information beyond painterly city scenes and this vibrant Old Faithful, its chunks of salmon, seafoam, and peach earth churning with color. In Yellowstone, we might surmise Preussl found raw power out-rivaling manmade engines; his tightly-detailed automobiles and outlined figures give way to impressionistic brushwork in the watery basin and steaming geyser.
Carl Preussl (1894 – 1951), Old Faithful, 1929. Oil on canvas, 34.125 x 24.125 inches. Designated purchase with donations from the Arlington Gallery, Dr. and Mrs. Van Kirke Nelson and Family, Thomas and Shannon Nygard, and William E. Weiss Fund. 3.01