William Hahn was born in Germany in 1829 and at the early age of 14 entered the Royal Academy of Art in Dresden where he studied under the portrait and historical painter Julius Hubner. Some of his first watercolors were purchased by the King of Saxony. Hahn opened a studio in Dusseldorg, gave art lessons, and joined an art club which included many American artists who had come to Dusseldorf to study. In 1869 Hahn met the American artist Willam Keith. When Keith returned to America in 1871, Hahn soon followed and the two artists shared a studio in Boston. In 1872 they traveled together to San Francisco where they set up a studio in the Mercantile Library Building. Hahn became a resident of the Bohemian Club and director of the San Francisco Art Association. A few months after his arrival, his success was launched when Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker bought his painting of a San Francisco street scene. His sketching trips led him throughout California, to Alaska and he spent a year in New York exhibiting his work.
He became known primarily for his detailed genre scenes of early California life, including street scenes of Chinatown, but he also painted still life, animals and interiors. While he was not known as a talker, he was well liked by fellow artists and respected for his hard work and painstaking detailed style in the German technique of the nineteenth century. An art critic of the times noted “Hahn… has ideas at his fingers’ ends and humor in every touch” (Lekisch, 2003:77). His still lifes were compared to the works of famous San Francisco painter Samuel Brookes. Modern day art historian Joy Deweese-Wehen calls Han “one of the most appealing and sympathetic … artists ever to paint places and faces in California a century ago” (Lekisch, 2003:76). Animals were one of his favorite subject which he imbued with personality. A white horse became a Hahn trademark in many of his paintings (Lekisch, 2003) and, interestingly, the Society of California Pioneers has a Hahn painting of Gov. Stanford’s white horse.
Married late in life at age 53 to San Francisco artist Adelaide Rising, the pair left on an extended trip traveling in Europe. A daughter was born while they were living in London. While traveling to Dresden Hahn died unexpectedly. While William Hahn was did not survive to complete his planned return to San Francisco, his wife and daughter relocated to Oakland and Adelaide Hahn exhibited her still-life and portrait paintings in the bay area.
AskArt – Art Appraisals, Art Value. Action Prices, Art Database. www.askart.com
Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum.
Lekisch, Barbara, 2003. Embracing Scenes about Lakes Tahoe & Donner. San Francisco: Great West Books.