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AUTO HISTORY

Motor Illustrator: Walter Dean Goldbeck

March 1915 cover. A sophisticated young lady wearing a peaked hat is sitting on a leather car seat, her left hand cupping her face. The image bears a striking resemblance to the artist's wife Ruth Obre Brower, his muse and oft-time model.

March 1915 cover. A sophisticated young lady wearing a peaked hat is sitting on a leather car seat, her left hand cupping her face. The image bears a striking resemblance to the artist's wife Ruth Obre Brower, his muse and oft-time model.


Artist Walter Dean Goldbeck (October 7, 1882 — October 13, 1925) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but reared in Chicago and several European cities. His father Robert was a German-born pianist, composer and music professor. Walter took to the arts early, too, playing piano and singing baritone. His real love, though, was painting. The early 1900s found him in Chicago where he painted billboards before returning to St. Louis in 1904. There he began taking night classes at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts while working as an engraver for $25 a week. When a large printing firm advertised for an expert color artist from New York, however, Goldbeck packed a battered suitcase with old newspapers and swaggered in to see about the job, explaining he'd just arrived from the City. In little time, he talked his way into the job, which paid him $45 a week to start but soon rose to $90 a week. After more than two years in St. Louis, he landed a job as a lithographer's assistant in Chicago, and he took classes at the Chicago Art Institute and at John Francis Smith's Art Academy. By 1910, he was drawing fashion plates for Marshall Field's department store. (Note: A folksy article about Goldberg's rise to wealth appeared in The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch on February 14, 1926.)

He showed his portraits in Chicago in 1909 and in Indianapolis (with the Society of Western Artists) in 1910. A little later Goldbeck shared a New York studio with sculptor Mario Korbel, and the two held joint exhibits of their work in 1913 and 1916. In Brooklyn in May 1916, Goldbeck had a solo show of celebrity portraits. While some reviewers said his portraits were decidedly not good art, his customers thought otherwise and paid handsomely for them. A good year would bring in $200,000. One reviewer, in the September 17th edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, however, said his portraits had "a conservative elegance, a certain finish and poise". In addition to his portrait work, he also did smaller landscapes, in which he experimented with modernism. And genre paintings were in the mix, as well. One genre painting with a car theme was the undated "Abroad in the Chalmers Car", depicting a chauffeur-driven Western couple visiting a thriving Middle East street, perhaps in Morocco.

While he appears to have done few etchings, he exhibited those from 1910 — 1914 with the Chicago Society of Etchers. He also taught illustration at The Chicago Art Institute, teaching private classes, as well. As a commercial artist, he illustrated a number of books from 1909 to 1920, including The Woman's Law; A Woman for Mayor; The Shogun's Daughter; The Bear's Claws; Rebellion; A Little Brother of the Rich; A Master's Degree; and Dad. His magazine illustrations appeared in such publications as Hearst's, Puck, Judge, and Munsey's. Some of the more notable advertisements he drew were for Ivory soap, General Electric, and Adams gum. His art also adorned the covers of some pieces of sheet music, e.g., "Broadway Rose" and "I Found a Rose in the Devil's Garden".

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