What are we going to do, Brother Cannon, when one beautiful temple in Salt Lake City is ready to receive inside decorations? Who is there amongst all our people capable to do . . . justice to artwork that should be executed therein. I must confess that it is impossible for me to see any other . . . course to pursue… than to give two or three young men who possess talent in this direction, a chance to develop the same . . . If it should ever fall to my lot to receive assistance in this way . . . I would esteem it the highest honor and the crowning point in my ambition.1
When John Hafen wrote George Q. Cannon this letter in 1890, the Salt Lake Temple had been under construction for 37 years. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was reeling from a crushing court ruling that allowed the US Government to confiscate both property and tithing funds, leaving Wilford Woodruff to wonder whether or not the Church would ever be able to pay its debts.2 In this environment, with the Salt Lake Temple drastically over schedule and budget, Hafen’s unsolicited suggestion that the interior of the Temple be painted and that the artists be sent abroad to sharpen the skills for the project, would have been easily dismissed. But, despite these very practical concerns, George Q. Cannon agreed to send John Hafen, along with three other artists, from the Utah Territory to Paris as “art missionaries.” Three years later, after studying at the prestigious Academie Julien, he returned to Salt Lake to paint the Temple’s Garden Room. One of Hafen’s rare studies for his “crowing point” of ambition is now here at Anthony’s Fine Art & Antiques.
JOHN HAFEN & UTAH ART
There has been always an incentive to art in Utah. Not in the existence of schools or academies or the presence of great masterpieces of art in our midst . . . the Local incentive has been purely natural . . . the overwhelming influence of nature’s masterpieces arrays in perpetual exhibition at our doors.
Despite few opportunities for arts education or outlets for showing works, there were artistic talents in the Utah Territory. Hafen was one of several promising artists who had come to Utah as a young child. Together with Edwin Evans, JB Fairbanks, and Lorus Pratt, Hafen copied works from print journals and travelled throughout Utah to paint en plein air.
Despite their enthusiasm and access to natural wonders, the artists keenly felt the limits of their own abilities in France, the then universally acknowledged center of art and art education.
TRAINING IN PARIS
When, in 1890, John Hafen approached leaders of the Church for funds to study abroad, it was an acknowledgement of ambition and lack of training. In Paris, Hafen and his fellow art missionaries followed the example of another Utah painter, James Harwood, to study at the prestigious Académie Julian. The school had been founded in 1868 as a preparatory program for those applying for the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, which had attracted and nurtured the talents of some of the greatest artists of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. However, by the 1890s, the Académie Julian had become prestigious in its own right.
There, Hafen studied the fundamental rules of the classical tradition: composition, tone, light, and mastery of the human form. These studies were done almost entirely in black and white — without the use of oil paints — and provided the kind of structure for making pictures that was lacking in Hafen’s provincial educational.
To augment these studies, Hafen, Evans, and Fairbanks took private lessons from the French landscape artist Albert Rigolot. In contrast to the crowded Parisian classrooms of the Académie, Rigolot took artists to the fields surrounding Paris. He encouraged the use of vivid colors and quick, loose brush strokes.
For two years, the combination of this impressionistic technique with academic rigor transformed Hafen, as is clearly evidenced in his first major work: the Salt Lake Temple Garden Room.
THE SALT LAKE TEMPLE MURALS