|Bernard von Eichman was a prominent figure in the Bay Area of California during much of the 20th century.He was known as "Red" for his fiery red hair and volatile disposition which, combined with his stocky build, led him into many combative situations.
He was a friend and classmate of artist Louis Siegriest in Oakland, and their friendship became a major factor in the cohesiveness of the Society of Six, artists around Selden Gile who focused on use of bright colors and abstract forms and rebelled against the prevalent conservative styles of William Keith and Arthur Mathews.Other members of the Society in addition to Gile and Siegriest were William Clapp, Maurice Logan, and August Gay.
Von Eichman was born in San Francisco, and later said he was inspired to paint by an aunt who was a china painter.From the time he was ten years old he allegedly attended art school, but patching together the truth of his childhood is difficult because it was so unhappy that he later made up stories to finesse the truth.He was abandoned by his father when he was age twelve, and he, his mother and brother were destitute.He took to begging on the streets and left school at age thirteen to work as a bricklayer.
In 1915, he managed to enroll in the California School of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley and became friends with Siegriest.They decided to follow their favorite teacher Frank Van Sloun to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.From Van Sloun, a devotee of Robert Henri and the Social Realist painters in New York, they received encouragement to paint from their own experience and not copy prevalent styles from Europe.
Reportedly von Eichman was Van Sloun's prize pupil who was much at ease with technique and had a distinctive modernist style.He was also more worldly than his classmates because he earned money as a teenager by shipping out on merchant vessels and traveling to the East Coast and the Orient.
In New York, he saw work by Kandinsky, Manet, Picasso, Braque, and other European modernists that made a marked impression on his own work.From 1921 to 1922, he was in China and upon his return became associated with the Society of Six that exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery, now part of the Oakland Museum.
In the 1930s, he chose to support his family over pursuing a fine-art career and, having a distinguished reputation in California moved to New York as an unknown to earn money from doing freelance window displays.He also painted in the style of the Ash Can School of Henri but was overwhelmed and subdued by the varieties of art experimentation he observed.
During World War II, he lived again in California and worked in the Vallejo shipyards, and in 1959 moved to Monterey.Shortly before his death from cancer, he burned most of his work, which seemed appropriate to his life-long fascination with fires.He had loved working with ships furnaces, reportedly started fires as a child, and once, to "entertain" his friends in Oakland, set a small studio fire.
His work is in the collection of the Oakland Museum.
Nancy Boas, Society of Six
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940