(South Haven, Michigan, 1911 - 1994)
Charles Umlauf grew up in Chicago, studying at the Art Institute as a child and again upon graduation from high school in 1929. After three years of study he became an assistant at the Chicago School of Sculpture where he created Fawn and Satyr, both of which were exhibited in the Chicago Century of Progress exposition in 1933-34. (1) Umlauf then assisted Lorado Taft (1860-1936) in his Midway studio for a year and returned to the Art Institute to study with Albin Polasek (1879-1965), a winner of the Prix de Rome. (2) In 1941 he joined the art faculty of the University of Texas, becoming a prolific and popular sculptor as well as a respected teacher. He retired in 1981 and donated his home, studio, garden, and 168 sculptures to the city of Austin in 1985. (3)
Umlauf was well schooled and experienced in the theory and practice of traditional figurative sculpture. Moreover, he was enthusiastic about the innovations of the Cubists, August Rodin (1840-1917), Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), and German expressionists Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) and Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919). The influence of modernist abstractions by Alexandre Archipenko (1887-1964) and Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1924) is also apparent in his work. He developed a derivative mature style characterized by manneristic figurative abstractions with somewhat elongated proportions and enlarged hands and feet. Many of his bronzes are similar to those of better-known mid-century American figurative sculptors like Donald De Lue (1897-1988) and Felix de Weldon (1907-2003). Much of his work modeled in clay or wax was roughly textured, while his sculpture carved in stone (mostly svelte nude figures, torsos, etc.) tends to have polished surfaces. His work is found in numerous public places in Texas and in some museums out of state. Umlauf made few portraits, but his subject matter ranges from religious imagery (Christ, Nativity, Moses and the Universe, etc.) to noble ideals like the family, the spirit of flight, and Icarus.
(1) "Charles Umlauf, The Sculpture and Drawing of Charles Umlauf" (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), 11. This text opens with a 10-page essay by Gibson A. Danes. Danes is identified on page 124 as the dean of the school of art and architecture at Yale University in 1959 when he authored the foreword to Umlauf, 1959, a monograph published by Valley House Gallery. The author of this MMFA collections documentation has not been able to locate any information about the “Chicago School of Sculpture” that Danes sites as Umlauf’s employer around 1933. It may refer to Lorado Taft’s studio, which probably closed upon his death in 1936.
(2) Umlauf, 1980, 11.
(3) See website of Charles Umlauf Sculpture Garden (http://www.umlaufsculpture.org/) for additional information.