La Jolla Painter

A master of the palette knife technique of oil painting, Carolus Verhaeren was considered by his fellow artists to be one of the best painters working in the La Jolla area during the late 1940s and early 1950s. A restlessly creative man, he masterfully depicted the California landscape of his time, from the shores of his home in La Jolla, south into the heart of Mexico, east to the desert and scenic San Diego back country, and north to the fishing villages of Monterey and grand redwoods of Northern California and Oregon. He also excelled at the art of portraiture, creating superb studies of people ranging from prominent La Jollans (among them Ellen Browning Scripps) to the villagers of Mexico. When he wasn't travelling, painting, or carving his own frames, he was designing and building his own mandolins, which he enjoyed playing with friends.


A native of Antwerp, Belgium, Carolus Constantinus Verhaeren was born on June 18, 1908 into a family of considerable artistic achievment. His grandfather, Victor Ven, was a Flemish sculptor of some note; his great uncle, Emile Verhaeren, was a major Belgian symbolist poet, playwright and art critic. At the onset of World War One Verhaeren's family emigrated to England, remaining there for three years. It was during his family's stay in London that the young Verhaeren became inspired by the museums he frequented as well as the numerous sidewalk artists of the city. Leaving England, the Verhaeren family arrived in Canada, where Carolus studied under the French portrait painter George Devore. In 1921, he arrived in the U.S. where he and his brother worked as cabinet makers in Detroit, Michigan. It was during this period that he began to earn his living as a portraitist and conservator of Old Master paintings. By 1946, he was living in La Jolla and had opened a studio in the old Hotel Cabrillo (now the West Wing of the La Valencia Hotel).


Verhaeren thrived in the quiet beach community that was 1940s La Jolla. As his business grew, he built a home and studio at 1111 Torrey Pines Road where he lived with his wife Leona and three young sons and continued to paint. Travel was a constant for him, with frequent trips to Arizona (where he exhibited regularly in Tucson), New Mexico and the forests of Northern California and Oregon. Of special note was his six week stay in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his work drew lavish praise. A favorite local spot was Sorrento Valley where he and his friends, among them John Caroll Hooper and Alfred Mitchell, would spend the day painting the trees and streams, as well as the scenic old farms and adobe houses. By this point he had largely abandoned his brushes in favor of the palette knife, which allowed him to create subtle textural effects in his landscapes.


Verhaeren in the late fifties became romantically involved with his model and student Marie Adkins. When Adkins ended the affair the distraught Verhaeren called her from a phone booth in Pacific Beach and begged her to take him back. When she refused, he fatally shot himself through the heart. He was forty-eight years old. His paintings may be found in numerous private and public collections throughout the world.


Click here to read an interview regarding Carolus Verhaeren and the La Jolla art scene of the 1940s and 50s


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