Count Berthold Von Imhoff
Berthold Von Imhoff was born in Mannheim, Germany in 1868 to Leopold Imhoff and Rosina Allgeier.
Imhoff was born of nobility and as a youth and young adult was shaped and influenced by his German heritage, his strong belief in Roman Catholic tradition and teaching, and his love of nature. Imhoff’s father managed a large estate along the Rhine River as a chief games keeper (Oberjager). Hunting game with his father in this forested and picturesque environment developed in Imhoff a life-long appreciation of untouched nature and strongly influenced his later decision to live in a wilderness setting in Saskatchewan.
Imhoff’s artistic talent was discovered early and, at the age of 14, he began serving a three-year apprenticeship. During this time Imhoff completed The Glory of Emperor Frederick William (King of Prussia for 90 days). Painted in 1884 when Imhoff was only 16 years of age, the painting depicts the angel of death removing the crown from Emperor Frederick’s head. During this time, it was well known throughout Europe that the then-crown prince suffered from throat cancer, and the question of whether he would live long enough to succeed his father was much discussed. Imhoff was awarded the Art Academy Award of Berlin for this painting.
Later, Imhoff would also study wood graining and marbling at the College of Oberwinter. Once complete, he studied art at Halle-an-der-Halle and eventually, Imhoff entered the art institute at Karlsruhe, Baden, where he studied art in its higher forms.
In 1891 Berthold Imhoff married Matilde Johner, the daughter of Joseph and Leopoldina (Helmuth) Johner. Joseph Johner was one of Imhoff’s art instructors Imhoff traveled to America in March 1892 and located briefly in Ohio, where he worked for five months before returning to Philadelphia where he was employed by Sima.
Imhoff returned to Pforzheim, Germany, where he started his own decorating and frescoe firm, and in 1898 he entered the Academy of Art at Dusseldorf where he studied figure work. Dusseldorf, at that time, was the internationally acclaimed centre stage of German art mainly due to its Nazarene painters of the Dusseldorf School of Painting. Founded by Wilhelm von Schadow (1788-1862), this group of painters worked toward a revival of the conservative ideals and formalist conventions of Christian art developed during the Italian Renaissance between 1400 and 1600. Berthold Von Imhoff studied and painted in this tradition for six years and its influence would continue as Imhoff returned once again to America and eventually, in the final third of his life, during his time in Saskatchewan, Canada.
The German countryside of Imhoff’s youth was giving way to rapid industrialization. Imhoff, feeling the pressures of a demanding career and a changing Germany, decided to sell his business interests in Germany and return to America. This time, Imhoff and his young family located at Reading, Pennsylvania, where he purchased a valuable property at the corner of Eleventh and Green streets and established a sizable frescoe and decorating firm, employing five artists.
During the next several years, Imhoff decorated the interiors of more than 100 churches as well as the Academy of Music, Masonic Temple and the residences of several prominent Pennsylvanians.
It is not fully understood why Imhoff, at the age of 46 and in the prime of his life, chose to leave the refined urban surroundings of Reading where he enjoyed artistic fulfillment, and success in business and emigrate for a second time (by now he was an American citizen) to a wilderness destination close to St. Walburg, Saskatchewan.
Imhoff traveled to Saskatchewan on a hunting expedition in 1910, and the forested, game-filled area reminded Imhoff of the German Rhineland of his youth where he would hunt, fish, and ride horseback with his father. The opportunity to own sizeable tracts of land was also appealing and so, in June 1914, Imhoff and his family arrived on the remote farm in northwestern Saskatchewan near the town of St. Walburg. The railroad had not yet reached St. Walburg and beyond the town was only wilderness. Yet it was here the artist found his true home and lived for the next 25 years until his death in 1939.
During his time in Saskatchewan, Imhoff hired others to work and manage his farm while he continued to pursue his artistic endeavours, which included fulfilling the requests for commissioned work in the United Sates.
Painting throughout the daylight hours in the studio he built in 1920, these large canvasses would then be transported to churches in the eastern U.S. where Imhoff would spend several months completing the interiors. At St. Peter’s Cathedral in Reading, Pennsylvania, for example, 226 life-size figures of the saints adorn the high walls. These works were created in the artist’s Saskatchewan studio near St. Walburg.
Imhoff painted several Roman Catholic churches throughout Saskatchewan. These were often completed for minimal payment and, in some cases, were donated outright. As a result of his generosity to the pioneering parishes of Saskatchewan, Imhoff was bestowed the Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Pius XI in 1937.
Berthold Imhoff continued to paint up until his death in 1939. He died of a stroke in December, shortly before his 72 birthday. He is buried at the Roman Catholic cemetery in St. Walburg, Saskatchewan.