Charles Edward Hallberg (1855 – 1940) was born in Göteborg, Sweden on January 15, 1855. His father died not long after leaving the family almost penniless. Charles had to take a hand early in the support of himself, his mother and sister, leaving little time for attending school.
When he was twelve years old, Hallberg saw several watercolor paintings in the home of a playmate. These paintings attracted him so that he begged for the loan of crayons that he might copy them. From that time on Hallberg was passionately fond of sketching and painting, although it took many years before he could devote serious study to the effort.
At the age of seventeen, Hallberg went to sea on board a British brig; for the next ten years he served before the mast under various flags. In 1883 he landed in this country and for the next seven years he sailed on the Great Lakes. He always carried palette and supplies with him on shipboard. In his spare time he made rude sketches of the sea as he experienced it in both calm and storm.
In 1890 Hallberg settled in Chicago and he was employed as a janitor in an apartment building on LaSalle Street. Eighteen months later he accepted the position of janitor of the Austin State Bank and an adjoining apartment building. When he was not stoking the furnaces or sweeping floors, Hallberg could be found in a small room in the basement, lit by means of a transom, where he practiced his art.
On January 21, 1885, Hallberg married Amanda Josefine Olson of Göteborg. Together with their three children: Ellen Hermina, born in 1887, Sylvia Helena, born in 1890, and Austin Benjamin, born in 1892, the family attended the Swedish Lutheran Church.
Having seen a mention of Hallberg in a local newspaper in which the artist had received encouragement from two prominent artists, Alexander Harrison and Anders Zorn, William French, the director of the Art Institute, asked Hallberg to bring in one of his paintings. French at once recognized the merit and strength of the untutored artist. This was in February, 1901. It was then too late to include Hallberg’s painting in the annual exhibition of Chicago artists, yet French was so impressed with the canvas, The Open Sea, that a special arrangement was made to hang this painting in the room of old masters. There it attracted great attention and it was finally sold for $150. With this encouragement Hallberg worked in earnest at his easel for the next show. In 1902 five of his paintings were accepted for exhibition. In all Hallberg was to show sixty-three works at the Art Institute between 1902 and his last inclusion in 1927. This total does not include the forty-one paintings exhibited at the Art Institute in a one-man show in 1906.
Hallberg’s greatest triumph as an artist was to have his Summer Day on Lake Michigan accepted by the national art jury of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition or St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Only nineteen Chicago artists were represented there and Lindin and Hallberg were the only Swedish-Americans whose works were hung in the general art hall. Shortly thereafter, Hallberg visited Sweden and he was cordially received in his native city of Göteborg where several of his paintings were exhibited. The modest artist was met with appreciation on the part of artists, citizens and the press.
In his life Hallberg painted only marines. Except for an occasional fishing smack or schooner, he painted nothing else. These comments were recorded concerning Hallberg’s one-man exhibition of forty-one marine paintings in 1906: Here was a splendid opportunity to judge of the artist’s work. The variety of canvases was unusual, showing coloring and light effects under the varying aspects of the day, the clime and the seasons.
. . . In no instance may a picture be said to reflect the style of another man.
Charles Edward Hallberg died in Chicago on July 7, 1940 at the age of 85.
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