Nassau-born Arnold Rönnebeck (1885-1947) was a noted modernist sculptor and lithographer, who synthesized his European education and artistic training to embrace, celebrate and record American culture.
The son of a professor of architecture, he studied architecture at the Royal Art School in Berlin. Much to his father’s frustration, he decided to pursue fine art rather than architecture, studying sculpture in Munich from 1907-1908. He continued his art studies in Paris, as a student of sculptors Aristide Maillol and Émile-Antoine Bourdelle between 1908 and 1913. Immersed in the Parisian avant-garde, his years in Paris were extremely rewarding both artistically and personally. He seemed to be attracted to Americans, as his circle of friends included Marsden Hartley, Mabel Dodge, Charles Demuth and Gertrude Stein, among others.
After military service during the war, Rönnebeck traveled throughout Europe, particularly in Italy, where the sculptural landscape inspired him to create his first lithographs, depicting Positano and the Amalfi Coast.
In need of a fresh start, Rönnebeck arrived in the U.S. in 1923, living in Washington, DC and New York City. In an interview with the Washington Herald in 1924, he said, “My artistic emotion at the ‘phantastic’ reality of America was beyond all expectations, New York is Living Cubism”.
In 1925 he traveled to Taos, New Mexico and was a guest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, whom he had met many years earlier in Paris. Also staying at Los Gallos that summer was a young painter and fresco artist from New York, Louise Harrington Emerson (1901-1980). A romance developed and the two were married in 1926 in New York City, with Mabel and Tony Luhan in attendance. The couple traveled throughout the west with stops in Nebraska, California, Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Along the way, he continued to work executing portrait commissions and participating in exhibitions of his work. They settled in Denver in 1926 and he accepted the position of Director of the Denver Art Museum, a position he held until 1930. He continued to execute public commissions, such as a series of terracotta relief panels for the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1927, the History of Money at Colorado Business Bank in 1929 and aluminum relief panels for the Colorado Spring Fine Arts Center Auditorium in 1936.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the couple traveled frequently throughout Colorado and New Mexico. Rönnebeck was fascinated and inspired by Native American culture and the Southwestern landscape, which he represented in his series of Colorado and New Mexico lithographs, drawings and watercolors.
Because of his love of his adopted country, Rönnebeck was deeply troubled by commencement of World War II. It reignited the trauma he experienced during the First World War, and this, along with the onset of cancer, made him less productive during the early 1940s, until his death in 1947.
Arnold Rönnebeck saw sculpture in the landscape. He created a wide-ranging body of work in several mediums, translating each new experience through a modernist lens.