Artist’s Work in the Collection
Henry Reuterdahl was born in Malmö, Sweden in 1871. He was a self-taught artist and became a distinguished painter of naval scenes. In 1893, he was commissioned to do illustrations of the World’s Fair in Chicago. He married Pauline Stephenson of Chicago in 1899, and they made their home in Weehawken, New Jersey. He won a job as an illustrator-correspondent during the Spanish-American War. In these years before the outbreak of World War I, he traveled extensively with the Navy and became their official artist. Henry Reuterdahl was hand-picked by President Roosevelt, as one of America’s leading maritime painters to accompany the Great White Fleet and document the voyage on canvas.
Though Reuterdahl loved the Navy, he was also extremely critical of the Navy’s bureaucracy. He wrote a very controversial article arguing that the bureaucracy prevented sound battleship design. His critical article, inspired by his discussions with William S. Sims, Naval Aide to President Roosevelt, discussed the armored belts of the battleships, ability of the gun batteries to fire during pitching seas, and the design of ammunition shafts aboard the ships. Though he was pilloried at first for his open criticism of the military administration, his criticism wasn’t entirely unfounded. Admiral William Sims of the British Navy and an acquaintance of Reuterdahl, shared his opinion. In February 1908, the United States Senate ordered an investigation into the problems outlined in a controversial article by Reuterdahl. Five years later, after much effort spearheaded by Sims and Stephen B. Luce, Congress authorized a reorganization of the Department of the Navy.
During the war, he was the head of the Poster Bureau. At that time, he was considered America’s foremost naval artist. He was also in service to the Navy, where he held the rank of Lieutenant. In 1914, Reuterdahl was involved in the landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico which was executed by the Wilson administration to prevent German arms from reaching the Mexican government.
After the war and working as an artist, Reuterdahl was a member of the Society of Illustrators and the American Watercolor Society. He exhibited his work in the 1913 Armory Show, although he was not considered a modernist. He also taught at the Art Students League of New York.
In September 1925, Reuterdahl was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s Government Hospital for the Insane where he died three months later. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Reuterdahl paintings from the book “The Story of the War of 1898” (Spanish-American War)
Reuterdahl Magazine Illustrations