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Bookmark: Artist shapes his identity painting Decatur

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Joan Christerson, a member of the board of directors for the James B. Millikin Homestead, admires the portraits of James and his wife Anna, created sometime between 1894-1900 by now famous artist Jean Mannheim. (Herald & Review/Kelly J. Huff)

Between 1894 and 1900, Jean Mannheim shaped his emerging artistic identity in Decatur.

He was to become a major figure in California's plein-air (open air landscapes) impressionist art movement after settling in Pasadena in 1908. He was recognized as a master of portraits and figure studies.

Richard W. Reitzel, a Mannheim descendant, historian and collector, has written a book, "From a Versatile Brush. The Life and Art of Jean Mannheim," celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mannheim's birth and recounting the artist's 60-year career. Included are 10 pages and 13 images in the Decatur section.

There are also three pages in the chronology section and a number of references from three different Decatur newspapers of the time. The Decatur section includes:

- The background of the James and Anna Millikin portraits which are displayed in the Millikin Homestead

- Early Decatur art students Roy Brown and Charles Crocker, who both became successful

- The downtown tavern of C. O. Young that was named after Mannheim

- Mannheim's connection with the Powers family

- The 1902 marriage of Mannheim and Eunice Drennan, the sister of John P. Drennan, longtime publisher of the Decatur Daily Review.

Reitzell's research on Mannheim's Midwestern years was aided by Sue Powell of the Decatur Area Arts Council, Pat McDaniel of the Macon County History Museum, Edwin Walker of Millikin University and Leigh Ann Fisher of the Decatur Public Library.

In addition to the Mr. and Mrs. Millikin portraits, the Millikin Homestead also has a Mannheim pastel painting of Anna Millikin as a young girl on display in an upstairs room. The Macon County History Museum has a 1900 Mannheim portrait of the Amman Brick Yard, believed to have been in what is now the Millikin University area. The Millikin University collection contains an 1899 painting of a boy asleep on kitchen duty. And Lucien Kapp, Millikin Homestead historian, has a Mannheim landscape painting. Other Mannheim Decatur paintings are believed to be privately owned.

Born in Germany, Mannheim studied art in Paris, arrived in the United States at age 21 and reached Chicago. He didn't like the big city and traveled from small town to small town painting portraits for anyone who would pay $20. In the late 1880s, he came to Mendota, about 100 miles north of Decatur, and married Pauline McNett. The marriage was to end in divorce.

Mannheim never really settled in Mendota. He would visit there for a while, go to Paris for a while and then return to Mendota.

Reitzell writes: "The first mention of Mannheim's connection to Decatur was in the Decatur paper in September 1894 - Jean Mannheim of Paris, France, is in the city looking about with a view of locating here. He has exhibited pictures in the Paris exposition and has instructed many American pupils while in France."

And this: Mannheim traveled through several Illinois communities before arriving in Decatur. Once there, he wandered into the main art store, Melchers & Loveland, which had a unique feel and was very unusual for this size of town. Mannheim displayed a sample of his work and he was encouraged to stay in Decatur. He opened a studio in the Syndicate Building in the 200 block of Main Street. One of his prominent early commissions was a portrait of Edward Giles Powers.

"Decatur was very good for Mannheim," Reitzell writes. "He made a number of close friends and became anintegral part of the city at large, not just within the artistic community."

In 1900, Mannheim moved to Peoria, stayed there three months and then returned to Paris. The Decatur Daily Review wrote: "His leaving is to be regretted for he is not only a man who it is a pleasure to know, but he is an artist of a kind rarely found in a city the size of Decatur (around 20,000)."

Mannlein then moved to Denver in 1903 and in 1908 moved again, to California. Now he was established.

In July 1929, the Decatur Herald published a tribute to Mannheim. From his home in Pasadena, Mannheim responded: "I came from Paris to Decatur. In those days America had little art, and Decatur less. I started art classes and tried hard to give something which I thought the people needed. My efforts were to make the people realize that there was more to art than cromos. I always have a warm feeling for Decatur. It has been my home, the home of my wife, the mother of my children. I wish all that is good to dear old Decatur. I wish I could be there."

Jean Mannheim died in 1945 at the age of 83.

bfallstrom@herald-review.com|421-7981

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