The German-born Karl Buehr spent long periods in Giverny, France, from 1909 to 1912, and summered in the nearby town of Saint Genevieve in 1913. Buehr and his wife, Mary, spent their first year in the art colony in an old, small peasant house. In later years, they rented from Lawton Parker the house and studio next door. When Buehr arrived in Giverny, he was forty-three years old and had been studying art intermittently for more than two decades. He had attended the Art Institute of Chicago, the London School of Art, and the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. Little is known about his work or stylistic development before he arrived at Giverny, but it appears that he was equally interested in landscape and figure painting, and that his study with Frank Brangwyn in London in 1908 inspired him to develop a decorative aesthetic.
Buehr was drawn to Giverny by his close friendship with the academic figure painter Henry Salem Hubbell, who spent time in the art colony in the autumn of 1908 and summer of 1909. Buehr and Hubbell shared the longtime patronage of Chicagoan Lydia Coonley Ward, who financed Buehr’s stay in Europe from 1906 to 1913, providing him a monthly stipend. Ward was friendly with Mary Colman Wheeler, and this association directly led to Hubbell’s visit to Giverny in 1908 and his hiring as an instructor at Miss Wheeler’s School the following summer.
Buehr’s idol was Monet, according to Buehr’s daughter Kathleen. She and her sister Lydia and brother George often played with Theodore Butler’s children at Monet’s house, and Monet was gracious to them all. Buehr appears to have had no personal contact with the Frenchman, however. His colleague Guy Rose took a strong interest in Buehr’s work, and Rose and his wife frequently invited the Buehr family to their home. Buehr and Ritman often hired the red-haired local model Gaby, but Buehr’s wife also served as his model.
During Buehr’s first months in the village, he concentrated on completing a large decorative panel of dancing figures, which received an honorable mention at the 1910 Paris Salon. In the summer of 1910, he began to paint garden scenes influenced by his Giverny associate Richard Edward Miller and, that same year Buehr painted Under the Parasol, which is almost identical to teatime pictures by Miller and Louis Ritman, another Giverny colleague. Art critics in America and Europe frequently called attention to the relationship between Buehr’s and Miller’s work, citing their simple, fluid style, felicitous orchestrations of delicately nuanced colors, and their mutual love of a high key. Following Miller’s example, Buehr characteristically attired his figures in colorful nineteenth-century gowns.
Gerdts has noted that, in Buehr’s works, “space is ambiguously defined” and that they are “more independent of spatial illusion than in [those by his] Giverny colleagues” (Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony [New York: Abbeville Press, 1993], p. 195). Buehr himself remarked that, in painting the figure outdoors, “the artist must paint for the ensemble, with an eye to charming grouping, good arrangement, and color, rather than to portraiture. To spell out each part laboriously . . . would be to lose the picture altogether” (Evelyn Marie Stuart, “Exhibitions at the Chicago Galleries,” Fine Arts Journal 36 [May 1917] : 377).
After returning to Chicago in late 1913, Buehr began a long teaching career at the Art Institute. For the remainder of his life he painted figures in the decorative Impressionist style he had learned at Giverny, and was also active as a landscape painter. After the artist’s death in 1952, a writer for the Chicago Tribune remarked that “the mention of [Buehr’s] name spells sun¬shine on a summer day, clear, lovely women who smile from a fresh canvas, and a quantity of flowers. Storm and shadow were foreign to him” (Eleanor Jewett, “U. of C. Offers Series of 12 Art Lectures,” Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1952, p. 79).