Frank Mechau in Paris
Frank and Paula Mechau arrived in Paris in 1929 for what turned out to be a three-year stay. As Cile Bach notes in Frank Mechau: Artist of Colorado,
it was a heady experience for the young and enthusiastic couple They came to know Leo Stein, Henry Miller and many others.
At the outset, they lived in temporary lodging and managed financially until their dwindling savings threatened possible deportation by the American Embassy.
Fortunately, on the day that their funds were reduced to $5, Paula attended a cocktail party where she met a young man associated with Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In their conversation he learned of Paula’s work in New York as a copywriter and told her the Dorothy Gray Salon needed an advertising manager to write copy and prepare layouts for the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune. The following day she had an appointment and shortly was notified that the job was hers at a salary of $60 a week. She remained with the firm for three years.
In the summer of 1930, the Mechaus discovered a house with a studio in Montrouge on the outskirts of Paris. This became their home during the rest of their stay in Europe. Now Mechau could devote full time to his painting, and he soon achieved a prominent place in Parisian art circles.
MECHAU’S FIRST PARIS EXHIBITION
In 1931, five of Mechau’s works were included in the exhibition, Les Surindependents, sponsored by the Association Artistique and held in the Parc des Expositions, Porte de Versailles. Critics were intrigued with Mechau’s work. Maximillian Gautier, critic and editor of L’Art Vivant, wrote,
There is a profound sense of mystery about the pictures of Frank Mechau. He possesses incontestably the gifts of a colorist which he has put to the service of a powerful style, truly courageous. Mr. Mechau is not content with fixing impressions, he aspires to compose veritable pictures which address themselves to the intelligence. The complete synthesis which he achieves testifies to the relationship between his art and his austere sensitivity to life.
Clie Bach’s narrative continues:
During 1931, the Mechaus met several American artists who were in Paris on Guggenheim grants, among them the sculptor Oronzio Maldarelli. Maldarelli, greatly impressed with Mechau’s work, urged him to apply for a fellowship. He did so, using as references Waldemar George, Leo Stein (art critic and brother of Gertrude Stein), painter Andre Derain, Walter Pach (critic and painter), Maximillian Gautier and Maldarelli.
The weeks passed slowly while the Mechaus awaited word from the Guggenheim Foundation. When it finally came, the letter expressed thanks for the privilege of seeing Mechau’s work, but the jury had found others more worthy of the fellowship.
Letter in hand, the Mechaus met the Maldarellis at the Café du Dome. After a few drinks Mechau jokingly told his friends he was writing the Guggenheim Foundation as follows: “I regret to inform you that I cannot accept your decision since I have already spent the fellowship money which I expected to receive.”
CRITICAL ACCLAIM IN PARIS, BUT A YEARNING TO RETURN HOME
A prestigious 1932 exhibition titled 30 Meilleurs Peintres Américains à Paris included Mechau’s work. More critical acclaim confirmed his position in the Paris art world. Still, Mechau felt called by something else. In a letter he wrote and never mailed to Frank Lloyd Wright, Mechau expressed the inner conversations he had with himself:
I shortly cast off Renoir and Cezanne. The Italian Primitives, Persian Miniatures, Chinese and Japanese paintings and prints meant more to me than anything in paint since 1400. I dismissed forever mottled and hatched complimentary colors and began to paint with broad areas of simple primary colors. My problem of what to paint was answered by my past experience in America—horses, football, boxing and an occasional nude, as complete as I could construct it. None of current fragments of heads, torsos, apples or bottles.
…If there was to be painting in America in the future it could not be done at long distance. Observation and Spengler pointed the obvious direction. So back to Colorado in the midst of the Depression to paint decorations in high schools or colleges at any old price—this was my urge.
A few months after the birth of the Mechaus’ first child Vanni in March, 1932, they sailed back to New York. Despite the urging of friends that they stay in New York, the Mechaus returned to Colorado and settled temporarily in Denver during the worst of the Depression. With high acclaim from European critics in hand, as well as positive local press interviews, Mechau got a teaching position in Denver’s Kirkland School of Art and delivered a lecture series in 1933 on contemporary French and American painting.