“The Paris Art Mission”


Brigham Young University-Idaho Forum

Jeff Andersen

January 19, 2006


I am pleased to be able to speak to you today about a most fascinating but little-known experience in the cultural history of our church, the 1890 Paris Art Mission. I would like to accomplish three main objectives in this presentation:

 

1.         I would like to briefly describe the some events leading to the Paris Art Mission

2.         I would like to provide you with some information about the mission itself, and

3.         I want to share some insights I have gained from studying the mission that I hope will be meaningful to you as well.


On July 24, 1847, Pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley. On four days later on July 28, 1847, Brigham Young specified the location for the Salt Lake Temple. Ground-breaking took place on February 14, 1853, and the cornerstone was laid on April 6th.


Several factors slowed construction of the temple that we won’t take the time to discuss right now. At the death of Brigham Young in 1877, the temple walls were about 40 feet high. Progress on the temple continued steadily under the direction of Brigham Young’s successor, John Taylor, but trouble with the US government over the issue of polygamy forced him into hiding where he died in 1887.


When Wilford Woodruff assumed the presidency of the Church, he was anxious to see the temple completed and he pressed the people to renew their efforts and commitment to finishing it in time for a dedication on the 40th anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone.


Strife between Federal and local officials lead Congress to enact several bills designed to break the Mormons’ political and economic power in the Utah Territory. Polygamy became the emotional issue that garnered enough public support for congress to pass the Edmunds-Tucker anti-polygamy Act. Among other things, the provisions of this act called for the imprisonment of those convicted of cohabitation, the disenfranchisement of all women and of men who practiced or even believed in polygamy, and the dissolution of all church businesses and the confiscation of church properties. As a result of this act, thousands of Latter-day saints, including many church leaders were imprisoned, while many others went into hiding. The Church also began to experience significant debt as tithing receipts declined and business revenues dried up.


Amidst all this turmoil temple construction continued so that by the spring of 1890 the infrastructure of the temple was nearly complete and the builders were now giving some thought to how the interior of the temple would be decorated. It was at this time that artists John Hafen and Lorus Pratt approached President George Q. Cannon and proposed that the Church finance their art education in Paris in and in return they would decorate the ordinance rooms of the temple. Cannon was interested by their proposal and asked Hafen to find out what such a venture would cost and report back. After some research, Hafen wrote back to Cannon expressing some of the reasons he had felt inspired to contact President Cannon in this matter:

 

I sense and realize the necessity of cultivating my talent God has bestowed upon His children, from the very fact that He is the giver of all gifts and it remains for us to put them to good and legitimate use. “…if it should ever fall to my lot to receive assisting in this way, and then return the same by decorating our beautiful Temple, or other necessary work which the church might see fit to have done, I would esteem it to the highest honor and the crowning point of my ambition (Letter from John Hafen to George Q. Cannon, 25 March, 1890).


The Salt Lake Temple was not the first temple to be built in Utah. The St. George, Logan, and Manti temples had all received some decoration at the hands of LDS immigrant artists from Europe. In his letter to President Cannon, however, Hafen implied that as the crowning symbol of their faith, the Salt Lake Temple deserved the very best work the church could possibly produce:

 

Who is there amongst all our people capable to do anything near justice to art work that should be executed therein! I must confess that it is impossible for me to see any other or more consistent course to pursue in this matter than to give two or three young men who possess talent in this direction a chance to develop the same (Letter from John Hafen to George Q. Cannon, 25 March, 1890).

 

In deciding whether or not to underwrite the art education of some young men in Paris, the First Presidency had to weigh their desire to finish the temple in the finest possible manner against the perilous financial circumstances facing the church in the wake of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. Because of this act, church properties and businesses were being confiscated, tithing receipts were down dramatically, and with the cost of legal fees and support for families of those in prison, along with the continuing cost of the temple construction, demands on church resources were great.


The First Presidency must have concluded that to make the Salt Lake Temple an acceptable offering to God was so important that they would take on the additional burden of financing the education of some artists in Paris. They called John Hafen, Lorus Pratt, and John Fairbanks to serve as missionaries with the special purpose of studying art in Paris.
 

As they made preparations for their departure, Hafen, Pratt and Fairbanks attended a missionary training session in Salt Lake City on June 4, 1890, and were afterwards set apart as missionaries with a special purpose by Apostles Heber J. Grant and Anthon H. Lund and Seymore B. Young of the Seventy.


On June 23, 1890, Hafen, Pratt, and Fairbanks set off for Paris. John Fairbanks described the circumstances in his journal:

 

Up at 4 A.M. worked on a portrait till 5:30 then made a few preparations that I had not already made for my journey to Paris France. At 6 oclock I kissed our three youngest—Claude the baby, Ortho, Leroy while they slept. Then my wife, and bid her goodbye. She was very much effected by the parting, but part we must. The rest of our children … walked to the depot with me. When the trane came, I bid them good bye got on the trane leaving the darlings standing on the platform with sorrowful faces and tears standing in their eyes. The conductor sang out, “All aboard” and we were soon speeding our way swiftly through the fields toward Provo, …where I changed cars. On the Denver and Rio Grande train I found Loris Pratt, one of my fellow students.

 

At Springville, a large crowd had assembled. In the midst of the crowd we saw John Hafen with his grip and lunch. His eyes were red as he slowly made his way to the train. I could imagine his feelings at parting with his loved ones for my own experience was still vivid in my mind after the passing of a few hours.

 

“All aboard,” came the cry of the conductor and we were soon speeding eastward. …The dry jokes of Bro Pratt soon brought a smile and our look of sorrow soon disappeared. After a few moments of silent reflection, we began to talk of our plans for the future. In that we found consolation (John B Fairbanks Journal).

 

I would like to describe very briefly a little about each of the art missionaries and their family situation at the time of their departure for Paris.


John Hafen was born in Switzerland, and after his family joined the church they immigrated to Utah when John was five years old, eventually settling in Springville. At the time he left for Paris, John had been trying his best for about 12 years to make a living as an artist. Like all other Utah artists at the time, he had to supplement whatever revenue he got from selling paintings by doing other kinds of work. At the time of his departure Hafen was age thirty-four; he left behind his wife, Thora Twede Hafen, age thirty-one, just 3 days before their eleventh wedding anniversary. At the time of Hafen’s departure, they had five children ranging in age from ten years to six months. Hafen’s elderly mother also lived with his family.


Lorus Pratt was the son of apostle Orson Pratt. He served a mission in the eastern states, then went to England to assist his father in organizing the Book of Mormon into chapters and verses and providing cross references. Pratt had worked for some years as a portrait artist and as an English teacher at the church’s University of Deseret (which later became the University of Utah) He was age thirty four when he left for Paris, leaving his wife of ten years, Harriet Alzina (Zina) Wheeler Pratt, age 31, who was six months pregnant, and their four children ages six to one.

 

Thirty-four-year-old John Fairbanks left his wife, Lillie Huish Fairbanks, age 33, the day before their thirteenth wedding anniversary. They had eight children between the ages of twelve and one. As a married man John had served a mission in the Southern States. Sometime after his return to Payson, Utah he became good friends with John Hafen who introduced him to art.


Edwin Evans did not begin his studies in Paris as an art missionary. Evans was working as a telegraph operator in Lehi, Utah when his artistic talent was discovered by a couple of mining partners who offered to sponsor his studies so he could become an artist. He arrived in Paris under their sponsorship about two months after the art missionaries, but when his patrons suffered a financial setback, the Church began supporting him along with the others, and when he returned from Paris, he participated with them in painting the temple murals.

At the time of his departure for Paris, Evans was 30 years old. He had been married ten years to Catherine Lewis Evans, and they had six children between ages nine and one.

 

Herman Hugo Haag was born in Stuttgart, Germany, but immigrated to Utah at age 11 after his family joined the Church. Living in Payson, Herman was acquainted with John Fairbanks, and had also received art instruction from John Hafen. When Utah artist J. T. Harwood returned from Paris to earn money for further study, Haag took lessons from him. Harwood encouraged Haag to study in Paris too, so he joined the art missionaries a year later, at first under private support, but he too began to receive church sponsorship, and is considered one of the Paris Art missionaries, even though he did not participate in painting the temple murals. Because he stayed in Paris a year after the others returned. When Haag returned from Paris at age 21, he became an art instructor at the Church’s University of Deseret until his untimely death at age 24.


The art missionaries lived in a couple of different apartments in Paris, but in the same neighborhood of what is called the Latin Quarter. We don’t have the time now to talk about their apartment, language challenges, and other aspects of their daily living, as interesting as that is.


This map shows the route the art missionaries took on their way to and from school every day, which was about a three-mile walk that took about an hour. Note some of the sights they saw on their way to and from school every day: Luxembourg gardens, Sorbonne university, Pantheon, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, and the great Louvre art museum.

 

The art missionaries were impressed with the beauty of the city of Paris, with its great cultural and historical monuments, and with how art seemed to permeate both the city and its citizens. Fairbanks wrote to his wife: “Paris is art on every side.” Haag wrote to his younger sister Louise, “I don’t know of any other city which loves the beautiful and admires art more than Paris does.” To his artist friend in Utah, Evans wrote: “The public gardens are filled with sculpture, and in the public buildings also, in every design of architecture, sculpture has its share. Everybody takes a great interest in art. The air is full of it, and show windows are lined with it.” And in his journal Memoirs en France, Hafen recorded:

 

There is much to learn in my profession and much to see and observe in such a great city where the accumulated treasures of ages are stored and where some of the most important events of the world’s history have transpired. Coming out into the world and beholding the great accomplishments of genius has greatly intensified my ambition to become something more than a mere sojourner through this probation.

 

There were two main art institutions for aspiring artists to attend in Paris. One, called the Ecole de Beaux Arts, was the most prestigious. It was completely funded by the state of France, and offered free tuition to students under 30 who could pass its rigorous entrance exam. The second option was for students to attend one of the many private art schools, of which the Académie Julian was considered the best, and ranked near the Ecole in quality and prestige. In fact, several prominent artists taught at both schools. It was at this institution that the art missionaries enrolled. The Académie Julian was so popular, attracting so many students from France and around the world, that in 1890 it had opened separate studios in locations all around Paris, five for men and three for women.


In a letter to his children, John Fairbanks described both the unassuming appearance of the atelier the art missionaries attended, as well as the manner of instruction undertaken in the French art academies:

 

[The school] consists of four large rooms. When we go there in the morning we see in one corner of the rooms a lot of easles and stools stacked up in the corners. A little later all of these easles and stools are on the floor, each man takes his position Monday morning which he keeps for a week. On the walls there are prize drawings and paintings; they are very fine. These are framed in very common frames or hung without frames. There are all manner of caricatures of those who have attended school, some of which are very funny, some angular, and some ridiculous. …the walls of the school rooms are nicely deckorated with the cleanings of the pallet, that is when a mans pallett board gets too full of old paint, they scrape them off and doff it on the wall or plaster it on rather.

 

At 8:15 the moddle poses in the morning. There is nobody there to keep order the schollars are left entirely to themselves. There are few Frenchmen who are always making a noise of some kind, singing, whistling, imitating cats, dogs, pigs, or some thing else, there is hardly ten minutes of the day but what they are making some noise. Then when the time comes for the moddle to rest most of the schollars smoke right in the room and there we have to stay in that smoke the rest of the day.

 

During the rest some indulge in exercising with dumbbells, some are looking at the prize drawings, some studying the sketch, some conversing, while others are looking around the room at the different work being done, so as to gain some points if possible. I try to spend my rests profitably as I can.

 

…The professor comes only twice a week Wednesdays and Saturdays and then he only critiques the work we have done. …We do not have classes but we each take our position and do the best we can and continue so doing. It is the influence of art and the good painters who attend the school that makes it what it is (Letter from John B Fairbanks to Lillie Fairbanks, 12 October, 1890).


Students at the Julian would begin by working on figure drawing, first from plaster casts, and then from live nude models of all different ages and gender. Twice a week the professors would come to the studio and offer each student a few minutes of critique. In this slide we see a picture by Fairbanks which has in the upper right corner a few words of criticism written by the professor in broken English.
 

Can you imagine what it was like for these backwoodsmen from the Utah Territory with little education and no formal training in art to enroll at one of the best art academies in the world? The Utah artists were far less experienced than most of their classmates. Describing the composition of the students in their atelier, Evans wrote:

 

The most of the students at this school, which is heavily attended by Americans, have all had some years of experience in art, and the majority have attended the schools of New York, others the Munich schools of Germany. I think I am the only one who has not had more or less experience in painting before entering this school. All of our Utah boys have had less training than the others, and yet they are doing fairly well compared with those who have spent from two to six years here (Evans to Weggland, Deseret Semi-Weekly News, December 26, 1890).

 

These drawings demonstrate the significant development the Utah artists made in Paris. The Julian had monthly drawing competitions called concours in which the students competed against each other for prizes and recognition. All but one of the Utah artists had drawings accepted in the competition and some of them won prizes. The two figure drawings are by Edwin Evans. This landscape sketch by Hafen demonstrates the extracurricular work the artists did during excursions to the countryside.

 

During their time in Paris, the art missionaries joined a newly formed American students association. The club provided a library containing current newspapers and periodicals, and offered opportunities for the artists to display their work and to socialize. This picture, taken at the club in about May 1891, includes all of the Utah artists who were studying in Paris at the time: John Hafen, Edwin Evans, John Fairbanks, Herman Haag, Lorus Pratt, and John Clawson.

 

The approach the art missionaries took in their art studies is one that we as members of the church have received by divine mandate. That is to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). While I am not sure I understand the full implications of this command, the art missionaries’ experience suggests a part of what it means. In a letter to his wife Thora, Hafen understood that one aspect of learning by faith was to live so as to be worthy of help from the Holy Spirit.

 

I realize that we need to live very near unto the Lord in such circumstances as those, both for strength to keep ourselves uncontaminated with the terrible sins of this city and for gigantic strides onward in drawing abilities. I have a testimony that the Lord will enable me to accomplish all that is necessary in the year allotted for me to stay here. … God’s servants have blessed me with power to accomplish my mission and get all the knowledge of art required. And I know God is able to help me to so live that I will realize those blessings. My faith in the Lord has been steadfast without any wavering. I have acted continually in harmony with the promptings of the holy spirit, and the result has been good every time (Letter from John Hafen to Thora Hafen 08-August,1890).


John Fairbanks recognized that learning by study and by faith means doing all we can, and then seeking God’s help to learn beyond our natural capacity:

 

I can see that the Lord is blessing us, and I also see that we must be diligent in our studies if we want his help, for he helps those who help themselves and ask for his assistance. …I have an idea that we are drawing as well as any that have studied one or two years before coming here. …but I do not take the praise to myself but give it to God (Letter from John Fairbanks to Lillie Fairbanks, 30 December, 1890).

 

Hafen recognized that before we can expect God’s help to accomplish a task which is beyond our natural capacity, God expects us first to use every talent he has already given us, “…the work before me is so great that I must use all the strength and ability I have in accomplishing it, before I can reasonably expect special divine aid” (Letter from John Hafen to Thora Hafen 31 August, 1890).

 

While studying in Paris, John Fairbanks came to realize that he was not born with as much natural artistic ability as most of his classmates. But he also learned a truth that it would be well for all of us to note—that the person who works hard to use what natural ability he possesses, and depends on the Lord to make up for his or her deficiencies will likely be more successful than those who depend on talent alone:

 

I discover Lillie that it is hard solid work that is going to make the Artist rather than talent. The man who has the ambition to work whether he has much talent or not is likely to get there, while the man who has talent never will get there without work. I have therefore concluded to depend upon work and the help of the Lord. I work all day and at night. …But to me there is pleasure in the work—I love it, I feel happy while doing it (Letter from John Fairbanks to Lillie Fairbanks 25 October, 1891).


I believe there is another valuable lesson that we who study and work at BYU-Idaho can learn from the Paris art mission experience. The training of the art missionaries in Paris was funded by the sacred tithing funds of the Church, received through the faith and sacrifice of individual Church members. For this reason, the art missionaries were expected to be wise stewards of the resources they were given.
 

The church has also dedicated significant tithing resources to provide you with an opportunity to receive a quality education here at this institution. You may not realize this, but your tuition covers less than a third of the cost of your education; the rest comes from tithing donated by Church members from around the world. What do you suppose those faithful members and the leaders of the church expect of you in return? I think it is the same as they expected from the art missionaries, as expressed in a letter to them by President George Q. Cannon. I would like you to listen to this letter as if it were written to you:

 

We feel deeply interested in your success. We want you to become good artists, and to avail yourself of all the advantages which the French government has so liberally put within the reach of students. And while you are acquiring this knowledge we sincerely hope that you will also progress in a knowledge of the things of God.

 

We want to see our young men qualified in every direction, so that the Lord’s name may be glorified and his cause advanced through their labors and their proficiency in all the arts and sciences. Young men have gone from our midst to the colleges in the Eastern States, and some of them have come back infidel to the Gospel. In gaining a collegiate education they have lost their faith. It is a bad exchange. They lose with their faith all interest in the work of God, and some of them have used their education to oppose that work.

 

Of course, you can understand that we can take no satisfaction in such young men; neither could we in any of you if you were to follow in their footsteps. The course that you are pursuing in holding regular meetings and partaking of the sacrament, we know is a course that is likely to preserve you from many evils and temptations, and it gives us confidence that you will come back at least as strong in the faith as when you left, and we hope that you will have grown in the knowledge of the things of God. By observing your prayers and living near to the Lord, you will learn to know Him, and to know that He is a God who hears and answers prayer; and this knowledge, if preserved will be of inestimable value to you, not only while you are there, but throughout your future lives.

 

You have our prayers that you may be very successful in gaining a knowledge of art. We desire you to have favor in the eyes of the professors and your fellow students, and also to have favor with the Lord, so that He will lead you and give you success in your labors, preserve you from sin, and bring you home in peace and safety (Letter from George Q. Cannon to Lorus Pratt, 12 September, 1891).


Though I could spend the rest of the day telling you about such things as the experience of the art missionaries’ families during their absence, how supportive and self-sacrificing their wives were, and the impact the art mission had on the development of art in the church, time will only permit me to share one last insight. As I have worked to earn a Ph.D. over the past few years, and have worked on this dissertation for about a year, I have developed a great kinship for those men and their families who struggled and sacrificed to accomplish something worthwhile.
 

I have been fortune; I have not had to leave my family for an extended period of time in order to pursue an education, but in many ways my family and I have shared some of the same challenges as the art missionaries and their families. I hope we have learned from this experience some of the same truths they did about a real dilemma we all face at some point in our lives.

 

How do we balance striving for personal excellence and achievement while maintaining proper family responsibilities and relationships and while rendering service to God and mankind?


It is my own experience, as well as that of the art missionaries, that nothing worthwhile is accomplished without sacrifice, patience, and love. I am deeply grateful for the support and sacrifice of my loving wife and children in allowing me the opportunity to earn my degree.
 

I also learned from the art mission experience that the key to achieving proper balance in life is to ensure that my personal ambitions bring all my other responsibilities into alignment instead of into competition with each other. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean.


As John Fairbanks was nearing the end of his time in Paris, he wrote to his wife that as much as he looked forward to returning home, he realized he had much more to learn and wished he could stay longer. His wife misinterpreted his words and felt like he was saying that his family was an impediment to his becoming a good artist. John wrote back to try to clarify things:

“What is it Lillie that keeps me here, have you considered the matter? …It is for your sake, for my sake, for the children's sake, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of our people, for the good of the church” (Letter from John Fairbanks to Lillie Fairbanks, 04 April, 1892).

 

Fairbanks went on to explain that while he wanted to reach his potential as an artist, it was not for the selfish reason of earning a great reputation or material wealth.

His desire was to

      a.         Improve upon a talent that God has given to man.

      b.         Provide for you and our little family a better living than you have had in the past.

      c.         Obtain a knowledge of art which will elevate our finer feelings and prepare us for a higher and a better life.

      d.         Beautify the temples of God and the habitations of his people.

      e.         Strive to be an instrument in God’s hands for doing good …to the improvement and advancement of [our] fellow man (Letter from John Fairbanks to Lillie Fairbanks, 04 April, 1892).

 

When we can find avenues of personal fulfillment and professional development that also benefit our families, the Church, and our fellow beings, the task of balancing our varied responsibilities becomes easier.

 

Time has demonstrated that the art missionaries were able to achieve that balance. By the end of 1892, John Hafen, Lorus Pratt, John Fairbanks, and Edwin Evans had all returned home to Utah. Between January and March of 1893, they collaborated in painting rooms in the Salt Lake Temple representing the Garden of Eden and the Lone and dreary world into which Adam and Eve were cast, aiding countless worshippers in understanding their purpose and eternal potential.

 

None of the art missionaries achieved great fame or fortune during their lifetime. They struggled their whole lives to support their families through art. Most became teachers at various educational institutions who inspired the next generation of Utah and LDS artists. They created works of beauty and peace that reveal the majesty of God as reflected in nature. And their art still serves today as an example of the results of learning by study and by faith.

 

May we, like the Paris art missionaries, each enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit in reaching our potential as individuals while serving our families, our God, and our fellow beings is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.