In the Moment

Introduction by Carey L. Vose

"What we carry away from an experience often lives in our memories more intensely and more eloquently than that which we actually see."

- Karl Schrag

During my junior year of high school, I was given the opportunity to do a three-day solo on an untouched peninsula in Montsweag Bay near Wiscasset, Maine. My solo site was a beautiful hemlock grove along the rocky coastline, and I did not see another human being during that seventy-two hour stretch. The experience truly taught me the importance of being ‘in the moment,’ and utilizing all your senses to fully immerse yourself in the world around you.

The Artist by the Sea, Private Collection

When I first saw Karl Schrag’s paintings of Down East Maine, it immediately brought those memories to the fore. He distilled the essence of time and place and the impression that the region’s changeable tides and weather had on him. In their 2023 book, The Art of Penobscot Bay, Carl and David Little aptly describe Schrag’s approach as ‘free verse visual poetry’ given the artist’s way of infusing his emotional and sensory response to his subject at hand. Schrag was an avid lover of romantic composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries; accordingly, one can feel a wonderful rhythm and lyricism in his work through his arrangement of color and line, a quality that holds true throughout his oeuvre. From his bold self-portraits and still lifes that fill the picture plane to the striking canvases of sunlit and moonlit Deer Isle, Schrag’s interpretations are moving, honest, and fresh.

Foliage, Morning Light

Schrag earned dozens of prizes over his decades-long career, among them: Purchase Awards from the Brooklyn Museum in 1947 and 1950, the Nelson Rockefeller Purchase Award for Painting at the New York State Exposition in 1963, and the First Benjamin Altman Prize for Landscape Painting in 1981 from the National Academy of Design, which elected Schrag a member the same year. Schrag mounted over forty solo exhibitions at galleries and museums across the United States and Europe during his lifetime, and as a testament to his talent and influence, the artist has been celebrated in three major retrospectives: in 1960 at the Brooklyn Museum, in 1992 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and most recently in 2012, on the centennial of his birth, at the Syracuse University Art Galleries. All three institutions have examples of Schrag’s evocative work in their permanent collections, joining nearly fifty others across the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

My family and I are thrilled to have the opportunity to share these powerful paintings with you, and we hope you can visit our gallery to experience the works in person.

Morning by the Sea-Autumn

Early Self Portrait, Private Collection

Karl Schrag

"I wanted to show the immensity of the sea, to find a visual parallel for the fragrance of grasses, for the sound of the sea and of falling rain, and to express the influence of the moon upon the ocean. It was a search for the essence and spirit of an experience."

-Karl Schrag, Happiness and Torment of Printmaking, Artist's Proof, Pratt Graphics Center, 1966

Karl Schrag, photographed by Joseph Breitenbach

Karl Schrag, one of the most respected painters and printmakers of the mid-twentieth century, fused aspects of Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, and Realism into compelling interpretations of nature's moods and rhythms.

Full Moon and Silence
Vanishing Day

"His use of light is almost magical as day descends into night...The character of the scene is not the reality of diminishing light levels; rather it is the mood, the memory and the feelings of that time of day that Schrag captures."

- Domenic J. Iacono, Syracuse University Art Galleries Director, Memories and Premonitions, 2012

Early Self Portrait, Private Collection

The youngest of four sons of German father Hugo and American mother Bella, Karl Schrag was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 1912. He and his family spent many days exploring the Black Forest, but he was often in poor health and unable to participate in more strenuous sports. It was during long stays indoors that he began to draw and paint.

Trees in Flowing Moonlight

In 1931, worried about the unrest in Germany, his family moved to Zurich, Switzerland, and Schrag began his professional art studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. He moved to Paris two years later to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and the Académie Ranson. It was under the guidance of Roger Bissière at the latter where the young artist's eyes were opened to the expressive possibilities of color, light, and space. In 1936, at the encouragement of Bissière, Schrag moved to Brussels, where his brother Paul was working, to establish his own artistic practice. He held his first one-man show at the Galerie Arenberg in 1938.

Morning Sun and Rising Mist

In 1938, due to growing unrest in Europe, Schrag and his brother emigrated to New York City, a transition eased by his mother's family there. He established a small private studio in Manhattan, and continued painting and refining his printmaking skills under Harry Sternberg at the Art Students League. The next several years were a time of growth and transition for the young artist as he adjusted to the American scene.

Karl and Ilse Schrag, courtesy of Karl Schrag LLC

By the mid-1940s, Schrag began flourishing both personally and professionally. In 1944, he became an American citizen, and one year later he married Ilse Szamatolski, a fellow German émigré whom he had met briefly in Germany and reconnected with in New York. Schrag also had his first solo print exhibition that same year, mounted by the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, and he joined the innovative printmaking workshop Atelier 17.

Established in Paris in 1927, Atelier 17 was moved by founder Stanley William Hayter to New York in 1940. Amid the vibrant atmosphere of the cooperative, which included artists such as Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Louise Bourgeois, and Gabor Peterdi, many of whom had also fled Europe, Schrag developed techniques on the evocative use of line and form that would translate into his oils, watercolors, and prints.

Sudden Rain on a Sunny Day

"To learn how to see, to observe correctly or closely, or even only to know how one form flows into another form, or how every part of a structure is related throughout the whole structure, and how rhythms catch each other in a a very interesting thing to study...something very worthwhile for an artist to look into."

- Karl Schrag, Oral history interview with Karl Schrag, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Oct. 14-20, 1970

Rain above the Sea

After long days in the studio, the artists of Atelier 17 would convene at local bars to discuss their art. As he worked alongside and socialized with those involved with Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, Schrag grew impressed with these liberating movements, but ultimately chose not to align himself with either, opting rather to "transform but not relinquish reality" in his landscapes.

In 1947, Schrag held a solo exhibition of watercolors at New York's Kraushaar Galleries, his first of over twenty one-man shows hosted by the prestigious gallery over the next six decades, and in the same year his watercolor, Trees Against the Sky, was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum. Most significantly, during the 1940s the artist began spending his summers with Ilse and their two children on the coast of Maine. After many years vacationing and exploring various sites along mid-coast Maine, the artist discovered his ideal spot at Deer Isle, where he purchased a farmhouse in the late 1950s and spent the next forty summers painting in a nineteenth century barn.

Glowing Tree

"Much of the inspiration for my landscape comes from Maine because it has so many contrasts- the darkest woods, the most luminescent distances- and so many moods which correspond to the feelings one has about life."

- Karl Schrag

Apple Tree-Blue Sky

The salt-tinged air, dense woodlands and orchards, and changeable tides and weather of Down East Maine provided a wealth of material as Schrag sought to convey his physical and emotional response to the intangible forces of nature. Whether working with oil, gouache, watercolor, or ink, he employed color, light, and the rhythmic movement of line to depict a cohesive, symphonic experience.

Schrag created a large number of studies and preparatory drawings, often using them as references for his larger works. Through this process of layering memories and interpretations, his paintings became landscapes of his own psyche. He always saw himself as an inseparable part of the subject, his emotional response to the experience transforming his works into an expressionist arrangement of movement, light, and color.

"When one searches for a deeper understanding of the visible forms of a landscape, another landscape, the one one carries within one's self, appears always clearer and stronger in one's work."

- Karl Schrag

Sunfilled Tree and Field
"It is good for me to observe how a tree bends in the wind and to make a hundred drawings to reach a deeper understanding...the spirit of the tree in the wind must be the spirit of the entire work in which all elements contribute to completeness and unity of expression."

- Karl Schrag

Wind in the Appletree

Schrag became Director of Atelier 17 in 1950 when Hayter left to re-establish the Atelier in Paris. He went on to teach at Brooklyn College from 1953 to 1954 and at Cooper Union from 1954 to 1968. While there, he met Wolf Kahn, who was also a member of the faculty from 1961 until 1977. The two became good friends, painting together in Maine for several summers until Kahn purchased a summer home in Vermont in 1968.


He also became good friends with many other artists, including Andre Racz, Raphael Soyer, John Heliker, and Joseph Breitenbach, whom he also taught with at Cooper Union, and he and Ilse regularly hosted dinners at their New York City home.

"The fusion of the artist's thinking and feeling with the theme that inspires him- so that the artist and his subject are present in the work equally alive and with equal strength- is and will remain one of the most moving and meaningful elements of art."

- Karl Schrag, "Some Notes Concerning My Graphic Work", 1971

Evening Sunlight

This sense of camaraderie continued after they had established their summer home on Deer Isle. Many of their friends also spent time painting in Maine, and at the end of each season the Schrags partook in a communal gathering and critique of the summer's work.

Night Fragrance of Meadows

Blue Floral

Schrag painted a number of floral still lifes using the same orchestral quality of linework found in his landscapes. In Blue Floral, abundant blue and green leaves and warm brown branches fill the canvas, as the artist's lively brushwork transforms a static arrangement with dynamic color and movement. In contrast, The Big Vase places the titular vessel front and center, towering above a lone treetop and crowned by boisterous, multi-colored blossoms.

The Big Vase

"In 'The Big Flower Vase', the tension is between an inert vase of great simplicity, a quiet surface, and the vivacious and vital explosion of the bouquet...Set on a quiet table, the shimmer of the huge white vase balances the flowing bouquet. For Schrag, the artist has 'insight into the process, the true feeling of growing things.' He paints 'not how the flower is built, but how it has grown, stem and leaf, how it might have opened and spread out towards the light.'"

- M. Deiter Keyishian, Arts Magazine, 1982

Window with Flowering Plant


Autumn Mood in August

Fascinated by the passage of time, many of Schrag's landscapes aim to capture the ever-changing mood and atmosphere of Maine. Foggy mornings evaporate into radiant afternoons, a quick storm passes, then the dazzling glow of sunset ushers in the moonlit night.

Daybreak in the Forest
Self Portrait

His interest in time and mortality are felt in his numerous self portraits through the years. Aware of his existence within nature and his own aging, his self portraits are introspective examinations of the forces of nature at work within him.

Karl Schrag, courtesy of Karl Schrag LLC

"My strong desire to express from sunlit serenity to the darkest moods has its roots in a constant awareness of myself being a part of the nature and life which I observe. With every breath I take, with every heartbeat, I feel within myself the rhythms of nature."

- Karl Schrag, "End of Night and Day Break: Clarifying My Thoughts", Karl Schrag: A Retrospective Exhibition, Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, 1992

Small Self Portrait with Flowering Branch

Left: Karl Schrag in his Deer Isle studio, photographed by David Etnier, 1993

"Schrag's work appeals to me especially because of his strong feeling for nature's many forms. He handles night subtly yet with daring. His moons ride high and spread light radiantly; his rain is wet. I derive much pleasure from his green and indigo trees and the masses of golds that emerge like large flowers. Nothing is lost but strangeness in a world that blooms beyond itself."

- Bernard Malamud, 1914-1986, author of The Natural

Forest Brook

Schrag spent time exploring the Caribbean and Europe and adapting his methods to those regions' distinctive climes, but he found that the subtle, elusive beauty of Maine was always of more interest to him. The mysteries of night, the fluctuating light, and the push and pull of the moon and sun captivated him more than the obvious grandeur he observed during his travels.

Moonlit Forest I

"I drew trees in the wind- often from memory- I went out at night and saw the trees moving in the wind; then I went back and tried to draw what I kind of felt more than saw."

- Karl Schrag, 1970

Karl Schrag, courtesy of Karl Schrag LLC
"It has been a long time of endeavor and hope...The conviction has stayed with me that I have something within me that wants to be expressed. Whether I can dig it out, or whether it's just too deep down to be made visible, I don't know. But the treasure is there and as far as I could, I tried to bring it out."

- Karl Schrag, "Getting Maine on Canvas", Shirley Jacks, Down East, 1990

Select Accolades


  • Purchase Award, The Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1947, 1950
  • Ford Foundation Fellowship for Study at Tamarind Lithography Workshop, 1962
  • Nelson Rockefeller Purchase Award for Painting, New York State Exposition, 1963
  • Purchase Award, Childe Hassam Fund, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 1970, 1974, 1977
  • National Academy of Design, New York, First Benjamin Altman Prize for Landscape
  • Painting, 1981, Landscape Prize, 1983, Carnegie Prize, 1986
  • Elected member of National Academy of Design, New York, 1981

Sand, Reeds and Pine

Permanent Collections

  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
  • The British Museum, London, England
  • The Brooklyn Museum, New York
  • Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
  • Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
  • The Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine
  • Georgetown University, Art and History Museum, Washington, DC
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
  • Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Library of Congress, Washington, DC
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
  • Portland Museum of Art, Maine
  • Stanford University Art Gallery, Palo Alto, California
  • Syracuse University, New York
  • Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Solo Exhibitions

  • Galerie Arenberg, Brussels, Belgium, 1938
  • Philadelphia Art Alliance, Pennsylvania, 1952
  • University of Maine, Orono, 1953, 1958
  • Oslerreichisches Konsulat, Baden-Baden, Germany, 1958
  • Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1958
  • National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1945 (print retrospective), 1972
  • Associated American Artists, New York, 1971, 1980, 1986, 1990
  • Jane Haslim Gallery, Washington, DC, 1989, 1991
  • St. Botolph Club, Boston, Massachusetts, 1991
  • Kraushaar Galleries, New York, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2002, 2005

Apples, Autumn Leaves and Flowers

Group Exhibitions

  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1941, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1942, 1952, 1976, 1986
  • The Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1947 and annually thereafter
  • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961-1969
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, 1947, 1952, 1954
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, 1953, 1955, 1976, 1981, 1991
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, 1954
  • Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne, Paris, France, 1954
  • Tate Gallery, London, England, 1956
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 1961, 1991
  • Pavilion of Fine Arts, New York World's Fair, New York, 1964
  • National Academy of Design, New York, 1978 and annually thereafter

Summer Bouquet

A full list of accolades is available upon request

'Force of Nature: Karl Schrag in Maine' will be viewable online & in the gallery May 16th - June 27th, 2024.

Vose Galleries

238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA, 02116

Digital Catalog Design: Molly S. Lynch

Writing: Courtney S. Kopplin & Molly S. Lynch

Editing: Carey L. Vose & Borja Herraiz Garcia de Guadiana

Photography: Gabriel J. Chevalier, Mariely Torres, & Molly S. Lynch

© 2024 Vose Galleries, LLC. Rights reserved. The right to copy, photograph or reproduce the works of art identified herein is reserved by Karl Schrag LLC.

Right: Karl Schrag, photographed by Miriam Caravella, 1976