From Wallace Gallery/AskArt Archives
Casper Hjalmar Amundsen was born in New York City on June 9, 1911 as Casper Hjalmar Emerson, III. Since he was a third generation family member with the given name of Casper, he became known from birth simply as “Cappy.” Cappy’s father, Casper Emerson, Jr. (1878-1948) was an important artist, creating “The Emerson Girl” for the Broadway Magazine in the New York Herald-Tribune. As a young boy, Cappy spent many hours in his father’s studio, learning first hand the basics of drawing and painting. After graduating from Blair Academy, Cappy attended the Grand Central School of Art.
In the spring of 1932, Cappy founded the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show in New York City with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Beaufort Delaney and others. Exhibiting there for over thirty years, he was awarded first place in show many times. In 1934, Cappy participated in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. He exhibited a caricature of Adolf Hitler titled His Best Foot. Cappy portrayed the German Dictator as half-human and half-devil. After a strong objection by the German Ambassador’s wife, the Metropolitan Museum removed the cartoon from the exhibition. This brought a strong protest of censorship by artists. Controversial news articles about the caricature appeared in Time magazine and newspapers throughout the country.
For the next seven or eight years, Cappy traveled along the eastern seaboard in a 33 foot yawl. Unable to make a living as an artist, he worked as a commercial fisherman. During this time, he lived in Gloucester and Provincetown where he became an active member of the famous Beachcombers Club. Becoming a skilled marine artist, he signed his earliest paintings, Hjalmar. By the late 1930’s, Cappy sometimes used another pseudonym, I.Emerson.
Sometime in 1943, Emery Blum & Co. of New York, published a portfolio of prints under the name of Hjalmar Emerson Amundsen. This extensive folio of U.S. Navy ships was meticulously executed, detailing every aspect of their construction. The portfolio became a popular collectible during the war, selling thousands of editions. Cappy’s popularity with the public continued with naval themes. In 1944, he illustrated scenes inspired by the U.S. Navy for two covers of Motor Boatingmagazine. Paintings used for these illustrations were signed Hjalmar Amundsen, while the byline inside the publication credited C. Hjalmar Amundsen.
Cappy moved to Sag Harbor, Long Island in early 1946. The same year he legally changed his name from Casper Hjalmar Emerson, III to C. Hjalmar Amundsen. At this time, he began to sign his paintings with another alias, J J. Enwright. After moving to Sag Harbor, Cappy made numerous contributions to the community. He became a highly respected and popular figure in the small waterfront village. Among his accomplishments was the founding of the first Outboard Racing Regatta which became a forerunner for the Old Whalers Festival. In the late 1940’s, Cappy established two art schools in the village. He became a licensed U. S. Coast Guard Captain and an almost unbeatable sailor in racing competition. As a member of the Sag Harbor Recreational Committee he helped obtain a Charter from the Boy Scouts of America, establishing the Sea Scouts. During the Pelican tragedy in Montauk, he reported to the National Geographic Wire Service about one of the most tragic accidents in recreational boating history. As a result of this reporting, he was invited to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. where he spoke on boating safety.
As a young man, Cappy Amundsen found employment as a display technician for art publisher Emery Blum. This was the beginning of a life-long friendship between the two men. At the same time, Amundsen was an active participant in the Washington Square Art Show and other “street” exhibitions that he usually set up by himself. These outdoor art shows became a mainstay of Amundsen’s livelihood (as he exhibited paintings along busy streets in cities and villages. It was at these shows that Amundsen saw an opportunity to display paintings with pseudonyms on them, enabling him to place different prices on the various works. This way certain paintings stood out among the others. For instance, Cappy Amundsen would display five or six paintings that he had rendered with various names on them, some painted in different styles. By doing this, Amundsen cleverly created a market with the public for his paintings. Often he would offer Amundsen paintings at the highest price followed by works with the Enwright name, the Hughes name, etc. Amundsen may have advised a prospective buyer in this manner, ‘You can have an Amundsen painting for $200.00. The Enwright painting will cost you $175.00, the McKay piece $125.00, the Picot $75.00′ and right down the line. By doing this, Amundsen gave the buyer an opportunity to purchase a piece with a price point that would be affordable.
During the same time, art publisher Blum began to distribute Amundsen’s paintings and prints rendered with different names on them to a wide audience in numerous locations throughout the United States. Cappy now capitalized on an opportunity to create works under even more aliases, having them distributed by Blum. From the mid 1930’s to the 1960’s, Cappy signed his paintings with more than twenty aliases. J. J. Enwright, William Ward, Jr., F. H. McKay, W. Hughes, H. Nansen, J. C. Bennett, Sven Sagg, J. C Tarbox, John L. Dunne, J. C. Bonac, W. H.Lawrence, D. Caggiano, R. Aiyle, E.W. Lawrence, Andre Picot, B. Snyder, G. Amato, D.Ainsley, and R. B. Cooper are some of the names he signed to his canvasses. At times,Cappy executed some of these paintings in a similar style as in the case of paintings signed Amundsen, J.J. Enwright, W. Hughes, W. H. Lawrence, McKay, Snyder and several others. At other times, the artist painted in a totally different style. Sometimes this included European themes. Often these paintings can be found with the signature of Wm.Ward, Jr., D. Ainsley, Andre Picot, Caggiano and a few others. Meanwhile, Cappy Amundsen painted numerous watercolors under the pseudonyms Ernest Cramer, J.C.Tarbox, E.W. Lawrence and other names. Often, Amundsen attached fictitious biographies on the back of these paintings. Usually, these were totally fabricated as if to invent a totally new person. Birth dates and other biographical information on these labels can be taken with a grain of salt. However as a creature of habit, Cappy Amundsen often included titles, inventory numbers, signature and identical copyright stamp for whatever name he chose to place on the front of the canvas.