Monday, February 12, 2018

Camouflage Artist | Ivan Opffer

Homer St-Gaudens (c1918) by Ivan Opffer
Ivan Opffer was born in Nyborg, Denmark, on June 4, 1897, to a family of Danish scholars and journalists. His brother was Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant seaman and journalist who was known for his relationship with American writer Hart Crane.

Ivan was raised in Mexico City and New York, where his anarchist father was the editor of a radical Danish-language newspaper. His involvement in painting and drawing began at an early age. At a summer workshop, he met and studied drawing with Winslow Homer, then went on to study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York.

When the US entered World War I, Opffer was one of the members of the American Army Camouflage Corps, headed by Homer Saint-Gaudens (whose mother was a relative of Winslow Homer), the son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As a camoufleur, Opffer served with other artists and architects, some of whom became well-known, including Barry Faulkner, Sherry Edmundson Fry, Kimon Nicolaides, Robert Lawson, Abraham Rattner, Kerr Eby and others. It was this same unit, while still in training in at Camp American University in Washington DC, that launched a camp newspaper called The Camoufleur. Only three issues were published before the unit’s deployment to France in late 1917. In the October 31 issue, a satirical portrait by Opffer of Homer Saint-Gaudens (titled “Our Boss”) was published on page 5 (as reproduced above).

After the war, Opffer returned to New York, where he became known for his caricatures of leading Modern writers, among them James Joyce, Edgar Lee Masters, Siegfried Sassoon, George Bernard Shaw, Carl Sandburg, G.K. Chesterton, and Thomas Mann.

In the years between the wars, Opffer married Betty √† Beckett Chomley, and settled in Paris, where he was a student at the Academie Julian. He also lived in London and Copenhagen, where his drawings were frequently published in newspapers and magazines. With the outbreak of World War II, he and his family returned to New York and lived in Greenwich Village. Among his friends in that era were William Butler Yeats, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway. He and his wife Betty are said to be portrayed in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

When he retired in the 1960s, Opffer moved back to Copenhagen, where he died on March 3, 1980.

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This account is partly based on an online information page that was written by Ivan Opffer’s granddaughter, Yvonne Opffer Conybeare. Accessed on January 17, 2018 at <http://www.oocities.org/yconybeare/>.

A slightly different version of this biographical note has also been contributed to askART.com.