Sunday, February 17, 2013

The curious lives of Cappy Amundsen

Cappy Amundsen
outside his studio, ca. 1990
photo Linda K. Alpern
Not so long ago you may have seen a scruffy looking denizen of a Sag Harbor watering hole and wondered what his story was. If you turned to the regular on the bar stool next to you and asked about him, your fellow patron may have said, "oh, I think he paints seascapes" or "just some old sailor" or possibly something less flattering.  In reality though, you would have been looking at an artist who had lived a legendary life among New York City's 20th century painting giants. An excellent book written by Terry Wallace describes his amazing life. C. Hjalmar Amundsen was born Casper Hjalmar Emerson, III in New York City in 1911.  He was known as "Cappy" and passed away in relative obscurity in 2001.
Cappy Amundsen 1947, Washington Square Art Show
Cappy was one of the founders of the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning among others. He also followed in the tradition of many East End painters by teaching summer painting classes en plein air.
Cappy worked as a commercial fisherman, did cover illustrations for Motor Boating magazine, and became actively involved in Sag Harbor Village activities. He produced a myriad of artistic work portraying harbor life on the East Coast. Unfortunately, Cappy confuses those of us who wish to collect his work by painting under numerous pseudonyms. Sadly, when Cappy passed away, those who loved the paintings of J.J. Enwright or A. Emerson may not have known to mourn.
Sticking the Prey - Cappy Amundsen 24" x 34"
Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum
In the book, "Cappy, The Life and Art of C. Hjalmar Amundsen" Terry Wallace speculates on what may have caused Amundsen to paint under various aliases (at least a dozen). Was it was because Cappy's father was involved in a much publicized marriage scandal? Perhaps it was because he was so prolific he could find markets for each painting identity that he created. We will probably never know.

Terry Wallace's book on Cappy is an interesting read for both art enthusiast and history buff. Reading it reminded me of that old adage not to judge a book by it's cover and that you may still be able to find a masterpiece at a yard sale. "Cappy" is available at Wallace Gallery and at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum.
Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton - Cappy Amundsen 24" x 36"
Wallace Gallery
Afternoon, Hampton Bays - J.J. Enwright (Cappy Amundsen) 12" x 16"
Wallace Gallery
Fishing Port in Winter - J.J. Enwright (Cappy Amundsen) 24" x 36"
Wallace Gallery
Passing Montauk Point - Cappy Amundsen, 24" x 30"
Cappy Amundsen, 1961
"Village Character an Art World Legend" by Rick Murphy here
"Cappy, The Life and Art of C. Hjalmar Amundsen" here
"On the Waterfront" by Annette Hinkle here
"An Artist of Many Names and Talents" by Richard Barons here
Cappy Amundsen via Terry Wallace on Facebook here

I liberally cribbed and summarized from Terry Wallace's great book.
CAPPY The Life and Art of C. Hjalmar Amundsen
Terry Wallace
Published 2011 by M.T. Fine Arts, Inc. in association with the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum


  1. Delightful post and gives an insight into how the painters draws his imagination into an beautiful image.

  2. Gail, thanks for digging into this. I have a friend on Vancouver Island with a JJ Enwright canvas we have often talked about. Then, a month ago, a Facebook friend of a friend posted a photo of an old print he had found in the attic. Clearly, to me, an Amundsen with boat rigging, shadow on water and chimney smoke rising into clouds, what seem to me to be signature touches. If you are interestedl, send me a FB post and I'll friend you so you can see the posts on my timeline. Fascinating prolific artist, reminds me of painters I knew in Laguna Beach over the years. Regards, Evan Maxwell

    1. Evan, Thank you for your comment! So interesting. Would love to hear more.

    2. Purchased a beautiful painting by William Hughes in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The company running the estate sale could not determine who the artist was. I purchased it for the quality of work and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the history.

  3. My mother dated Cappy when we lived in Noyac in 1955. I was 8 years old at the time and Cappy took me to a book fair at Pearson High School. He bought me a book at that fair. Cappy gave my mother Alida PANEBIANCO a few of his painting which we lost through moving. He was a very kind man. He even gave me a few art lessons.I didn't realize he was so famous.

  4. Is sea coast lane original been ever auctioned


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