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Sadakichi Hartmann

from Vanamonde #788 (2008)

The cover of the Apr 08 issue of Mark Strickert's Mark Time, No. 85, is a 1993 Charles Schneider drawing of Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944) toward the end of his life. This Japanese-German man of letters, who had read all of Goethe and Schiller by the age of nine, who worked with Alfred Stieglitz and was among the first to publish serious photography criticism, who wrote fiction for Emma Goldman's Mother Earth magazine and seems the first to have written English poetry in the Japanese haiku and tanka forms, whose two-volume History of American Art, published 1901, revised 1938, was long a standard, who has a fine appearance as a court magician in the fantastic Douglas Fairbanks silent film The Thief of Bagdad (1924), had by the end such woe Guy Lillian in that month's Zine Dump, No. 19, on the strength of that portrait called him the saddest sack he'd ever seen. Sadakichi's health was in ruins, he had a beggar's wealth, and although as it happens he was a superb pickpocket he could only on high occasion rise to stealth. The face is sad and bitter.

George Knox, Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, introducing The Life and Times of Sadakichi Hartmann, the book for the 1970 exhibition there, where Sadakichi's papers are, does not like Gene Fowler's 1954 memoir Minutes of the Last Meeting. I do. But The Life and Times is vital. Its sixty pictures show that this man was, as Knox says, painted by the great and near great, and as he himself said, photographed by everybody. "The Two Hamlets", a photo of John Barrymore and Sadakichi in 1940 (L&T p. 66), is the other side of the Schneider; with its help you can see in John Decker's 1940 painting (L&T p. 42) that Decker was right about Sadakichi, as was Fowler, no fools for his faults but by his sparks inspired.

In Jane Weaver's 1991 collection Sadakichi Hartmann, Critical Modernist you can read him upon Cézanne and Picasso, Winslow Homer and Whistler, Sergei Eisenstein, Rodin, Saint-Gaudens, Steichen. In 1897 he said art waited for "The woman who can paint men as we have painted women, and paint women as we have painted men" (Critical p. 77). By 1939 he was living on an Indian reservation. "One evening late in January of 1944," tells Fowler (Minutes p. 237), "Sadakichi left the reservation to get a drink at a Banning bar. As he was crossing the road an automobile almost ran him down.... [he asked the driver] 'Where are you going?' 'Just along the highway.' 'All life is a highway,' Hartmann said. 'And I want to go with you.'"