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Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Theodore Van Soelen had a highly distinguished career in both the Eastern and Southwestern United States. His specialty was ranch scenes done in a realistic illustrative style, but he also became a noted landscape and portrait painter with enough illustration technique to be termed a realist. A man who enjoyed variety, by the end of his life, he was known as a painter, lithographer, illustrator, muralist and writer.
Van Soelen began his art training as a student at the St. Paul Institute of Arts and Sciences in Minnesota from 1908 to1911 and then studied for four years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. There, he won a Cresson Traveling Scholarship for travel and study in Europe in 1913 and 1914.
Troubled by tuberculosis, Van Soelen went west to Utah and Nevada, and in 1916 moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he worked as a commercial illustrator and began selling his first paintings. Wanting to get a better understanding of the western way of life, Van Soelen lived in towns and ranches throughout the state and spent a year at San Ysidero’s Indian Trading Post. During that time, the Cincinnati Art Museum held a one-man exhibition of his work, which brought him national recognition.
Van Soelen married Virginia Carr, and in 1922, they settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in 1926 became permanent residents of neighboring Tesuque. Although Van Soelen lived in New Mexico, he had a strong enough market for his western paintings in the East that in the 1930’s, he established a second studio in Cornwall, Connecticut. He was elected a National Academician at the National Academy of the Arts in New York City and continued to exhibit in the East, showing at the National Academy, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and the Chicago Art Institute. In addition to his art, he also wrote for Field and Stream.
At the same time, Van Soelen was active in New Mexico, completing numerous paintings of scenes from that state, as well as a mural in 1938 for the Post Office in Portales, New Mexico. In 1960, the School of American Research of the Santa Fe Museum named him Honorary Fellow in Fine Arts.
Like Thomas Moran, Van Soelen freely reassembled compositional elements to depict the allure of New Mexico: “If reproductions of Van Soelen pictures were used on railway time-tables, the trains to Santa Fe, Taos, etc would be far more crowded than they are at present.”