Martin B. Leisser (1846-1940)
Scalp Level, 1875
Oil on board, 15 1/4" x 20 15/16"
Collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Bequest of Robert S Waters, 72.14.7

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Martin B. Leisser (1845-1940)
Born on July 29, 1845 to German immigrants Balthazar and Johanna Leisser, Martin Leisser was raised on Pittsburgh's South Side where his father worked as a packer in a glass factory. The budding artist's first job was painting decorative flowers on safes and scales, but, encouraged by his mother, Leisser saved up his money and left for Europe in 1868, studying first at the Academie Julian in Paris and then at the Royal Academy in Munich.

After several years abroad, Leisser returned to his hometown and taught at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women. It is here where his association with the Scalp Level School painters began, as its leader George Hetzel was also in residence there. Leisser later became headmaster of the Pittsburgh Art School, and also founded the Pittsburgh Art Society, an organization that sponsored art exhibitions. He was friends with astronomer John Brashear, as well as steel baron Andrew Carnegie, and along with a friend was instrumental in convincing Carnegie to include an art school at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), which Carnegie founded in 1900.

A prolific painter, Leisser traveled extensively in search of subject matter, including living for a period of five years in Europe with his new wife Sarah Montgomery Stewart after their 1883 marriage. He also traveled throughout the American South and West, rendering coastal scenes and more. Yet, he always made his way back home to Pittsburgh. In 1935, the Pittsburgh Bulletin Index wrote of him that "His paintings are gentle, meticulous, refined in tone and feeling." That poetic feel resonates in his Scalp Level works.

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