Reuterdahl, Henry (1871-1925) by Bachman, James

Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925) was a maritime illustrator born in Malmö, Sweden in 1871. After being sent to illustrate the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, he decided to remain in the United States where he began work as an illustrator for Chicago Graphic. Reuterdahl became a household name after he did a series of vivid illustrations of navy warships for Harper’s during the Spanish-American War. In addition to publishing nautical illustrations for numerous magazines, Reuterdahl displayed his own artwork at the Armory Exhibition in 1913, served as Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War I, and worked as the American editor of the warship-enthusiast publication Jane’s Fighting Ships.

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt selected Reuterdahl to accompany and illustrate the sixteen battleships of the Great White Fleet as they circumnavigated the globe. While Reuterdahl’s abilities to capture everyday events at sea were up to the task, his forays into journalism would cut the journey short. Just as the fleet was set to depart and parade America’s new naval power before the world, Reuterdahl published an article “The Needs of Our Navy,” in McClure’s Magazine. The article catalogued poor design features of the new battleships that severely limited the “navy’s ships and fighting ability” (Chisholm 515). Besides criticizing these engineering defects, Reuterdahl went on to blame the navy’s bureau system whose lack of direct contact with the sea “compels it to perpetuate mistakes”(Reuterdahl 259-60). Historian Robert O’Connell says the article “hit like a bombshell” and scandalized the new fleet, with newspapers and magazines across the country printing editorials expressing anxieties about the navy (O’Connell 124). Reuterdahl left the Great White Fleet after it passed through the Strait of Magellan amidst reports that that he had been expelled from the journey by Theodore Roosevelt. Retuerdahl’s article eventually led to a reorganization of the Department of the Navy five years later, and the artist would travel with the fleet on several more occasions.

Reuterdahl began working as an illustrator for in 1902 when he provided pictures for the maritime story by . His early work for is noteworthy for its (Jane 383) and for realistic depictions of ships at sea. In March 1914, Reuterdahl published three pictures in the magazine that he had worked on during his 1907 voyage with the Great White Fleet. These works reflect more of an expressive impasto style than his earlier works, while still remaining faithful to the ships depicted. For instance, in which appeared in the of , the visible brushstrokes of the artist serve to highlight rather than obscure several minute features of the gunboat deck (55.3: 308). Scribner’s Magazine The Echo William H. MacHarg Scribner’s immense ability for subdued detail Destroyers in a Seaway, March 1914 issue Scribner’s When World War I broke out, Reuterdahl became a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve where he served as the head of the poster bureau. His work as a propagandist led to several notable works, including navy recruiting posters, a mural at the Missouri State Capitol, and a large Liberty Bond sign painted with N.C. Wyeth. Reuterdahl died in 1925 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.—James Bachman


Works Cited and Additional Works about Reuterdahl:

  • Chisholm, Donald. Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes: Origins and Development of the U.S. Officer Personnel System, 1793-1941. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001.
  • Doezema, Mariana. American Realism and the Industrial Age. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1980.
  • Jane, Fred T. “A Marine Illustrator.” The Book Buyer: A Review and Record of Current Literature. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902.
  • O’Connell, Robert. Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the New Navy. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
  • Pickard, John. “Some Decorations in the New State Capitol at Jefferson City, Missouri.” The Art Bulletin. Vol. 3, no.4 (June 1921): 153-57.
  • Rasenberger, Jim. America Nineteen-O-Eight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.
  • Reuterdahl, Henry. “The Needs of Our Navy.”McClure’s Magazine. Vol. 30 (January 1908): 259-60.

Selected Works by Reuterdahl:

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