Ferdinand Schmoll (usually known in Mexico as Fernando Schmoll) was a German painter, born in Cologne in 1879, who owned a lakefront house west of the pier in Chapala for several years early in the twentieth century. It is unclear when Schmoll first arrived in Mexico, or in the Lake Chapala area, but he was certainly living in the Chapala area between 1919 and 1921. Shortly after, Schmoll and his wife appear to have left the lake to establish their home in Cadereyta in the central state of Querétaro. Schmoll is best known for his fine landscapes, painted in the European tradition.
One of his earliest solo exhibits in Mexico was at the then State Museum in Guadalajara in September 1919. The advance notice for the exhibition says that all the oil paintings by Ferdinad (sic) Schmoll had been painted during the artist’s time in Mexico. The following month, Schmoll donated an oil painting entitled “El Patio” to the museum.In November 1919, Schmoll traveled to Mexico City to exhibit his “perfectly finished and undeniably beautiful paintings” there.
Schmoll exhibited in Guadalajara again at the Club Alemán (16 de Sept #140) in 1921. A review of that show, in the Guadalajara daily Informador, singled out his painting “Serenata” as best of the 19 works on display, for the way it portrayed light playing on the group of singers. It also praised the flower painting “Dahlias” for its use of color and “intense freshness”. The reviewer concluded that Schmoll was more of a portrait artist than a landscape artist, despite the fine quality of landscapes he incorporated into his paintings. The review lauded Schmoll’s meticulous technique, comparing it favorably to that seen “in the works of the best German artists”. Also mentioned (and well ahead of their time for their subject matter) were several works that were “faithful interpretations of the customs of our humble classes”, including a fine portrait study of an indigenous male.
The show included three works clearly painted at Chapala: “Orilla del Lago de Chapala” (Lake Chapala Shore), “Lago de Chapala” (Lake Chapala) and “A orillas del Chapala” (On the Shores of Chapala).
In June 1925, a solo show of paintings by Schmoll, “considered one of the most notable pictorial interpreters of Mexican landscapes”, was held in Berlin, Germany, at the German Economic League for Central and South America.
Schmoll was not only an artist, but also a cactus lover, and in 1920, founded a cactus farm in the town of Cadereyta, Querétaro, with his wife biologist Carolina Wagner (ca 1877-1951), who had a degree in biology from a German university. The couple traveled widely throughout Latin America. It was a match made in cactus heaven. Schmoll’s exquisite drawings of cacti were coupled with his wife’s scientific descriptions, and this at a time when publications much preferred detailed drawings to photographs.
The cactus farm and nursery continue today as a commercial venture, Quinta Fernando Schmoll, that specializes in growing cacti and succulents for export, as well as testing alternative methods of cultivation. The current owner of the cactus farm is Heinz Wagner, a great nephew of the founders.
The center is the Americas’ most important greenhouse location for cactus breeding and houses more than 4000 plant species, of which 1700 are cacti from the Americas. Research at the center has led to the discovery and description of several new cactus species, among them the endemic lamb’s tale cactus (Echinocereus schmollii) named in the Schmolls’ honor.
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