Franz Walter Bergmann was born on August 6, 1898, in Dimling, Austria, a town northwest of Vienna. His parents were both involved in the arts: his mother was a pianist, and his father was an amateur artist and a violinist. After serving in World War I for three years, he enrolled in the National Academy of Art in Vienna and embarked on a seven-year course of study, focusing on figure painting and portraiture. Although schooled in the academic tradition, Bergmann also adopted elements derived from the more avant-garde German Expressionist style. By 1924 he was exhibiting in Vienna and Stockholm. The following year, he graduated with honors.
He left Vienna to tour Europe, and in early 1926 he traveled to the United States. After a brief stay in New York, he moved to Chicago, where he obtained a commission to paint murals for theaters owned by Balaban & Katz. That year his mural sketches were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then moved to New York, where he joined the staff of the noted Austrian architect and designer Josef Urban. His main duties involved the execution of several murals. He also exhibited in the Architects League in 1927.
In 1929 Bergmann decided to move to San Francisco. On his way to the West Coast, the artist spent several weeks in Denver, where he painted the scenic Rocky Mountains. Once in San Francisco, Frank Bergman, as he was known by then, began exhibiting at various galleries, and the critics took favorable notice of him. He also completed murals for the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The success of these murals led to numerous commissions executed throughout the city. The most prestigious for Bergmann’s reputation were the murals he painted for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939. By the end of the decade, Bergmann was among the most celebrated modernist figurative painters working in Northern California. Besides being a painter and a muralist, he also illustrated children’s books, including This Way to the Circus
The war years were relatively quiet for the artist. He began to teach at various institutions, including the California School of Fine Arts. After the war he decided to devote his artistic output solely to jewelry, ceramics, and enamels. While his jewelry was abstract and severe, his ceramics and enamels were more akin to his paintings and murals in that the human figure was incorporated into the work. In 1952 he was involved in a serious car accident that left him with two broken legs. This led him to direct all his energies toward his enamels, which became very popular. Besides selling his enamels privately, he also retailed his work through Gump’s, a leader in presenting and selling craft on the West Coast. In 1959 he was considered one of the leading enamel artists and was represented by a covered bowl in the seminal exhibition Enamels
, presented at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York. By 1962 Bergmann had given up all artistic endeavors, and he spent the remainder of his years traveling with his wife. He died in 1977, at the age of seventy-nine.