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German Immigrant Painters 7

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Artist Illustrators

The great geographical and economical expansion, together with rapid population growth, offered new opportunities to artists all over the United States.  This favorable situation coincided with the introduction of lithography as a medium of commercial printmaking and a relatively easy method of mass-producing art.  Because lithography was a German invention, German lithographers had an early start and rapidly established a good reputation.  In the 1830's nearly all larger American cities could boast at least one lithographic firm; a very high number of them were owned by German immigrant lithographers, who frequently had joined together as business partners.  Other German artists worked as draftsmen or lithographers for enterprises that were not owned by a fellow countryman.  By mid-century the lithographic output in America encompassed an enormous variety of subjects, mostly drawn from the works of contemporary painters.  New York City had become not only the major port of entry for the swelling numbers of immigrants, but also had developed into the principal meeting ground for the exchange of ideas and artistic developments.  It was therefore not surprising that a New York lithographic firm, Currier and Ives, became the most successful of its kind in America.  Behind the names of the two business partners Currier and Ives worked a group of specialized artists.  Some of the artists drew the images, others transferred them onto stone and still other specialists added the lettering, which was part of the general artistic concept.  In all these procedures, the participation of German artists was very high.  Louis Maurer (1832-1932) was one of Currier and Ives's principal draftsmen during the eight most successful years of the firm (1852-1860).  Although Maurer's work covered a wide spectrum, he became best known for his horse and fire-fighting scenes.  Otto Knirsch was one of the firm's most talented lithographers and J. Schutz was considered their best lettering artist.

The Civil War, like all wars, made a deep incision into the life of the nation and brought about a fundamental change in national spirit.  Soon the placid way of American life as reflected in the prewar pictures was gone.  A tenser living style developed that immediately made itself felt in the arts.  The Civil War found German immigrant artists on both sides of the issues, as soldiers and as illustrators.

On the outbreak of the war Nicola Marschall (1829-1917), a German painter who had settled in Alabama designed the Confederate flag and also provided the design for the uniforms of the Confederate army.

Adalbert Volck (1828-1912), a most versatile and gifted painter and sculptor, and a liberal refugee of the revolution of 1848, also supported the Southern cause.  Volck, who practiced dentistry in Baltimore for several years, became a very active cartoonist during the Civil War.  His caricatures of Lincoln and his antagonistic drawings related to the political issues made him a persuasive, even pernicious adversary of the Union.  He signed his work V. Blada ... using part of his real name backwards.

More German immigrant artists seemed to have supported the Union cause.  William Momberger (1820-?), a professionally trained landscape painter and lithographer drew battle sketches of the war and became a well-known American illustrator of books, magazines, and designer of banknotes.

Theodore Kaufmann (1814-?), a historical painter who had participated in the revolution of 1848, became a soldier in the Union Army and became best known for his paintings of the Civil War.  Louis Emil Kurd (1833 -1921), a mural and scene painter, also fought for the Union Army.  Kurz founded and headed several leading mid-western lithographic companies.

The most talented of all the German-born illustrators was Thomas Nast (1849-1902).  He was to become the most influential of all American illustrators of his time.  During the war illustrated magazines increased in importance and could afford to employ such first-class artists as Nast as their illustrators.  Nast, who had studied for some time under Theodore Kaufmann in New York, was destined to turn the magazine illustration into a powerful weapon.  He supported the Union cause with his drawings so effectively that after the war Lincoln is reported to have said, "Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant".

Nast began his career as a magazine illustrator when he was only fifteen years old, when he went to work for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  His extraordinary talent developed during the particular challenge of the Civil War.  During his assignment as a staff artist for Harper's Weekly, his special gift as an illustrator of ideas, rather than of events, was cultivated.  During Nast's many years of association with Harper's Weekly, his name and that of the New York magazine became practically synonymous.  The editors and Nast joined forces to attack the powerful corrupt politicians who had a stranglehold on New York City government.  At the same time Nast's cartoons also called for progress and the understanding of liberal issues which confronted the nation.  Nast's resourceful imagination and drawing skill created such lasting symbols of American life as the Democratic donkey, the Republic elephant, the Tammany tiger and even the typical Santa Claus image as a large, jolly elf.  Though Nast never studied abroad, his drawing style bears striking resemblance to the expressive lines of Wilhelm Busch, the German master of early comic strips who was Nast's contemporary.

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