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Krimmel, Early American Genre Artist
Called the Hogarth of America by his contemporaries, John Lewis Krimmel was born in Germany in 1789. He was twenty-one when he joined his brother George in America with the idea of following his bent as an artist. The elder brother considered this impractical and clapped him into a Philadelphia counting house.
John kept his irksome job a few months and then left it and his brother's house. He took lodgings and began painting portraits. The first was of his landlady and her family. It was so well done that other commissions soon followed. As he painted equally well on ivory, he was also popular as a miniaturist. After his marriage, he increased his income by becoming art teacher at a young lady's seminary. Meanwhile he found time to paint some of the genre subjects for which he is best remembered today.
One of them "The Fourth of July in Center Square, Philadelphia" is now owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It shows the lively action and vivid portraiture for which he became famous. This is also apparent in the painting, "Return from Market." The present location of this painting is in doubt, but it was reproduced as a mezzotint by the engraver Sartain and published by W. H. Bidwell of New York about 1830 as a premium print for The Eclectic Magazine. It was originally done in black and white and its sub-title runs, "Home Scene-With Presents."
Krimmel went back to Germany in 1817 but, after a short stay, came back to the United States where he found The Eclectic Magazine wanted to use some of his genre subjects as illustrations.
Up to this time, buyers of paintings had regarded genre subjects scarcely worthwhile as works of art. In 1820, The Eclectic Magazine published an engraving of Krimmel's "Country Wedding" and the popularity of his genre subjects grew, especially those entitled "White's Great Cattle Show and Grand Procession of the Victuallers," and "Burning of Masonic Hall." Shortly afterward, he was given a commission to paint a historical canvas of "Penn's Treaty with the Indians." It was never finished. Krimmel was drowned in a mill pond near Germantown, Pennsylvania, while sketching for the painting, in 1821.
Had it not been for his untimely death, he would probably have been among the artists whose work N. Currier would have been eager to use. The founding of that famous lithographing business occurred only fourteen years later. Krimmel, for his part, was always interested in current events and personalities and was one of the few in his day to put them on canvas. Many of his early genres have not survived but are known from the engravings, principally made by his friend and patron, Alexander Lawson.
Most of these prints are in black and white, though some are found washed with watercolor. Because Krimmel's active artistic life was only a little over ten years, his paintings are few in number and even the prints after them are not plentiful. They are in demand because of the kindly humor and neat detail with which the artist painted them.