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( Originally Published 1951 )
The criticism has been offered that Currier prints are not art and are crudely drawn. In my opinion there is no justification for this attitude. Currier never claimed that his prints were works of art. He was interested in producing cheap pictures for the people, and this he did. The most ardent Currier fan will admit that not all the prints are art studies, but they are valid and important because they are a pictorial record of one of the most colorful periods in American history.
Some of the sentimental or religious pictures and portraits of girls produced in the latter days of the firm were crudely drawn and have little merit. On the other hand, Currier employed and reproduced the work of many celebrated artists of the day, including A. F. Tait, George Durrie, Eastman Johnson, George Inness, Thomas Nast, C. H. Moore, J. H. Wright, James Butterworth, Napoleon Sarony, Atwater, W. A. Walker, W. H. Beard, B. Hess, Franklyn Bassford, George Catlin, Louis Maurer, Fanny Palmer, Thomas Worth, and many others.
Fanny Palmer was the most remarkable and versatile of these. Born in England, she came to New York in the early forties. She began working for Currier around 1849 and produced more subjects than any other artist employed by the firm.
The other artists specialized in one or more types of work. Maurer and Cameron concentrated on horses, Thomas Worth on the Darktown and so-called white comics, Tait on hunting and fishing subjects, Sarony on portraits and many of the early feminine-name prints, Parsons and Atwater on railroad and marine prints, and Durrie on the New England winter scenes.
Mrs. Palmer, however, did work on almost every subject. Her prints of the "Clipper Ship Contest," Clipper Ship "Hurricane," and Clipper Ship "Sweepstakes" are among the finest of the marines. Across the Continent, American Express Train and "Lightning Express" Trains/"Leaving the Junction" rank among the finest in the railroad group. The Trout Brook, The Trout Stream, Trolling For Blue Fish, and Bass Fishing are her work, and she is responsible for The Happy Family, one of the finest game prints produced by the firm. Her hunting prints-the Snipe Shooting, Woodcock Shooting, Quail Shooting, Partridge Shooting, and Morning in the Woods in the Long Island Series-were drawn and transferred on stone by her. Her winter scenes compare favorably with the work of George Durrie, and the finest flower print produced by the firm, Landscape, Fruit and Flowers, was executed by her. She also did many Mississippi River scenes, American farm scenes, and the rare View o f Astoria L. L/From the New York side. She executed many small folio prints, some of them initialed, others bearing no credit, and supplied details and backgrounds on many prints signed by other artists. The only type of work she did not do was the horse racing print. According to Louis Maurer who worked with her, the one thing Mrs. Palmer could not draw was a horse.
Louis Maurer's wide range of talent made him invaluable to Currier. He did many of the horse and trotting prints, among them the Celebrated Horse Lexington. Most of The Life o f a Fireman series are his work, as well as The American Firemen set of four prints: He is also responsible for numerous hunting and fishing scenes as well as drawings of the western frontier, although he had no firsthand knowledge of it. However, no one would know it from the photographic accuracy of these pictures. He also drew many of the political cartoons. He died in 1932, the last surviving member of the firm of Currier & Ives, and it is through him that much information about the firm has come down to us.
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was another artist who supplied many of the original oil paintings for some of Currier's finest prints. Tait did none of the actual lithographic work nor was he employed by the firm. His paintings were actually done at Long Lake in the Adirondacks, and some of his notable pictures are the American Field Sports series, which include A Chance for Both Barrels, Flushed, "On a Point" and Retrieving, the pair of Camping in the Woods, and two excellent game prints-A Rising Family and The Cares o f a Family, as well as Mink Trapping/"Prime" and The Life o f a Hunter/A Tight Fix. Tait was regarded as one of our foremost painters of outdoor life, and his paintings are much sought after today.
George Henry Durrie also supplied Currier & Ives with oil paintings from which Currier produced some of the most attractive prints in his gallery. With the exception of Autumn in New England/Cider Making, they are all winter scenes. Home to Thanksgiving is his best-known subject. Among his farm scenes are The Old Homestead in Winter, Winter in the Country/A Cold Morning, Winter Morning/Feeding the Chickens, New England Farm Scene, The Farm-Yard in Winter, Winter in the Country/Getting Ice, and Winter in the Country/The Old Grist Mill. Durrie's farm scenes are among the most attractive and valuable in the entire output of the firm. Several of his paintings are now in the Stuart Collection of the New York Public Library.
Thomas Worth specialized in comic prints. Those subjects burlesquing activities of Negro life and the "white comics" pertaining to humorous incidents in railroading, hunting, fishing, and trotting are from his sketches. Although he caricatured the fashions of the day, Worth was also responsible for a number of the large folio prints such as Going to the Trot/A Good Day and a Good Track and Coming from the Trot/Spbrls on the home stretch, "Trotting Cracks" at the Forge, Trotting Cracks at Home, Fashionable "Turn-Outs" in Central Park, and many portraits of individual horses. Worth was not employed by Currier & Ives, but submitted sketches to them for approval. He also worked for many years for Harper & Brothers, drawing for them cartoons which bear a great similarity to those he did for Currier.
Charles Parsons, a notable artist of the period, was responsible for most of the incomparable clipper ship prints. At least ten of them were drawn, lithographed, or both by him. He also produced The American Express Train published in 1855, The Express Train of 1859, the rare American Railroad Scene/Lightning Express Trains leaving the Junction, and Night Scene at an American Railway Junction. His colorful print Central Park, Winter/The Skating Pond is one of the finest and most important of the New York scenes published by Currier. Parsons was head of the art department of Harper & Brothers for many years.
Another important artist was John Cameron, who probably lithographed more of the horse racing prints than all the other artists combined. He drew many other subjects but it was in the horse prints that he excelled.