John Lewis Krimmel (United States-Germany, 1786-1821)

Figure 1.--Here we see John Lewis Krimmel's painting of 'Blindman's Bluff' in 1814. Notice all the children. Not only are their clothes depicted in detail, but also their activities, in this case playing a game. There are various levels of participation in the game, even mischievious boy preparing to trip his sister with a woodcen stool. We thought at first the man was blowing into some kind of exotic instrument, but a keen eyed reader points out that 'the man is the picture is lighting a cigar with a hot coal from the fireplace. The item he is holding is used to pick up hot coals or logs.' The safety match was not invented until 1844. This wonderful painting is a rare view of a middle-class home in the early American republic. Krimmel was America's first genre painter.

John Lewis Krimmel has left us wonderful genre paintings of famimly and public life in the early American republic. In fact he was the earliesr American genre painter. He was born Johann Ludwig Krimmel in Ebingen, Württemberg (1786). Johann decided to follow his older brother, who had immigrated to Philadelphia. His plan was to puesue business with his brother. After arriving in Phildelphia (about 1809), he changed his mind and turned to art, setting up a studio. And very quickly he was producing mot only portraits, but marvelous genre pieces. He did not study at prestigious German art schools. He may have had some water color lessons in London. He was a brilliant intuitive artist with a keen eye for detail. He stidied briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and with other artists, but was bascally self-taught. He honed his skills by sketching local people of all ages, classes, and races in aide variety of scenes. He worked mostly in Philadelpgia and did not travel widely. His outings to the nearby Lehigh Valley inspired landscape and botany studies. He achieved some success as an artist in the city. In addition to family scenes, Krimmel painted both election days and 4th of July celebrations, a political endorsement of American democracy in contrast to European monarchy. Even his focus on the mundane middle class scenes, show his approval of his adopted country' democratic principles. His sucess in Philadelphia meant that he was able to afford a trip to Bermuda and back to Germany (1817). His works are mostly limited to the 1810s because he tragically drowned near Germantown, Pennsylvania (1821). Otherwisehe would have left us more wonderful images of the 1820s and 30s, the last decdes bfore the advent of photography.

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Created: 7:43 PM 6/27/2015
Last updated: 6:57 PM 12/30/2016