Cultured Wednesday: Carl Wimar

WIMAR.AMBROTYPE_thumbThe painter Karl Ferdinand Wimar, later known as Carl or Charles, was born in Siegburg, Germany on February 20, 1828, and died in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 28, 1862.  He immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 15.

Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the Missouri River was the center of America’s fur trading industry.  The diverse people and scenery along this route inspired young Carl Wimar.  During his years in St. Louis, he became fascinated with the Western Frontier, the Native Americans, and the objects they traded.  These interests, and their inherent conflicts, became the focal point of Wimar’s paintings.

In 1851, Carl Wimar returned to Germany to study at the then very influential Dusseldorf Academy.  The training he received there followed the European tradition of painting grand-scale historical compositions from nature.  But Wimar was no longer content to copy the works of others.  Instead, he began studying and sketching Native Americans, artifacts and horses, working in a very systematic process to develop a composition.

When he returned to the Midwest four years later, the focus of Wimar’s art changed.  The West was no longer a dangerous and uninhabited land, but seen as a land of endless opportunity and expansion.  So Wimar painted primarily themes of Indian life on the Great Plains, i.e. the Native American hunts of buffalo and other activities related to their nomadic lives.  He also painted Pioneer scenes of the emigrant wagon trains rolling across the western expanses.

But Wimar did not wish to perpetuate the romanticized myth of the American West, especially not in the last years of his life.  Instead, he chose to create works that objectively documented the land and its people before both became extinct.


Surely the above painting, Wimer’s “The Abduction of Boone’s Daughter by the Indians” (1855-1856), should look familiar.  The original, oil on canvas, can be admired at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX.   Free Admission!

The painting shows five Indians and Jemima Boone on a raft.  The capture and rescue of Jemima and two other teenagers, the Callaway girls, is a famous incident in the colonial history of Kentucky.  The girls were captured by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party and rescued by Daniel Boone and his party.  James Fenimore Cooper created a fictionalized version of the episode in his novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), and Carl Wimer was inspired to the above painting.  In fact, he painted the incident more than once.  Here is an earlier (1853) version of the same incident, obviously with a different focus:




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