Carl Wimar: Chronicler of the Missouri River Frontier

July 14, 2016 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian

Carl Wimar: Chronicler of the Missouri River Frontier, by Rick Stewart, Joseph Ketner and Angela Miller. New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 1991.

Carl Wimar was a German-born American artist who devoted much of his career to painting images of the American frontier.Wimar’s life was tragically short, but his output was impressive.His scenes of Indian life and dramatic portrayals of the conflict between Native Americans and pioneers helped to establish many of the myths of the American West that prevail to this day.

The book,Carl Wimar: Chronicler of the Missouri River Frontier, covers Wimar’s brief but productive career and examines not only the artist and his source materials, but the cultures in which he worked.Wimar returned to Germany in 1852 to study history painting.The artists’ skills improved and he also found an enthusiastic German audience for his romantic, imaginative images of the American frontier.

Wimar’s return to America in the mid-1850s found him in St. Louis, where he opened a studio and began traveling up the Missouri river on fur company steamboats, sketching Indians and landscapes and gathering artifacts from present-day Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

In 1862, near the end of his short life, Wimar undertook a series of murals for the courthouse in St. Louis.The authors explain the genesis of the project: “Just as the Eads Bridge would symbolize Saint Louis’ economic and cultural aspirations after the war, the courthouse was the prewar symbol of the city’s youthful ambition to become the new seat of American empire. Wimar’s murals expressed that civic spirit in its broadest historical dimensions. Combining history, allegory, and portraiture, the courthouse cycle depicted the epochal events, ideals and personalities that had shaped the history of the Mississippi Valley and that would mold its future, as envisioned by Saint Louis’s leading pro-Union citizens in the early years of the Civil War.”

The book is richly detailed and extensively illustrated, including many sketches and drawings never before published.The book provides insights into both the romantic West and the real frontier of the 1850s, just before settlement and civil war changed life forever.

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Last updated: July 14, 2016

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