Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Louis Kurz

Louis Kurz (1835-1921) was born in Salzburg, Austria, as Ludwig Ferdinand Joseph Kurz von Goldenstein. His family emigrated to Milwaukee in 1848, where his father became involved in the German language theater. Louis’ artistic pursuits began with his painting scenery for his father’s stage productions and he also work with Otto Stietz painting stage scenery for other plays at Milwaukee’s Market Hall.


In 1853, the family moved to Chicago, where Louis worked as a muralist creating “views to decorate numerous entertainment spots” (Peter Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. 178). It was in Chicago that he likely received training in lithography, for when Louis returned to Milwaukee in 1856, he listed himself as “artist and lithographer.” In 1861 he joined with Henry Seifert to form the short-lived lithographic company of Kurz & Seifert, which produced a number of Wisconsin views drawn by Kurz.


Kurz then briefly served in the Civil War and in 1862 returned to Milwaukee to form another lithographic firm, L. Kurz & Company, financially backed by Hans Boebel. It was with this firm that Kurz began his work with tinted lithography and chromolithography, as evidenced by his prints of “Chicago, the Metropolis of the North West” and of the “Madison Engine Company No. 2.”

An 1863 Civil War token calls Louis Kurz a “Pictorial Lithographer,” and in this period he issued a number of finally rendered prints related to the war.


By 1865, Louis Kurz had moved to Chicago and became one of the founders of the Chicago Lithographing Company, along with Otto Jevne and Peter M. Almini. Jevne and Almini were emigrants from Scandinavia who had formed a decorating firm which specialized in fresco painting in a number of Chicago’s buildings. In 1866, the new lithographic firm embarked on the publication of an elaborate portfolio of views drawn by Kurz entitled Chicago Illustrated, intended to be issued in twenty-five parts, each of which was to include at least four tinted lithographs. The project ended in January 1867 after fifty-two images were completed.


A few years later the firm was ended by the great Chicago Fire of 1871, at which time Kurz returned to Milwaukee to found the American Oleograph Company with Hugo Broich. This firm lasted until 1878. After that moved once again to Chicago, and once again founding a new firm, this time with a financial partner named Alexander Allison. This was Kurz’s last new company, the firm of Kurz & Allison surviving until his death in 1921, when its assets were sold to Daleiden and Company.


Kurz & Allison became one of the biggest American lithographic firms of late nineteenth century, particularly well known for its production of bright, decorative chromolithographs. Their avowed purpose was to design “for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship.” Elaborate they certainly were–the majority of their prints being extremely busy, with action throughout the image. The prints published by Kurz & Allison were drawn, mostly by Kurz, in a rigid style that follows from Kurz’s background as a muralist, these prints have a simplicity and vividness that makes them not only interesting historical and social documents but also excellent large scale decorative images.


Kurz & Allison achieved the pinnacle of their success with prints of Civil War. Inspired by Paul Philppoteaux’s cyclorama of the battle of Gettysburg in 1884 (and directly copying it), Kurz & Allison issued a bright chromolithograph of the battle. This was a period of some nostalgia for the Civil War among veterans, who were now far enough past the actual war to think of their participation with some pride. When Louis Prang began to issue a series of Civil War prints in 1886, Kurz & Allisson reissued their Gettysburg image and began to add others, ending up with a total of 36 Civil War prints by 1893, all issued in a large format size of 21 by 28 inches.


For the most part, the prints were issued on or near the 25th anniversary of the battle depicted. They did not attempt to be strictly accurate, but rather to inspire patriotic feelings. Interestingly, a number of their prints showed the participation of Blacks in the battles, an unusual thing for the period.


Kurz & Allison later did prints of the Spanish-American War and the Russo-Japanese War, as well as portraits, sentimentals, religious images, views and disaster prints. Basically, Kurz & Allison followed the same popular print strategy as Currier & Ives had done earlier in the century, but using mostly chromolithography. When the firm was finally bought out by Dalieden & Co., they advertised the Kurz & Allison prints they continued to sell as “Pictures for the School Room and Hall.”


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