Carl Wimar 18281862

Unidentified photographer
Ambrotype, c. 1860

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; gift of an anonymous donor

Carl Wimar aspired to establish a reputation as the painter of the American West. Immigrating to St. Louis in 1844, Wimar became interested at an early age in the region’s history and Native peoples. He apprenticed with a local house and steamboat painter before deciding to pursue academic study in Düsseldorf, Germany, with artist Emanuel Leutze.

Returning to St. Louis in 1856, Wimar began to make regular sketching trips out onto the frontier to better understand the subject he longed to paint. His canvases tended to perpetuate mythic ideas about the West and the Native Americans who lived there, yet he was one of the earliest painters to devote himself exclusively to this subject.

Wimar’s paintings attracted favorable comment, and in 1861 he was commissioned to create four murals to decorate the dome of the new St. Louis Courthouse. Wimar completed the series but died of tuberculosis shortly thereafter at age thirty-four.