Artist Biography

Peter Baumgras

(1827 - 1904)

Table of Contents

    By Chelsea DeLay

    I. Biography

    Born January 4, 1827, in the small town of Hamburg, Peter Baumgras was a German-born artist who later became known for his portrait and still life paintings. Baumgras first studied at the Düsseldorf Academy, and then went on to enroll at the Munich Royal Academy where he worked closely with Freidrich Kaulbach and Karl Schorn.[1] In 1853, shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday, Baumgras immigrated to the United States, settling in Syracuse, New York.

    Peter Baumgras’ career as an artist launched shortly after his marriage to Mary Thomson in 1856, when the couple decided to move to Washington, D.C. Shortly after the onset of the Civil War, Baumgras enlisted in the Union Army, where he initially served as a surgical draftsman, then went on to assume the position of Assistant Professor of Drawing at the United States Naval Academy.[2] His involvement in several social clubs connected Braumgras with the most important members of Washington’s art world; he was invited to join the Literary Society of Washington and the Society of Washington Artists, and in 1859 was asked to exhibit at the Washington Art Association. The level of skill and magnificent coloring demonstrated in his still life paintings garnered the attention of the faculty at both the Columbian College (now George Washington University) and Gallaudet University, resulting in brief tenures at each institution as the resident Professor of Art.

    Baumgras spent a short time in California during the early 1870s, which distinctly impacted his artistic style; Yosemite Valley (1879), his largest landscape painting, and Bighorn Sheep (1875) depict western landscapes infused with brightened colors and light. In 1877, Baumgras revisited Washington, D.C., where he once again participated in the growing art scene by contributing to the creation of the Washington Arts Club, which was founded with the intent to cultivate the fine arts and promote social interaction among its members.[3]

    In 1877, Baumgras relocated permanently to Chicago, where he remained active for several years. As a faculty member at the University of Illinois he taught drawing until 1879. He also enjoyed success at the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition, were his works were exhibited in 1885 and 1887.[4] Upon his return to Washington in 1900, Baumgras submitted himself to be considered for a curatorial position at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and justified his qualification by his wide range of experience and interaction with the “history of art and the leading artists of the past half-century of this country and art abroad.”[5]

    The final years of Peter Baumgras’ life were spent in Chicago, where he passed away in 1904.

    II. Chronology

    • 1827 Born January 4 in Hamburg, Bavaria, Germany
    • 1844–46 Studies at Düsseldorf Academy
    • 1847–52 Studies at Munich Royal Academy, under Freidrich Kaulbach and Karl Schorn
    • 1853 Immigrates to Syracuse, NY
    • 1856 Marries Mary Thompson
    • 1857 Moves to Washington, DC
    • Serves as surgical draftsman of Union Army
    • Assistant Professor of Drawing at US Naval Academy
    • Professor of Art at Columbian University (now George Washington University) and at Gallaudet University
    • 1871–75 Travels to California, where he is employed as an artist by Louis Agassiz
    • 1877 Founding member of The Washington Art Club and serves on the Executive Board
    • 1877 Settles in Chicago, Illinois
    • Hired as Professor of Art at University of Illinois
    • 1900 Applies for the Curatorship of the Corcoran Gallery
    • 1904 Passes away in Chicago

    III. Collections

    • Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.
    • George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
    • Lincoln Museum at Ford’s Theater, Washington, D.C.
    • McLellan Lincoln Collection of Brown University, RI
    • New Haven Colony Historical Society, CT
    • New-York Historical Society, NY
    • Oakland Museum, CA

    VI. Exhibitions

    • 1859–60 Washington Art Association
    • 1868 National Academy of Design
    • 1872, 1877 San Francisco
    • 1897, 1898, 1900 Art Institute of Chicago
    • 1898 Boston Art Club
    • 1983 National Museum of American Art

    V. Memberships

    • 1877 Washington Art Club (founding member)
    • 1901–1903 Society of Washington Artists
    • The Literary Society of Washington

    VI. Suggested Resources

    • Cosentino, Andrew. The Capitol Image: Painters In Washington 1800-1915. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.
    • Pratt, Waldo S. A Forgotten American Portrait Painter: Peter Baumgras 1827–1904. Hartford, Connecticut: Privately printed, 1937.

    VII. Notes

    1. Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active between 1898 and 1947 (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999), 239.
    2. Andrew Cosentino, The Capitol Image: Painters In Washington 1800-1915 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983), 252.
    3. Art Life In Washington: Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. vol. 24 (Washington, D.C.: Historical Society of Washington, D.C., 1992), 174. March 26, 2012.
    4. Kirsten M. Jensen, The American Salon: The Art Gallery at the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition, 1873–1890 (New York: City University of New York, 2007), 442.
    5. Cosentino, 92.

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