Johannes Adam Simon Oertel

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Johannes Adam Simon Oertel
Johannes Adam Simon Oertel.jpg

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel (3 November 1823 in Fürth, Bavaria – 9 December 1909)[1] was a German-American Episcopal clergyman and artist.


After studying art in Germany at Nuremberg and Munich, he practiced engraving until 1848, in which year he came to the United States and taught for a time in Newark, New Jersey. In 1851, he married Julia Adelaide Torrey. They eventually had four children. After his marriage, he engraved plates for bank notes, painted portraits and colored photographs.[1] In 1857 he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design.[2] In 1857 he moved to Madison, New Jersey, where he painted Lament of the Fallen Spirits and Redemption.

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, New York City, ca. 1859

About this time, he was invited to assist in preparing new decorations for the capitol in Washington. In 1861 he transferred his studio to Westerly, Rhode Island, where he painted Father Time and his Family and The Final Harvest (1862), The Dispensation of the Promise and the Law (containing 150 figures, 1863), Walk to Emmaus, The Walk to Gethsemane, Easter Morning, Magdalen at the Sepulchre, The Rock of Ages, and others (1868).[3]

His painting Rock of Ages became enormously popular and was reproduced in millions of photographs and chromolithographs for sale both in the United States and England.

American Civil War[edit]

"Convalescent Soldiers Passing Through Washington to Join their Units" by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, 1864.

During the American Civil War, Oertel accompanied the Army of Virginia under General Burnside for several months in 1862.[1] His Virginia Turnpike and other landscapes were the fruit of this military experience. He also did some historical battle scenes, such as the "Battle of Sullivan's Island" that happened during the American Revolutionary War, and some illustrations for Harper's Weekly, such as the cover for November 15, 1864 issue, of "Convalescent Soldiers Passing through Washington, DC, to Re-join their Units" and "The Union Scout".

While residing at Westerly, he prepared himself for orders in the Episcopal church, and he was made deacon in 1865, and subsequently presbyter. He then confined himself almost entirely to the domain of Christian art, and painted pictures that he presented to churches in Glen Cove, New York, New York City, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and elsewhere.

St James Episcopal Church[edit]

"The Union Scout" by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, 1866.

The Rev. Johannes Oertel served as the priest of St James Episcopal Church in Lenoir, North Carolina, from 1869 to 1874. He was one of the first in the valley to offer a school for African American children, and offered religious services to those recently freed from slavery, including baptism, confirmation, marriage and funeral rites.[4]

The Reredos in front of the church is an outstanding exampal of his woodworking skills. Made from over four hundred pieces of chestnut, oak, poplar, holly, cherry, beech, and pine, they were often carved during missionary trips to the Chapel of Rest in Happy Valley, North Carolina, and the Chapel of Peace in Witnel, North Carolina The architectural design is Gothic perpendicular from the 14th and 16th centuries. While Rev. Oertel carved other reredos and altar rails, the one in St. James is considered to be the most intricate and notable. The altar painting (1872) is layered oil on canvass with gold gilt, and depicts Jesus administering Holy Communion to male and female communicants.

While at St. James, friends in New York donated the 100 year old pump organ from Christ Episcopal Church (Tarrytown, New York). The organ, dating from about 1770, was the first instrument to enhance the service in Lenoir. Rev. Oertel rebuilt the damaged organ, making new pipes, and a new wind chest and bellows. He then carved an illuminated case for the organ works.

By the main church door of the church is "Father Time and His Family", (1862, charcoal and pen on paper), which was completed in Westerly, Rhode Island. It depicts Father Time, his wife (the year) and their children (the months). Each child carries an item from the Cornucopia representative of their month.[5]

"Going Down to Gethsemane" by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, 1898

A collection of his art is held by the church, and includes: "The Wandering Jew" (1902?, oil on canvas); "Capturing Wild Horses" (print); "Founded Upon a Rock" (1900, oil on canvas); "Rock of Ages" (offset lithography), and known as his most popular work; "Man Rowing Out on the Sea of Life With Christ as Pilot" (1880, oil on canvas); "In Memorium" (between 1880 and 1900, oil on canvas board); "Christian Hope" (1867, oil on canvas); "Head of St Paul" (oil on canvas, unknown date); "Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" (1893, oil on canvas); "Prophecy of Balaam" (1891, monochrome oil on canvas); "The Four Evangelists" (1884, monochrome oil on canvas); "Lament of the Fallen Spirits" (1850, oil on canvas); "Mary Magdalene at the Cross" (ca 1902, oil on canvas); "The Good Shepherd" (1878, oil on canvas); "The Prophet Jeremiah" (oil on canvas, unknown date); "The King of Truth" (1903, oil on canvas); "The Prophet Joel"; The Prophet Ezekiel"; "The Prophet Isaiah"; "The Unknown Prophet"; "The Dispensation of Promise and the Law" (1864-1865, chalk and ink on linen-backed paper).[6]

He had charge of two parishes in North Carolina (in Lenoir) until 1876. He moved around a great deal as a priest and spent time in North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, St. Louis, Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia.

Portrait Painter[edit]

Portrait of the Mayor of Providence, Rode Island, Mr. Thomas A. Doyle, by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. ca 1869-1871

During his time, Johannes Oertel was also known primarily as a portrait painter, and often he would leave the church in Lenoir, North Carolina, to go north to raise money by painting portraits. Many of his head and bust portraits were popular after the Civil War, and he did a number of them for prosperous clients in New England. He made an interesting portrait of the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, Thomas A. Doyle, as a young man on his way up. He would later serve eighteen years as the mayor, and brought Providence, Rhode Island from a manufacturing town to a small metropolis.

The Rev. Oertel is also known for his head of St Paul, held today by the St. James Episcopal Church, and portrayed as a weary but stern man.

Later Years[edit]

Oertel was an instructor of art at Washington University in St Louis, in 1889-91. He spent the last 18 years of his life in a town near Washington DC, where he made many religious paintings and wood carvings. He painted a series of four large pictures entitled The Plan of Redemption which he presented to Sewanee (the University of the South in Tennessee). His last major work came in 1906-07 when he created the paintings and designed the new woodwork for the altarpiece of the Cathedral at Quincy, Illinois.[1]

Oertel's grave, Flint Hill Cemetery, Oakton, Virginia

Oertel died in Vienna, Virginia, where he was living with one of his sons,[7] and is buried in Flint Hill Cemetery in nearby Oakton.[8] Collections of his papers are held by the libraries of George Washington University[9] and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Downes, William Howe (1934). "Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  2. ^ Dearinger, David Bernard (2004). Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design: 1826-1925. Hudson Hills. pp. 425–6.
  3. ^ Downes 1934
  4. ^ Oertel Art & Tours St. James Episcopal Church.
  5. ^ "Father Time and His Family." By Johannes A. Oertel. [New York]: [publisher not identified], 1860. Notes: "On exhibition at Goupil's ..."
  6. ^ "Johannes Adam Simon Oertel: Priest- Painter- Carver." St James Episcopal Church, Lenoir, North Carolina. 2018? Visitor's pamphlet. 4 pages.
  7. ^ "Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon - NCpedia". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  8. ^ Rev Johannes Adam Simon Oertel at Find a Grave
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Johannes Adam Simon Oertel Papers, 1863-1908". Retrieved 18 January 2017.



  • AskART.Com: Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. n.d. Abstract: presents information concerning American artist Johannes Adam Simon Oertel (1823-1909). Additional information for Oertel includes a bibliography of publications about the artist, museum holdings, current exhibits, images of the artist's work, etc. Auction records, including highest prices, are available only to AskART members.
  • Edwards, Lee M. 1986. "Johannes Oertel (Attributed to) (1823-1909): Visiting Grandma (Painting)". Domestic Bliss, Family Life in American Painting, 1840-1910.
  • Falk, Peter H. 1988. "Oertel, Johannes A.S.". Dictionary of Signatures & Monograms of American Artists, from the Colonial Period to the Mid 20th Century. 313.
  • "Father Time and His Family." By Johannes A. Oertel. [New York]: [publisher not identified], 1860. Notes: "On exhibition at Goupil's ..."
  • Fielding, Mantle. 1983. "Oertel, Johannes Adam". Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers.
  • Herringshaw, Thomas William. 1914. "Oertel, Johannes Adam". Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography : Contains Thirty-Five Thousand Biographies of the Acknowledged Leaders of Life and Thought of the United States; Illustrated with Three Thousand Vignette Portraits.
  • Lenoir family. Lenoir Family Papers, Julia Adeliade Torry Oertel. Lenoir Family Papers. 1763. Abstract: Political correspondence includes 1866 letters about freedmen; an 1866 letter about the superiority of the southern female to women in the North; letters, 1866-1873, of William Bingham of the Bingham School; and letters, 1870s-1880s, about the currency question, the African-American exodus northward, and Walter Waightstill Lenoir's 1883 service in the N.C. General Assembly. Business letters relate chiefly to the dealings, beginning around 1867, of Walter Waightstill Lenoir and other family members in land development, especially around Linville, N.C.; specie speculation; silver mining; and agriculture. After Walter's death, Thomas Ballard Lenoir became a prime mover in the Linville Improvement Company. Routine family correspondence accounts for the bulk of the letters, with many items relating to the lives of the women of the family. Included are letters, 1867-1869, about Mary Elizabeth Garrett Lenoir's apparent eating disorder; letters, beginning in September 1877, from Julia Adeliade Torry Oertel, wife of artist and Episcopal clergyman Johannes Adam Simon Oertel; letters of Rufus Theodore Lenoir, Jr., at the Rutherford Military Institute and other schools, and, after 1897, from him and his wife Clyde Lyndon Lenoir in Athens, Ga.; and a letter in 1937 giving a brief history of the Bingham School. Notes: In the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#426).
  • Marks, Arthur S. 1981. "The Statue of King George III in New York and the Iconology of Regicide". American Art Journal / Publ. by Kennedy Galleries. 61-82.
  • McWhirter, Michael, W. B. Rogers Beasley, and Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. The Romantic Vision of Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, 1823-1909. Sewanee, Tenn: University Gallery, 1995. Abstract: Presents a short biography of Oertel and influences upon his art. Close-up views of paintings on display in the University Gallery are shown.
  • Merrill, Peter C. 1997. "Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon". German Immigrant Artists in America, a Biographical Dictionary.
  • The North Carolina Centennial Flag. [Raleigh, N.C.]: [William E. Pell], 1943. Notes: Typed reproduction of article from "The Daily sentinel, Raleigh, North Carolina, Wednesday, July 5, 1876, page 3, column 2"--Leaf [1].
  • Oertel, J. F. A Vision Realized; A Life Story of Rev. J.A. Oertel, D.D., Artist, Priest, Missionary. Boston: Christopher Pub. House, 1928. Description: 233 pages; frontispiece (portrait); plates; 23 cm.
  • "Johannes Adam Simon Oertel". Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives. Schweitzer Gallery files. Notes: The artist file may include any of the following materials: announcements, clippings, photographs, press releases, brochures, reviews, invitations, small exhibition catalogs, resumés, other ephemeral material.
  • Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Artist file: miscellaneous uncataloged material. n.d. Notes: The folder may include announcements, clippings, press releases, brochures, reviews, invitations, small exhibition catalogs, and other ephemeral material.
  • Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon. Johannes Adam Simon Oertel Papers. 1863. Abstract: Diary, 386 p., with entries dated 1868 to 1882, and about sixty enclosures from the diary, including some twenty letters to Oertel and copies of letters from him to others, newspaper clippings, and writings, chiefly poems and sermons, by Oertel and others. Among the topics covered in diary entries are the difficulties Oertel experienced in balancing church duties and the creation of religious art; his poverty; his frustration with an art-buying public that appeared to prefer foreign to American religious art and portraits of themselves and paintings of animals to religious art in general; his annoyance with the art establishment in New York and other major centers and with art agents and publishers; his confrontations with church officials in North Carolina and New York; and his difficulties with parishioners, especially in Morganton. In these entries, there is much about Oertel's efforts to make his family comfortable, but little about the activities of individual family members, except for their involvement in the Orange Springs, Fla., sawmill venture. Few friends and acquaintances are named. Two who were involved in his work were William Cullen Bryant, whose poems Oertel illustrated, and Sarah Rebecca Cameron of Hillsborough, N.C., with whom Oertel was involved in an aborted effort to produce an illustrated volume of religious stories. Notes: In the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#4592).
  • Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon, 1823-1909. Johannes A. Oertel Letter to Samuel Putnam Avery, 1867 May 25. 1867. Metropolitan Museum of Art; Thomas J. Watson Library.
  • Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon. Johannes Adam Simon Oertel: [Vertical File]. 1983. Notes: This vertical file may contain exhibition announcements and invitations, small exhibition catalogs, clippings, press releases, brochures, reviews, resumes, and other ephemeral material.
  • Oertel, Johannes Adam Simon. Papers. 1857. Abstract: Papers of Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, a painter, primarily of religious subjects, consist of a letter, 1857, discussing boarding houses in Washington, D.C.; and a letter, 1872, to Oertel from William Cullen Bryant, praising his work in illustrating Bryant's poem, "Waiting at the Gate." Duke University Libraries.
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum. Going Down to Gethsemane (Title). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA. 1920.7.2 Gift of Mr. J. F. Oertel, 1898. Lower right in oil: J.A. OE. 1898; lower left in oil: J.A Oertel/1898; back in oil: Going down to Gethsemane. Johannes A. Oertel./1898.
  • Vroom, Steven Michael, and Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. The Romantic Vision of Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, 1823-1909. [Sewanee, Tenn.]: University Gallery of the University of the South, 1995. Notes: Caption title. Catalog of the exhibition held Sept. 24-Dec. 10, 1995. Description: 23 pages: illustrations (some color); 14 x 22 cm.

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