Family in St. Louis
He was the son of Heinrich Konrad "Leopold" Gast (1810-1898) and Bertha Pauline Henriette Volkmann (1819-1902). The family emigrated from Berlin to central Missouri wine country (present day Hermann, Missouri) before 1850. From there, the family moved to St. Louis a few years later. Leopold was a master lithographer, and with his brother August established the August Gast Banknote and Lithograph Company. It was a prominent printing house, making financial documents for governments, letterhead designs for industry, ornate certificates for churches, and many other paper documents for customers across the United States. The company exists today and its historic products are popular among collectors. John's brother Paulus became a prominent business and political leader in St. Louis. He established the Gast Winery in the Baden neighborhood after discharge from the Union Army in the Civil War in 1865, and this evolved into the Gast Brewery by 1900. The wine was shipped across the country and the brewery lasted into the 1940s.
Education in Europe
John inherited his father's talent for lithography and was immensely gifted. He left for Berlin in 1860 to finish his education during the Civil War. He earned a degree from the Royal Academy there and returned to St. Louis to work at his father's company. After three years, about 1867, he went to Paris to study art. The 1870 Census shows him living with his parents in St. Louis but within a year, he was working in New York. His drawings from Paris, Missouri, and New York at this time are in the Autry Museum collection.
Life and career in New York
He married Augusta Marie Catherine Stohlmann (1841-1924) of New York about 1870. The couple resided at 297 Adelphi Street in Brooklyn. They had at least three children. Son John survived only a year, son Karl married but died in his 20s, and daughter Mary Louise Katherine Gast (1879-1940), survived into full adulthood.
In New York, John Gast helped launch the New York Daily Graphic, a newspaper that had a special lithographic section. He worked at the paper for about five years, but went on to establish his own lithograph firm, Gast and Company. John received patents for several lithograph processes and equipment, such as a special lithograph screen that enabled color printing. His company became the Photo-chrome Company and later Grey and Company. He is considered the inventor of the three-color lithograph process. Failing health required him to step back from his business ventures. He died of liver cancer in 1896 at age 53.
His most famous painting was American Progress that was commissioned by George Crofutt, a publisher who reproduced the painting in his many travel guides to the American West. The painting glorified westward expansion and is considered the American equivalent to Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830). Some of Gast's other paintings include: Bluffs on the Mississippi Below the Arsenal (1865), Angel Sitting on Mountain Top (1871), untitled (mother adjusting a blanket...) (1870s), American Prostonewares (1872), and Homeward (a ship sailing under dark skies, painted March 24, 1896, a few months before his death and perhaps his last work). His works are generally signed and dated.
- Obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle, July 27, 1896, p. 7, c. 2.
- "Leopold Gast (1810-1898) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "August Herman Ludwig Gast (1819-1891) - Find A..." www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "About Us". Gast Companies. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "Paulus Gast (1841-1906) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- Kargau, Ernst D. (2000). The German Element in St. Louis: A Translation from German of Ernst D. Kargau's St. Louis in Former Years : a Commemorative History of the German Element. Genealogical Publishing Com. ISBN 978-0-8063-4950-3.
- "Autry National Center | Collections Online". collections.theautry.org. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "Obituary: John Gast". The Standard Union. July 28, 1896.
- "Will Not Grant a Registry". The Brooklyn Eagle. October 16, 1895.
- "Picturing US History - John Gast, American Progress, 1872". picturinghistory.gc.cuny.edu. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- "John Gast Paintings & Artwork for Sale | John Gast Art Value Price Guide". www.invaluable.com. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
- Biography of John Gast on askart.com.
- John Gast, American Progress, 1872, essay by Martha A. Sandweiss on City University of New York website.
- Two lithographies by John Gast on Library of Congress website.
- Entry in Goulding's New York City directory (1877), listing him as GAST JOHN, artist & lithographer, 39 Park pl. h B'klyn