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John Lewis Krimmel

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John Lewis Krimmel
Self-Portrait with Susanna Krimmel and her Children by John Lewis Krimmel
Johann Ludwig Krimmel

(1786-05-30)May 30, 1786
Württemberg, Germany
DiedJuly 15, 1821(1821-07-15) (aged 35)
Known forPainting
MovementGenre painting

John Lewis Krimmel (May 30, 1786 – July 15, 1821), sometimes called "the American Hogarth," was America's first painter of genre scenes. Born in the Holy Roman Empire, he immigrated to Philadelphia in 1809 and soon became a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Initially influenced by Scotland's David Wilkie, England's William Hogarth, and America's Benjamin West, he soon turned to direct observation of life for his genre scenes.

Krimmel was among the first artists in America to portray free Blacks, such as in Black People's Prayer Meeting (1813). Among his still frequently reproduced paintings are Fourth of July, Center Square (1811/12) and Election Day (1815), both filled with lively characterizations of scores of crowd members. Among the American artists influenced by Krimmel's work are William Sidney Mount, George Caleb Bingham, and Thomas Eakins.

Early life and education[edit]

Krimmel was born on May 30, 1786, in the small town of Ebingen in Duchy of Württemberg in Germany.

In 1809, Johann Ludwig decided to join his older brother, who had immigrated to Philadelphia. He initially planned to engage in business with his brother, but soon abandoned this occupation for art. Though he may have had some watercolor lessons in London, Johann Ludwig had no real formal training in art when he reached Philadelphia about November 1, 1809. The 1812 city directory listed Krimmel, who Anglicized his name to John Lewis, as a painter. He began painting portraits. But a copy of David Wilkie's Blind Fiddler persuaded him to turn to humorous subjects. He also painted historical pictures.


Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia an 1819 portrait
The Village Politicians, c. 1819
Country Wedding, an 1820 portrait

Krimmel arrived in Philadelphia, which was then the intellectual and cultural center of the United States. In Philadelphia, Krimmel soon joined the first known sketch club in America whose members included Thomas Sully and Rembrandt Peale. His first painting to excite public notice was Pepper-Pot: a Scene in the Philadelphia Market, 1811. The oil depicted a black woman ladling out bowls of her uniquely Philadelphian spicy soup to white customers of various ages, heights and social classes. This genre scene or depiction of contemporary everyday life was soon followed by many more in his sketchbooks and canvases like Blind Man's Buff (1814) and Country Wedding (1814). In all of his known oils, Krimmel included at least one animal (usually a frisky dog), sometimes two or three.

Pavel Svinyin, a Russian on a diplomatic mission to Philadelphia between 1811 and 1813, apparently bought roughly 14 sketches from Krimmel and presented them back in Russia along with works from a variety of sources as typical American scenes which he had painted. The pictures in the so-called Svinin Portfolio include Black People's Prayer Meeting, Deck Life on One of Fulton's Steamboats and Morning in Front of Arch Street Meeting House, which showed Quakers in their Sunday best. The Svinin Portfolio is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Though formerly thought to be Svinin's own work, the watercolors are now generally attributed to Krimmel.

Krimmel's works are still often reproduced in schoolbooks, historical works and magazines. Election Day in Philadelphia, perhaps his most famous painting, painted in 1815, illustrates Krimmel's ability to individualize crowd members with humorous observations. Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia, 1819 brims with patriotism and a spirit of unity in a neoclassical design. In Quilting Frolic, guests accompanied by a Black fiddler burst in to celebrate the finishing of a quilt before the needlework and clean-up of the room are quite finished. Art historian Guy McElroy has identified this work as one of the first "to utilize physiognomical distortions [wide toothy grins and over-sized lips] as a basic element in the depiction of African Americans...[1]" The depiction of a mother and daughter trying to persuade the drunken father to come home has caused historians of the temperance movement to praise In an American Inn as the first work of an American artist to illustrate this issue.

Krimmel recorded ideas for his pictures in a series of sketchbooks he kept between 1810 and 1821. From late 1816 to 1818, he travelled back to his home region as well as to Vienna and Salzburg, and his sketchbooks are filled with sketches of European landscapes, people, animals, and flowers. His encounters with local artists influenced his style to become more maturely romantic. Some of Krimmel's now lost paintings are known from detailed sketches, such as The Tea Party. Seven of Krimmel's sketchbooks are now in the library at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. They contain approximately 700 separate drawings, ranging from quick pencil sketches to finished watercolor pictures, which have been useful in authenticating unsigned paintings of Krimmel that surface from time to time.

Two sketches in his second sketchbook capture a typical Moravian Christmas home celebration and represent what are probably the earliest depictions of a Christmas tree in American art.[2]


On July 15, 1821, Krimmel went swimming near Germantown in a millpond and drowned.[3] He was engaged to be married at the time of his death.


Although Krimmel had been a painter only eleven years, his star was on the rise. He had recently been elected President of Association of American Artists. He had also received a prestigious commission for a large historical work, a 6x9-foot canvas commemorating the landing of William Penn at New Castle, Delaware in October 1682. While Krimmel's genre scenes found few buyers during his lifetime, engravings of his work made long after his death were widely circulated as prints and magazine illustrations.

He is recognized as the most significant American painter to consistently chronicle American life from 1810 to 1821.[by whom?]

In the 2010s and 2020s, a cropped version of "The Village Politicians" became a popular Internet meme. [4]

Watercolor pictures[edit]

Krimmel watercolor paintings on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City:

Selected works[edit]

Quilting Frolic, 1813
Barroom Dancing, c. 1820
  • Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market, 1811
  • Quilting Frolic, 1813
  • In an American Pie, 1814
  • The Country Wedding, 1814
  • Election Day in Philadelphia, 1815
  • Fourth of July Drunk Celebration 1819 - Philadelphia
  • The Cut P.P.
  • Blindman's B.J.
  • Going to and Returning from Boarding-School
  • Perry's Victory


  1. ^ McElroy, Guy C.; Gates, Henry Louis; Art, Corcoran Gallery of; Museum, Brooklyn (1990). Facing history: the Black image in American art, 1710-1940. Bedford Arts. p. 14. ISBN 9780938491385.
  2. ^ Harding, Anneliese. John Lewis Krimmel: Genre Artist of the Early Republic. Winterthur, DE: Winterthur Publications. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-0-912724-25-6 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ "John Lewis Krimmel Sketchbooks". Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  4. ^ "Angry Man Pointing At Hand". Know Your Meme. Retrieved 14 August 2023.