WIMAR, CARL (1828-1862)
Charles "Carl" Wimar was born on February 19, 1828, in Siegburg, near modern-day Bonn, Germany. He came to St. Louis in 1843, studying there under Leon de Pomarede. His early paintings of Native Americans were based on images from popular literature rather than firsthand knowledge. He earned his first public notice after returning to Germany to study at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. Returning to the United States in 1856, he decided to gain a more authentic knowledge of the country and of Native Americans. Like John Mix Stanley, Wimar relied on his own photographs as the basis of his paintings. From 1858 to 1860 Wimar traveled with parties of the American Fur Trading Company up the Mississippi, Missouri, and Yellowstone Rivers. He also accompanied shipments of annuities to tribes along the Missouri River. He used these experiences as the basis for a more realistic approach to tribal subjects.
As he came in contact with Native Americans his subject matter grew less romantic, shifting from themes of tribal war, buffalo hunting, and conflict with European Americans to the changing western landscape and the decline of tribal peoples and cultures in the face of European American expansion. In these years Wimar also painted several detailed panoramas of the Missouri River and the tribes living along its banks, the last large-scale works completed before European American colonization permanently altered tribal life there. Although known for his accurate portrayal of costumes and gestures, Wimar remained a romantic in his choice of themes. His most famous works include Indian Approaching Fort Benton (1859) and the important Attack on an Emigrant Train (1856), considered to be a prototype of the wagon train attack painting.
Wimar was commissioned by the city of St. Louis to paint murals for the city courthouse with western themes, all of which have since been destroyed. He died of tuberculosis in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 28, 1862.
Charles Vollan University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Stewart, Rick, Joseph D. Ketner II, and Angela L. Miller. Carl Wimar: Chronicler of the Missouri River Frontier. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991.