Mammoth chromolithographic portrait of Columbia

Kurz & Allison Art Studio, [Untitled full-length portrait of Columbia]. Chicago, [probably ca. 1893.]
Chromolithographic poster on three sheets joined, 73 ½”h x 36 ½”w plus margins. Housed in a late 20th-century frame.
$15,000

A mammoth and spectacular chromolithographic poster of Columbia, likely prepared for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Owned in partnership with James Arsenault & Company.

The portrait depicts a full-length Columbia in a white chiton and blue cape, wearing a crown of stars and a liberty cap. Her right hand rests on a sword and a laurel wreath, while her left holds upright a shield emblazoned with the stars and stripes and bearing the word “Liberty.” As demonstrated by the image at left, the poster is enormous and an absolute showstopper.

The poster bears no date or title, but the subject matter and Kurz & Allison imprint strongly suggest it was produced on the occasion of the 1893 Columbia Exposition, even perhaps for display on the grounds. The Exposition, also called the Chicago World’s Fair, was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. During its six-month run, nearly 27,000,000 people attended, at the time roughly half the population of the United States. Its numerous displays and exhibits established conventions for architecture, design, and decorative arts, in addition to helping catalyze a new era of American industrial optimism.

Louis Kurz (1835-1921) and Andrew Allison established their partnership in Chicago in 1880, with the mission of producing prints “for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship.” They made their name with a series of 36 large-format prints of Civil War battle scenes, which were (and are) notable more for their colorful drama than historical accuracy. They also published portraits of famous Americans, scenes of disasters such as the Johnstown Flood and the 1896 St. Louis tornado, and prints of religious subjects. In America on Stone, Peters offers an idiosyncratic tribute to the partnership:

“It seems to me that this firm had the real news sense and lithographic touch, though I have not seen much of their work. The Lincoln one showing the house, horse, high hat and all, seems to express the very spirit of lithography. Also the Johnstown Flood print, for pure, wild, unadulterated American lithography running wild, seems a triumph. Note the lady escaping on the horse in her nightgown, without saddle, yet not deigning to throw her other leg over the horse—that’s the true spirit; the printmakers were always gentlemen at any cost.” (pp. 259-260)

A rare and impressive survival, eminently displayable.

References
Not in OCLC. Peters, America on Stone, pp. 159-160 offers a brief assessment of the firm of Kurz & Allison.

Condition

2” tear at top center, occasional inconspicuous creases and cracks in image, cracks in margin upper left corner, and repaired cracks in lower right corner of margin, but overall in surprisingly good condition.