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German Artists Draw First Hill Country Images

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Had artists Hermann Lungkwitz and Richard Petri stayed in their native Germany, their names may have been buried under an avalanche of other artists with similar training and talent. Instead they came to Fredericksburg, where their drawings and paintings became some of the first pictorial records of the Texas Hill Country.

Hermann Lungkwitz was born in Saxony in 1813. He met fellow artist Richard Petri while both men were students at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden. Lungkwitz later married Petri's sister Elisabeth.

In 1840s both men got caught up in an insurrection against the Saxon King. When the revolution failed, Lungkwitz and Petri, fearing retaliation, immigrated to America.

In 1850 Lungkwitz and Petri, along with members of their immediate families, sailed to New York. From Manhattan they traveled south to Virginia but stayed there only a short time. Petri had lung trouble and found the Virginia climate not to his liking. So they sailed on to New Orleans; then traveled by steamer to Indianola and by oxcart to New Braunfels. In 1852 they bought a farm southwest of Fredericksburg.

Hermann Lungkwitz - Texas Hill Country German artist
Hermann Lungkwitz
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society.

Richard Petri, Texas Hill Country German artist
Richard Petri
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society.

Lungkwitz and Petri were academically trained painters and illustrators, but they found it impossible to make a living as artists. The market for their work was limited. A more immediate problem was that supplies, especially paper, canvas and oil paints, were hard to come by on the Texas frontier.

So between chores on the farm, they scribbled and sketched on any scrap piece of paper they could find. Petri drew and painted on flyleaves of books and on the reverse sides of award certificates he won back at the academy in Dresden.

Petri sketched precise portraits of family and friends and scenes of pioneer life. He drew wonderful pictures of Native Americans. His work is important not only for its artistic quality but for its correctness and intimacy. Petri's natives were not wild-eyed savages, but sensitive, dignified human beings.

Of the 2 artists, Petri is less celebrated because his career was short. He was already sick with tuberculosis when he arrived in Texas.

He drowned in the Pedernales River in 1857. He went there to calm a fever, but his body, ravaged by disease, was too weak to fight the current. He is buried in the Lungkwitz-Petri Family Cemetery in Gillespie County.

TX - The Old Pinta Crossing on the Guadalupe
The Old Pinta Crossing on the Guadalupe
Painted in 1857 by Hermann Lungkwitz


Meanwhile Hermann Lungkwitz drew and painted detailed images of Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, San Antonio and Sisterdale. Other subjects included the old Pinta Trail Crossing on the Guadalupe, the Pedernales River, Guenther's Mill on Live Oak Creek and Bear Mountain. He loved the rugged Hill Country landscape and the bare granite mountains. He painted Enchanted Rock at least 6 times.

To make ends meet he moonlighted as a photographer in San Antonio. He painted scenery for the San Antonio Casino Club theatrical productions, and he gave private lessons in drawing and painting.

Lungkwitz moved to Austin in 1870 when Jacob Kuechler, Texas Land Commissioner and the artist's brother-in-law, offered Lungkwitz a regular job as a photographer for the Texas General Land Office.

While in Austin, Lungkwitz got to know artist W. H. Huddle who was engaged at the time in painting pictures of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston to hang in the state capitol. Knowing Lungkwitz's skill as a landscape artist, Huddle may have engaged Lungwitz to paint the background in those famous portraits.

Rudolph Biesele, author of The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831-1861 wrote "The portraits of these paintings (Crockett and Houston) were done by the artist Huddle, but the landscapes are the work of Hermann Lungkwitz."

Toward the end of his life Lungkwitz assisted his daughter Eva and her husband Richard Klappenbach on their sheep ranch near Johnson City.

His brother Adolph Lungkwitz was a silversmith and a tinsmith in Fredericksburg. Adolph's tin shop was located at 254 East Main Street (today the site of Lone Star Candy Company).

Hermann Lungkwitz and Richard Petri were among the first classically-trained artists in Texas. Their realistic images of the Hill Country brought them a measure of fame they might not otherwise have known.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" December 1, 2022 Column

"Lungkwitz is Best Known for Early Painting Of City He Completed in 8157," Fredericksburg Standard, May 1, 1946.
Rudolph Biesele, The History of the German Settlements of Texas, 1831-1861 (Austin: Press of Von Boeckmann-Jones, Co. 1930).
"Two Early Texan Artists Leave Legacy of Paintings," San Antonio Express, December 25, 1940.

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