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 Thomas Nast  (1840 - 1902)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey / Ecuador      Known for: editorial cartoons, military genre, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Thomas Nast
from Auction House Records.
The Halt (The Drink of Water)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The foremost political cartoonist of his time, the late 19th century, Thomas Nast was the creator of three lasting symbols: the Republican elephant, the Democrat donkey, and Santa Claus, having done the illustrations for Clement Moore's, The Night Before Christmas.  President Abraham Lincoln regarded Nast's recruitment posters and newspaper promos as one of the most effective recruitment devices of the Civil War.

Nast was born in Landau, Bavaria and emigrated with his family to America in 1846. At age 15, he began his illustration career as a draftsman at Leslie's Illustrated Magazine.  Several years later he moved to the New York Illustrated News, and his first assignment was in England at the Heenan-Sayers boxing match.  After that, he went to Italy to cover Garibaldi's campaign to unite Italy, an experience that strengthened his own commitment to political ideals of freedom.

Returning to New York in 1862, he joined Harper's Weekly magazine where he was a regular for 25 years and drew several-thousand cartoons.  He focused on the evils of political corruption and was a great supporter of Abraham Lincoln and his goals of freedom and equality.  During the Civil War, Nast produced many war-related illustrations for Harper's Weekly.  One of Nast's assignments during the war was translating the hurried drawings of reporters into finished drawings for the engravers. However, this endeavor made him unpopular with his peers because he sometimes applied his own signature to the work.

According to documents in the Seventh Regiment Library of the New York Historical Society, "Thomas Nast enlisted as a private in the seventh company (G) of the Seventh Regiment of New York (7th Regt.NYNG) in September 1864, and serving a full enlistment, was discharged in September,1871, still a private."

He joined the Veterans Association (The Veterans of the Seventh Regiment), and was a member of its Uniformed Battalion, until it was asked to disband.  His most famous canvas is of The Departure of the Seventh Regiment for the Seat of War, which hangs in the Seventh Regiment Armory.  (As a matter of interest, the central figure in the canvas is another noted artist, Henry Colton Shumway, who was the captain of the 8th, H company. (FitzGerald)

After the Civil War, Thomas Nast was nationally famous, and his criticism of Andrew Johnson was a key factor in Ulysses S. Grant winning the presidency.  In the 1870s, he uncovered the conspiracies of New York's Tammany Hall Ring and the corrupt Boss Tweed, whom Nast portrayed in his cartoons as a bloated Caesar.  Nast is credited with eventually forcing Tweed out of office.

In 1886, Nast left Harper's Weekly and spent his later years in poverty and doing free-lance illustration.  In 1888, he was in northern California, staying briefly in Stockton and Fresno.  In Stockton, he gave a demonstration on drawing caricatures.  He also had a pension from the Veterans Association.  In 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt appointed him to a consular post in Ecuador, and six months later, Nast died of Yellow Fever in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Sources include:
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Kenyon B. FitzGerald Jr., Representative of the Seventh Regiment Fund, information sent to AskART

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is from the Barnes & Noble website ( review of the book, Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures by Albert Paine and Daniel Aaron.

His pen gave America the donkey and the elephant, symbols to this day of the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.  But Thomas Nast's (1840-1902) contributions to American politics extend well beyond those icons. Although he was born in Germany and died in Ecuador, Nast's impact on American politics is unquestionable--and in a burst of non-political creativity he created the fat and jolly image of Santa Claus that still endures.  According to historian and biographer Morton Keller, Nast "is the most powerful and influential cartoonist America has ever had."

Illustrators, Leonardo da Vinci among them, have used caricature as a political weapon for centuries.  Martin Luther and his supporters circulated illustrated pamphlets during their 16th-century battle against the Roman Catholic Church--a battle known today as the Protestant Reformation.  Benjamin Franklin's 1754 cartoon of a snake chopped into pieces, and captioned "Join or Die!" marked an effort to unify support within the American colonies for the French and Indian War. But Nast, who began drawing for Harper's Weekly in 1858 at the age of 18, established cartooning's place in America's political conversation.

A staunch supporter of the Union during the Civil War, Nast won praise from President Abraham Lincoln, who called him "our best recruiting sergeant."  Nast gained lasting fame for his 15-year battle against the corruption of Tammany Hall, the political machine that controlled New York City after the Civil War. His stinging cartoons helped send Tammany leader Boss Tweed to prison and brought Tweed's machine to its knees.

Nast, who lived much of his life with his wife and children in Morristown, New Jersey, lost all of his money in bad investments.  President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Nast as Counsel General to Ecuador in 1902; Nast died there that same year.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Landau, Bavaria on September 27, 1840.  Nast came to the U.S. in 1846.  He grew up in New York City and studied at the National Academy of Design.  He reported for Harper’s from the onset of the Civil War until 1886.

In spring of 1888 he visited northern California.  Coming through Stockton, he was in Fresno only briefly.  While there, he gave a two-hour demonstration on caricature and entertained with an elegant dinner.

Nationally famous for his political cartoons, he created the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant as political symbols.

Nast died on Dec. 7, 1902 in Guayaquil, Ecuador where he was the American Consul-General.

Exhibitions: Brandywine River Museum (PA), 1999 (retrospective).

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art and Artists of 19th Century Fresno (Ralph J. Gorny); Fresno Expositor, 3-14-1888 thru 3-19-1888; American Art Annual 1903 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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Thomas Nast is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Civil War Art

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