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 Ernest Christian Rost  (1867 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: landscape, engraver, photo-journalist

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Ad Code: 3
Ernest Christian Rost
from Auction House Records.
A Glimpse of the Connecticut
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
ERNEST CHRISTIAN ROST: Artist, Pioneer Photo-Journalist, Adventurer, and Botanist.
2003 by Jonathan Dobin.

Ernest Christian Rost was born January 20, 1867*, at Mt. Vernon, N.Y. He was the son of Christian Wilhelm and Minna M. Rost. Christian Rost was a German-born artist, having studied in Paris and London. He was highly regarded for his fine wood and copper engravings -- renderings of governmental buildings on bank notes and official documents; images on early postage stamps (see Museum of the United States Essays and Proofs; 3-cent stamp); and earlier for his documenting the Crystal Palace and other exhibits of the 1850 World's Fair in London. He was also admired for his engraved landscapes, claimed by some contemporaries to be among the finest they'd seen. He married his cousin Minna M. Rost, who earned the distinction as being the proprietor of a very unique and successful military insignia manufacturing company on 13th Street, after the couple settled in New York City. Minna's business particularly flourished during the Civil War.

Ernest was the fourth of six children, and the only son surviving into maturity. Christian Rost was acknowledged as being a very patient teacher. Ernest received much technical grounding and encouragement from his father and his mother as well.

Early Works - Oils to Etchings
Rost did landscapes in oils during 1880's. His works were shown at the National Academy of Design in New York City, where he garnered several awards. As was the case with his somewhat older contemporary, Edward Loyal Field, Rost's paintings were rendered in the Tonalist style (i.e.; atmospheric, enigmatic landscapes -- rendered with broad and feathered brush strokes ... a style akin to impressionism -- utilizing warm and earth tones.). In addition to his studies in New York, Ernest studied in Europe and was a student of the Barbizon school of landscape artists. He set up a studio in New York City and also Arkville, NY - until a fire destroyed that studio and much of his earliest work.

After 1887 Rost turned more and more to the medium of etching upon copper plates. By 1890 etching/engraving became his primary discipline. Also like Edward Loyal Field, Rost's etchings and engravings completely embrace the new medium on its own terms -- noted in their day for their naturalistic composition, as well as for their attention to detail and linear assuredness.

The bulk of Rost's etchings date from 1890 through 1896, though this writer has one dated 1889 and has seen several of his works copyrighted as late as 1903. Rost's work depicts mostly New York and tri-state rural or country scenes. The composition of some of his earliest works includes people, dogs, and horses as well as the rural scenes that they inhabit. In addition, he did a number of etchings illustrating the homes of important contemporary writers and statesmen.

Rost Sues Publishers
Ernest sued his New York agents Fishel, Adler and Schwartz Co. in 1894. An office boy was forging Rost's names on rejected images and claiming they were artist's proofs. [An artist's proof is a print pressed/ pulled and created by the artist himself (or supervised by the artist) outside of the regular (multiple) run of a particular lot of etchings. A proof is an endorsement by the artist that the print represents an original of the highest quality]. Though Ernest prevailed at trial, he was not compensated for damages of prints sold. After this ordeal, Rost was so angered, that he turned his focus more and more to photography, though this writer has come across a number of prints published after 1894 and as late as 1903 published by James Tryoler and by Rost himself: "Copyright by Ernest C. Rost, New York" (including original works and, significantly, works by others).

Focus Changes To Photo-Journalism, Writing And Exploring
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War (1898), Rost was sent by the U.S. War Department to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Panama and Guam as a civilian photographer of military operations and installations. By so doing, he became one of the government's first commissioned photojournalist. His travelogue journeys were well published and circulated. Rost's photos were praised for their spontaneous quality, a very difficult quality to achieve considering the heavy equipment and time-consuming photographic techniques of the period.

Between 1899 and 1900, at least seven articles by Rost appeared in the popular 'Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper'. He also wrote for Harper's and Scientific America. His first-hand photographs of the second eruption of Mt. Pelee were also circulated and admired. On behalf of the explorer, Frederick Cook, Ernest was called upon to act as expert witness in the still infamous Cook vs. Peary North Pole trial/dispute. Ernest attested that Robert Peary's photograph (used to discredit Cooks ascension to the top of Mt. McKinley) were in fact doctored photos - combining several photos and drawing (perhaps our first official case of an altered photograph?).

Ernest married Alice Hoffman (from Delaware?), an artists' model. Alice died in 1898 at a young age, when the couples' only son, Miles Ernest, was barely 4 years of age. Because Ernest's mother Minna was so occupied with filling orders in her business, Ernest, a devoted father, eventually took full-time care of his son, bringing him along on his travels and as he moved across the country.

California Bound and Explorations of Cacti
In 1907, Ernest married Etta N. Newbury, a writer who also used the pseudonym, Esther Norton.

By 1918, the Rosts settled in California with the dream of cultivating a vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley. This ventured proved unsuccessful and they moved to Alhambra, wherein Rost devoted his life to studies of cacti. In this capacity, he traveled extensively throughout Southwest -- collecting and classifying desert plants. He was invited to lecture extensively about cacti and invited to publish his findings in several prestigious botanical journals of the time. So great was he respected in the field that several species of cacti were named after both him and his son, Miles.

Ernest's Son, Miles
Miles Rost developed into an artist of distinction and acclaim in his own right -- perfecting a detailed cross-hatching style with quill pen and multiple layers of colored inks. Miles' studies of fish were considered by many to be on a par with Audubon's studies of birds; as they depicting fish with their natural colors for the first time (so often their colors change upon death and were, as a result, not always rendered accurately). In addition, Miles did portraits and landscapes in oils.

Of interest is that then, as now, many people acquired Ernest's works yet knew little about him. Miles met his wife-to-be, Mildred, as a result of this. When she was a teen, Mildred's r father acquired a print of "Old Elm Road," one of Ernest's most popular etchings. Years later, after seeing Rost's name in a local California newspaper, she and her father tracked down the artist and his family. She then met Miles and the rest, as they say, is history!

A Remarkable Life
Ernest Rost lead a remarkable life: becoming an accomplished painter, engraver, adventurer, writer, photojournalist, botanist and lecturer -- acquiring a noteworthy level of expertise in every one of those fields. He traveled and frequently lectured to great applause. He remained in California until his death in 1940 at the age of 73.

His etchings/photos or articles are represented in the Library of Congress, US National Archives; Brunnier Art Museum, Ames, Iowa; Center for American Music - Stephen Foster Memorial University of Pittsburgh; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. In addition the Huntington Library and the Smithsonian libraries have extensive files regarding his work with cacti and travel-related photography

Excerpt of Biography by Jonathan Dobin found on:
* Previously, Ernest's birth has been listed as 1866. 1867 is confirmed as his true date of birth by his daughter-in-law, Mildred, by personal letters and papers in Huntington Library, and by his Death Certificate of 1940.

Biography copyright 2003 by Jonathan Dobin. All rights reserved
If you wish to use excerpts of this biography or that listed at, please contact the author at for permission.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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