Joseph Krementz and Francis Mergell
Joseph Krementz was once a prominent New Albany painter, photographer, and musician. After his death, The New Albany Tribune claimed him to be the “dean of Southern Indiana’s artists.” Krementz was born in Kriftel, Germany, in 1840, moving to Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1847. At eleven years old, he emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1851. He was part of a large family compared to sizes today, with seven siblings–three brothers and four sisters. Krementz’s sister, Anna, gave birth to the artist and teacher Francis Mergell.
Before the birth of his niece, Krementz had notable success in the art world. At nine years old, he won first prize in art, possibly drawing, at his West Baden School in Wiesbaden, Germany. At the same school, he received art instruction from Ludwig Knaus (German painter, 1829-1910). German-born Carl Pfietsch (German/American, 1917-1899) formally trained Krementz in the arts in the New Albany/Louisville area. Pfietsch was a portraitist, genre painter, and photographer in New York, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and New Albany. Krementz likely took great inspiration from his mentor, Pfietsch, becoming a painter of portraits and scenes of nature, a photographer, and a violinist.
The diversity of Krementz’s interests forms a Universal Man or Renaissance Man. He was an inventor, artist, and musician. His interest in photography led him to invent his own camera. Krementz and his two brothers, Thomas and Frank, were also associated with the Klauber Photographic Studio in Louisville. Krementz was also known in New Albany for using dry plates in his photographic process–an advancement in photography at the time. In addition to his photography and invention, Krementz played the violin and made violins and bows. Krementz also taught violin, and two of his children achieved musical skills–Edward and Mary. Krementz found inspiration in his other art forms, using his photography to create his paintings. Krementz used a lightly printed portrait photograph as a base for some of his pastel and oil paintings. Through his multiple explorations, Krementz achieves the title of a Universal Man.
With his universal qualities of invention and music, Carnegie Center for Art and History is proud to show Krementz’s work until April 1st. On view are two of his famous beech trees and a newly conserved portrait of Krementz and his wife, Louisa Krementz (about 1869). Krementz painted this portrait a year after his marriage and displayed it in the family’s home. In 2022, while a conservator was fixing a tear in the canvas, they discovered that the previous owner painted the background to cover small cracks in the paint. Before this conservation, the back scene was dark and empty, only to reveal the detailed breath of Krementz’s art. Large red drape bundles loosely hang in the right corner, while a fireplace emerges from the lower left behind Louisa Krementz. Above the fireplace is a mantel displaying a small image, a vase of flowers, and hanging artwork. Can you spot any more differences? The portrait truly comes to life with the revealed vibrant scene.
Left: portrays the painting before conservation. Right: after the conservation. Joseph Krementz (1840-1928), Joseph and Mary Louisa Krementz, about 1869, Oil on canvas, Framed 62 x 48 in, Gift of Richard M. Krementz 2017.004.026
In addition to his portrait work, Krememtz is well known for his forest scenes of beech trees–among his favorite subjects to paint. He greatly admired nature and recreated the beech trees in each season. There are two of these works on view in From Audubon to Sisto: Highlights from the Permanent Collection. These paintings likely portray a grouping of trees at the bank of Silver Creek, which Krementz frequently visited. He took a liking to those trees and painted them often. A tornado on March 23rd, 1917, blew down the trees he greatly admired. He expressed considerable distress over trees he felt were his “good friends.”
The beech trees were a significant part of his community and home. The woodland was close to Krementz’s two-story frame house on Market Street and his nearby family members, including his sister, Anna. Anna married Gottfried Mergell and gave birth to Francis Mergell in New Albany in 1876–Krementz was 36. Mergell taught at New Albany-Floyd County Schools for more than 30 years. While the relationship between the niece and uncle is unknown, Mergell’s art suggests an admiration for her uncle. Neighboring her uncle’s beech trees at the Carnegie Center for Art and History are two beech tree paintings by Francis Mergell. She likely created them because of their significance to her uncle. While she may have admired his work, she also was explorative in her artwork. Two untitled works by Mergell depict still lifes that are vibrant in color and verge of abstraction, a noticeable departure from her uncle’s work.
Left: Francis Mergell (1876-1974), Untitled, about 1910s-1920s, Pastel on board. Right: Francis Mergell (1876-1974), Untitled, about 1910s-1920s, Pastel on board
Left: Francis Mergell (1876-1974), Untitled, about 1910s-1920s, Watercolor on paper. Right: Francis Mergell (1876-1974), Untitled, about 1910s-1920s, Watercolor on paper
Please join us in celebrating Joseph Krements and Francis Mergell at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in From Audubon to Sisto: Highlights from the Permanent Collection, on view until April 1st.
- Payne, Warren, Julie Payne, Anonymous Artist Gallery. The Collectors’ Showcase: Artists of the Ohio Valley School and the Wonderland Way, 1883-1940. Louisville, KY: Anonymous Artist Gallery, 2002.
- Indiana Room, Krementz family: https://nafcl.tlcdelivers.com/#section=resource&resourceid=78133568¤tIndex=1&view=fullDetailsDetailsTab
- Indiana Room, Krementz Collection: https://nafcl.tlcdelivers.com/#section=resource&resourceid=381318615¤tIndex=0&view=fullDetailsDetailsTab
- Joseph Krementz is on pages 95 and 96. Ullrich C. Robert and Victoria A Ullrich. 2019. German Influences in Louisville. Charleston SC: History Press. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=2245212.
- Universal man explanation. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Renaissance-man
Learn more about Joseph Krements in Floyd County Library’s Indiana History Room! There is a Krementz family file and Krementz Collection available:
By: Sheridan Bishoff