Important American Paintings - September 2010
Johann Hermann Carmiencke
(Born Germany, 1810–1867)
Cedar Swamps, Cape May County, New Jersey, 1861
Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 × 46 1/4 inches
Signed at lower right: "H. Carmiencke N.Y."
Inscribed on center along bottom of stretcher: "Cedar Swamps. Cape May Co/N.J."; at bottom left: "Bailey 1861"

RS 634

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Johann Hermann Carmiencke first studied art in Dresden with Johann Christian Dahl (1788–1857). In 1834 he went to Copenhagen and studied at the Danish Academy of Art. After a period of study in Leipzig, Germany, he returned to Copenhagen in 1838 and became a Danish citizen. He traveled throughout Sweden, Germany, and Austria and visited Italy from 1845 to 1846. Carmiencke was appointed court painter to Christian VIII, King of Denmark, and at some point befriended Hans Christian Andersen. In 1851, alarmed at the anti-German sentiment in Denmark following that country’s war with Germany in 1848, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Carmiencke sketched directly from nature and composed in his studio dramatic, meticulously executed views that reflect his European academic training. He painted in the Catskills and Adirondacks, and has been associated with the Hudson River School tradition. Carmiencke was also a noted engraver and etcher. He was a member of the Artists’ Fund Society of New York and the Brooklyn Art Association. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1853 to 1859, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1855 and 1867, the Boston Athenaeum in 1861 and 1862, and the Maryland Historical Society. Carmiencke and twenty-three other artists left the Brooklyn Art Association in 1866 and founded the Brooklyn Academy of Design. One of his students was Carleton Wiggins (1848–1932). Carmiencke died in Brooklyn.1 Carmiencke was active in Cape May during the late 1850s and early 1860s. This view of the cedar swamps at Cape May is a far cry from the spectacular mountain vistas for which he was noted. At that time the swampy area around Dennisville was known for an unusual industry called cedar mining. Huge cedar trees that either died and fell or were blown down by violent storms sank deep into the swamps and were "found buried at various depths in the black peaty earth, mainly decomposed vegetable matter. The submerged logs were quite sound, the color of the wood was preserved and its buoyancy retained."2 Some of the logs were estimated to be over a thousand years old. Shingles made from these logs were in high demand among builders in South Jersey and Philadelphia; the roof of Independence Hall was reshingled with cedar mined from Cape May County. The industry gradually died out by the 1890s, when builders favored fireproof materials. Another version of this painting, dated 1859, is in a private collection.3 The artist is documented as having exhibited an On the Beach of Cape May (location unknown) at the Brooklyn Art Association in 1863.4


1. For biographical information on the artist, see Janet A. Flint, Johann Hermann Carmiencke: Drawings and Watercolors [exh. cat., National Collection of Fine Arts] (Washington, D.C., 1973).

2. Harold F. Wilson, The Jersey Shore: A Social and Economic History of the Counties of Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean, 2 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1953), vol. 2, p. 725.

3. The painting is illustrated in Artists of 19th Century Philadelphia, Philadelphia Collection 5 (Philadelphia: Schwarz Gallery, 1978), no. 4, where its subject is misidentified as a "Long Island Landscape."

4. Clark S. Marlor, A History of the Brooklyn Art Association with an Index of Exhibitions (New York: James F. Carr, 1970), p. 143.


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