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William Harring Von Ammon (AKA William Harring)


William Harring Von Ammon, (Prussian/German-American, 1811-1894) simply known as William Harring, was a noted oleographer/chromolithographer, chromographer/chromist (color separator), painter and naturalist known as the “Father of Lithography” in the United States. Harring was born September 5, 1811 in Kloster Vessra, a municipality in the district of Hildburghausen in Thuringia, Prussia, Germany (Harring was often referred to as either Prussian or German). He studied art in Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Paris where he soon attained remarkable skill in the combination of colors and color separation, greater perhaps than any other printer of his day. He resided in Kloster Vessra for thirty years before setting out to travel throughout Europe. He also served as an officer in the Prussian Army and was known to have had a taste for war. He was also an excellent shot and later became a member of the American Society of Sharpshooters.

In 1846, Harring established the largest lithographing firm in the Prussian capital of Berlin and began to lithograph and reproduce many of his own compositions. He later sold the business for a paltry sum so he could travel to London. From 1850 on, Harring had devoted himself almost exclusively to chromolithography. While in London, he became a professor and circa the late 1850's, he began a series of sketches and paintings of every animal in the famous London Zoological Garden, in perfect form and color by special permission from the authorities at the London Zoological Gardens. Each animal was lithographed separately, hand-colored and made into a collection which was published circa 1860, and quickly garnered wide acclaim for Harring throughout Europe for the series. In 1897, a set of sixty original watercolor paintings of birds and animals from the original Zoological series by Prof. Harring were donated by J.L. Bardwell to the Golden Gate Park Museum, San Francisco, CA.

After gaining a wide reputation in Europe for his chromolithography skills, Harring was brought over to the United States in 1864 by the well known printer Louis Prang, to work at his printing company L. Prang & Co. (1860-1897) in Boston, MA. Though the first American chromolithograph had already been printed by that time—a portrait of “Reverend F. W. P. Greenwood”, created by William Sharp in 1840—according to various accounts, Harring was credited with introducing oleography/chromolithography to the United States on a more mass-produced level while working for Louis Prang & Co. and became known as the “Father of Lithography”.

“The reason Prang decided to take on the challenge of producing chromolithographs, despite criticisms, was because he felt quality art should not be limited to the elite.”[1] For many years, L. Prang & Co. was known to have had a monopoly on the more artistic reproductions in chromolithography and Harring was the key to their early fame as one of America’s best printers which brought them great wealth and prominence. Though there was no real secret to the genius of Harring’s color process, Prang even went as far as telling his competitors that it was a secret art process and he “…guarded Harring’s room with the vigilance of a time-lock.”[2] At the time, chromolithography was a very tedious and time consuming process, sometimes taking months of preparation, color separation and final printing, with as many as 20-30+ different litho stones being used to produce one print before a regular run could be completed—but what a magnificent result it was! Louis Prang & Co. were considered one of the best printers and publishers of fine art prints form 1860 through 1897 when they then became Taber Prang Art Co. (1897-1938), who continued the tradition with high-quality printing through the early part of the 20th Century. By all accounts, Harring was the key to establishing Prang’s early reputation and worldwide success with his series of chromolithographs called "Prang's American Chromos: The Democracy of Art", after the paintings by well known American artists and later expanded to include works by European artists.

From one of Prang’s ads in a publication from December, 1869, they describe the Chromos: “PRANG’S AMERICAN CHROMOS are reproductions of Paintings by the marvelous process of Chromo-Lithography. The paintings chosen for that purpose are mostly the works of distinguished American Artists, and every one is a gem of its class. Our Chromo prints are absolutely facsimiles of the originals in color, drawing, and spirit, and their price is so low that every home may enjoy the luxury of possessing a copy of works of art which hitherto adorned only the parlor s of the rich.”

Prang did more to create the market for chromolithographs in the United States than any other publisher, and his work greatly influenced other publishers around the country. Harring's chromolithographs were of the highest quality known, and are sought by collectors today. Harring even made chromolithographs after his own paintings while working for Prang and many of Prang’s chromolithographic reproductions bear Harring’s printed signature in a few different variations to include; W. Harring Chr., W. Harring von Annon, W. Harring v. An., W. Harring v. A., W. Harring de An. Harring retired from L. Prang & Co. with quite a fortune himself by 1874, and became a naturalized citizen on September 25th, of that same year.

Soon after retiring from Prang, Harring decided to move to London around October of 1874, to invest his fortune in a new business enterprise as a ‘Fancy Box Manufacturer’. He became associated with three men in that business as a co-partner in the firm with Charles William Julius Claudius, Frederick George Chant, Horatio William Shepherd (business collectively known as Claudius, Chant & Shepherd), who later cheated him out of every cent he had invested into the company. The firm eventually went bankrupt and was forced to liquidate in 1876. Harring then returned to the United States around 1877, and sold some real estate that he had previously acquired in Boston, and moved out to San Francisco, CA, residing with his wife for most of that time at their home located at 1604 Stockton Street near Washington Square Park.

From that time, he worked as an oleographer/chromographer at the Bosqui Printing Company, Inc. until his death in 1894. Harring quickly became widely known for the series of beautiful high-quality oleographs of California grapes while working for Bosqui. The early series of 10 oleographs, “Grapes and Grape Vines of California”, were published in 1877 under the auspices of the California State Vinicultural Association from the original water color drawings by Miss Hannah Millard, San Francisco. The color plates included: The Mission Grape Vine, the Johannisberg Riesling, the Rose Chasselas, the White Muscat of Alexandria, the Black Hamburgh, the Flame Tokay, the Zinfandel, the Sultana, the Catawba, and the Emperor. The San Francisco Daily Alta California newspaper from December 9, 1877, heralded the forthcoming publication of Grapes and Grape Vines as “A Rare Work of Art.”, …and the production of the “ampelographie” (Greek for vine), a the study of the determination and description of varieties and their scientific classification, lived up to its advance billing. It was one of the most ambitious publication projects undertaken in nineteenth century California, and was inspired by European works of a similar nature. One of the plates, "The Johannisbrrg Riesling" alone, used 28 lithos stones to create just one print and it was later shown at the Paris Exposition in 1878 along with the others to great acclaim. Bosqui hoped to demonstrate the beauty, variety and superiority of the fruit of California’s burgeoning vineyards. The series of oleographs were also exhibited in 1884 at the “Loan Book Exhibition”, held at the University of California, Berkeley, CA. Speculation has been made that as little as 200 sets were ever printed and that most of the them, along with the original illustrations, were destroyed in three separate fires in Bosqui's studios, and that roughly only eleven copies remain. Experts surmise that if even one set of these rare prints were to come up at auction, it may fetch anywhere from $50,000-100,000 or more, and are considered even rarer than some of the original Audubon sets of "Birds of America" which some sets have brought hundreds of thousands at auction. Bosqui's Grapes is one of the most important folios ever published and represents several firsts in the history of printing in California; It was the first California imprint illustrated by a woman, the first imprint illustrated with chromolithographic plates and the first depiction of the California grapes in color. A true masterpiece in the history of printing in the late 19th Century.

As a person, Harring was considered a genial man and he was fond of mankind and art. His friends often spoke of him with admiration and great affection. For about eight years before his death, Harring turned to painting portraits in watercolors which were also considered exceptional. In addition, he was known to have been an active naturalist and amongst his other estate effects, he left behind a rare collection of butterfly specimens and a complete collection of his Zoological hand-colored lithographs, to his widow at the time of his death on January 19, 1894.

Select exhibitions included; Paris Exposition (1878); The San Francisco Art Association (1880-83), The Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco (1880 & 1890), the California State Fair (1881) and at the "Loan Book Exhibition", University of California, Berkeley, CA (1884).


Chronology:

1811- September 5, born, in Kloster Vessra, a municipality in the district of Hildburghausen in Thuringia, Prussia, Germany (Harring was often referred to as either Prussian or German).

Circa Late 1820’s-Early 1830’s- He studied art in Berlin, Munich and Paris where he soon attained remarkable skill in the combination of colors.

Circa 1830’s- He served as an officer in the Prussian Army and was known to have had a taste for war, and was an excellent shot.

Circa 1841- He left Kloster Vessra to travel throughout Europe.

Circa 1846- He established the largest lithographing firm in the Prussian capital of Berlin, where he lithographed and reproduced many of his own compositions and later sold the business for a paltry sum so he could travel to London.

From 1850 on- He devoted himself almost exclusively to chromolithography.

1853- July, William married Margaret (AKA Margareta née Stumpf, b. Nassua, Bavaria c.1830-), Pancras, London, and they had three children to include Clara (c.1839-), Herman (c.1844-) and Jenny (c.1847-).

Circa Late 1850’s- While in London, he became a professor, and with special permission from the authorities at the London Zoological Gardens, he began sketches and paintings of every animal in the zoo in perfect form and color. Each animal was later lithographed separately, hand-colored and made into a collection, which was published circa 1860 and quickly garnered Harring wide acclaim throughout Europe.

Circa 1860- The series collection of hand-colored lithographs of animals in the London Zoological Gardens by Prof. William Harring was published by W. Wells, London, England.

1861- William was listed as an artist and the family was residing in Clerkenwell St James, Middlesex, England.

From 1864-1974- Harring was brought over to the United States by the well known lithographer Louis Prang and worked for his at L. Prang & Co., Boston, MA, and is credited with introducing oleography/chromolithography to this country and became known as the “Father of Lithography”.

1874- September 25, Harring became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

From Circa October 1874-Circa 1876- After retiring from L. Prang & Co., Harring decided to move to London to start invest in a new business, as a ‘Fancy Box Manufacturer’. He became associated with three men in that manufacturing enterprise as a co-partner in the firm with Charles William Julius Claudius, Frederick George Chant, Horatio William Shepherd (business collectively known as Claudius, Chant & Shepherd), who later cheated him out of every cent he had invested into the company. The firm eventually went bankrupt and was forced to liquidate in 1876.

1875- December 13, While in London, Harring was initiated as a freemason member of The Lodge of Confidence (Lodge 228/193), London, England.

Circa 1877- Harring returned to the United States and sold some real estate that he had acquired previously in Boston, and then moved to San Francisco, CA.

From Circa 1877-1894- Harring settled in San Francisco, CA, and resided with his wife at 1604 Stockton Street, near Washington Square Park. He worked as an oleographer/chromographer at the Bosqui Printing Company, Inc. until his death in 1894. Harring garnered fame from a series of 10 beautiful high-quality oleographs of California grapes while working for the Bosqui Printing Company titled, “Grapes and Grape Vines of California” (1877), published under the auspices of the California State Vinicultural Association from the original water color drawings by Miss Hannah Millard, San Francisco. The color plates included: The Mission Grape Vine, the Johannisberg Riesling, the Rose Chasselas, the White Muscat of Alexandria, the Black Hamburgh, the Flame Tokay, the Zinfandel, the Sultana, the Catawba, and the Emperor. The oleograph series was exhibited in 1878 at the Paris Exposition, and also in 1884 at the “Loan Book Exhibition”, held at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.

1878- Exhibited, Paris Exposition, chromolithographs from the “Grapes and Grape Vines of California” (1877, Edward Bosqui & Co.), Paris, France.

1880- Exhibited, group show, The Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, CA.

1880-83- Exhibited, group shows, The San Francisco Art Association.

1881- Exhibited, group show, California State Fair.

1884- May 26-31, exhibited, group show, “Loan Book Exhibition”, 10 oleographs shown by William Harring from series “Grapes and Grape Vines of California”, after the original watercolor drawings by Miss Hannah Millard (1877), submitted by Edward Bosqui & Co., held at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.

From Circa 1886-94- Harring turned to painting watercolor portraits.

1890- Exhibited, group show, The Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, CA.

1894- January 19, died, at the age of 82, San Francisco, CA.

Memberships/Associations: The California Palette Club, San Francisco, CA; Initiated as a freemason member of The Lodge of Confidence (Lodge 228/193), London, England (Dec. 13, 1875); Member of the American Society of Sharpshooters.

Collections: Sixty original watercolor paintings of birds and animals from the London Zoological series of hand-colored lithographs by Professor William Harring (c.1860) by special permission from the authorities of the London Zoological Gardens, were donated by J.L. Bardwell to the Golden Gate Park Museum, San Francisco, CA, (March, 1897); Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Boston Athenaeum, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Boston Public Library, Boston, MA; New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH; Lingnan University, Fong Sum Wood Library, Hong Kong, China.

For additional information on this artist or for other possible examples of his works, please visit the AskArt link

(Written by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request.)
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