Theodor Frick, Porkpacker, Richmond, Va.
The legend on this painting indicates that by 1851, German immigrant Theodor Frick (1830–1881) was living in Richmond, Virginia, and had already established his butcher business. But it was not until 1878 and the end of the Reconstruction period that Frick, who had fought in and survived the Civil War, commissioned a fellow German to document his house and properties. Carl Hambuch arrived in New York City aboard the C. F. Funch in 1874, and is listed as an artist in the Richmond City Directory of 1877. According to family tradition, Hambuch achieved the painting’s elevated bird’s-eye view from the roof of a house across the street. This perspective, emphasizing individual buildings, was instituted after the war, when it became popular to publish detailed views of cities, hamlets, industrial complexes, and other scenes of progress.
The proud family stands on the sidewalk in front of their residence. Behind the handsome facade, Hambuch has documented the working buildings that extend deep into the property, with hayfields beyond. Each “haus” is marked with its function, from butchering to salting to packing. Away from the main house several tiny African American figures converse, work, and play in yards filled with lines of hanging laundry that includes a Confederate flag quilt. The skilled hand-lettered legend suggests Hambuch may have worked as a sign painter. It also shares a sensibility with the Pennsylvania almshouse paintings on zinc panels that were painted by German immigrant artists who were dwelling within during periods of insolvency or inebriety. Hambuch himself died under such circumstances in the Richmond city almshouse one year after this work was made.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Theodor Frick, Porkpacker, Richmond, Va.,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.