The Night Alarm shows a crew of fireman from Excelsior Co. No. 2 at 21 Henry Street. The men pull the firefighting cart with their pumping equipment out of the fire station by long ropes while two push from the rear, led by a fireman waving a bugle. Another firefighter holds the door open, one runs to join them, and another man stands to the right, presumably poised to lead them to the fire. Among the men, Maurer portrayed the publisher, Nathaniel Currier, and his brother-in-law and future partner James Merritt Ives, who were both volunteer firemen in New York during the 1850s.
The Ruins depicts an epic scene of a burning building on the right, its upper stories destroyed, with red flames consuming the first floor as smoke billows into the sky. Dozens of red-shirted firefighters from different fire companies rush around, pulling their carts, and hooking up hoses in preparation for extinguishing the remains of the blaze. (During the 19th century, it was generally impossible to stop a large building from burning down and the focus was instead on preventing the fire from spreading.) On the left, a crowd of mostly men has gathered to watch; on the right, four figures survey the scene from the roof of a nearby building. The firefighting carts and equipment in both scenes are rendered in great detail. .
Nathaniel Currier published four prints after Louis Maurer on the theme The Life of a Fireman in 1854. Currier & Ives also added two more prints to the series by other artists in the 1860s. The pair shown here is from the original 1854 set; the series was “immensely popular” (Bonfante) and they were republished in the 1880s with the publisher’s name changed to Currier & Ives. These prints are Maurer’s best-known works produced for Currier & Ives (Zellman). A detailed study of the prints and their historical context by Sara Duke may be found on the Library of Congress’s web site (see References below).
Louis Maurer was a lithographer and painter. Born in Germany, he was highly skilled at drawing and lithography and also trained in cabinet-making and ivory carving. A year after arriving in the U.S., he joined Currier & Ives as a staff artist and between 1852 and 1860 was one of the four principal artists who defined the Currier & Ives style. In 1860 or 1861, he went to work for the publishers Major and Knapp, and from 1872 until his retirement in 1884 helped run his own successful lithography firm, Maurer and Heppenheimer. Maurer specialized in genre scenes of sporting and outdoor subjects, including trotting horses. He also collaborated with the sporting artist Alfred Fitzwilliam Tait on a series of Native American subjects. After his retirement from the lithography business, he continued painting, gathering inspiration from two trips to the American West. Maurer, who lived to age 100, had his first one-person show at the advanced age of 99, and the unusual distinction of surviving long enough to see his Currier & Ives prints become collector’s items.
The lithography firm of Currier & Ives was founded in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier as N. Currier, Lithographer, and based in New York. In 1852, he brought his brother-in-law, James Merritt Ives, into the business and renamed the firm Currier & Ives five years later. They were extremely prolific and highly successful, producing almost 7,500 different separately issued art prints through the 19th century until 1907, aptly advertising themselves as “Print-makers to the American People.” Their prints were issued in either small, medium or large folio, though some particularly popular images were issued in more than one size. Dozens of American artists in the mid 19th century painted primarily for lithographic reproduction by Currier & Ives and other firms. To please a broad audience, the firm presented a warmly positive vision of America, frequently sentimental, and sometimes with a touch of humor. Currier & Ives prints generally portrayed the American landscape, scenery and landmarks, including the westward expansion, as well as daily life in both urban and rural settings. Their sporting and maritime subjects were particularly popular. These prints are now highly collectible as records of American history, as fine works of American art, and for their decorative appeal.
Full publication information on both prints: “Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1854 by N. Currier, in the Clerk’s office of the District Court of the Southern District of N.Y. New York, Published by N. Currier, 152 Nassau Street.”
Condition: Generally good with the usual overall toning, wear. Brightly hand colored. Margin shortened on lower margin but includes all titles and credits.
Bonfante-Warren, Alexandra. Currier & Ives: Portraits of a Nation. New York: Friedman/Fairfax, 1998. pp. 9, 23-41, 57, 94.
Conningham, Frederic A. Currier and Ives Prints: An Illustrated Check List. New York: Crown, 1949. 3518, 3520.
Duke, Sara. “’Always Ready’: The American Fireman as Historic and Cultural Icon.” Library of Congress Information Bulletin. September 2002 – Vol 61, No. 9. Online at http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0209/firemen.html (22 October 2008).
Zellman, Michael David, dir. American Art Analog. Vol. I. Chelsea House: New York, 1986. p. 257.