Brrr, It’s Cold Outside …

February 5, 2013

Can you imagine painting outdoors during the bitter cold snaps we have endured this year in north-central Kentucky?

1958.24That is exactly what Louisville artist Carl Christian Brenner did! “The weather never stopped Brenner,” wrote Jean Howerton Cody in a 1979 Louisville Courier-Journal column. “He would set up his easel and a folding chair in a portable hut with large glass exposures and paint away in rain or snow.” Brenner loved nature and being outdoors, especially rambling around the forests and fields of his adopted hometown and its vicinity. As Diane Heilenman described in a 1985 Louisville Courier-Journal article, “Wearing his artist’s hat and carrying a staff and a paint box, Brenner was a familiar figure in Louisville parks and Pewee Valley woods.”

Brenner’s most iconic paintings are detailed landscapes of his favorite haunts: scenes from what is now Cherokee Park and along River Road in Louisville, Pewee Valley in Oldham County, and the hills just across the river in New Albany, Indiana. His favorite subject was beech trees, as illustrated above. He painted other Kentucky views as well, including the Cumberland Mountains and the Falls of the Cumberland River in Whitley County. At various times Brenner also visited the Southern wetlands and highlands to paint, and traveled West to the Plains states, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, and the Rocky Mountains. (Brenner is also known to have occasionally painted portraits and experimented with printmaking and graphic art.)

“Brenner’s view of the 2008.2.8city’s parks and woods were THE thing in Victorian Louisville,” declared Heilenman. “Louisville author Meliville O. Briney once wrote, ‘If you grew up in Louisville, a Brenner painting on the wall is as much a part of your pleasant childhood as a rose-back sofa in the parlor or the fire of cannel coal that burned in grandma’s grate.’” While his works demonstrate a wide range of styles, including Realism and Romanticism, after 1878 Brenner was considered part of a group of Louisville artists known as Tonalists, who used muted color to evoke mood. Brenner paid special attention to seasonal effects and time of day through his sensitive rendering of natural light and shadows.

Carl Christian Brenner was born August 1, 1838 in Lauterecken, Bavaria (Germany), and attended public schools there from age six to fourteen. According to “A Biographical Sketch of Carl Brenner” in The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Kentucky of the Dead and Living Men of the Nineteenth Century (1878), a teacher who recognized his artistic talent made application to King Ludwig I for Carl’s admission to the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. The king readily granted permission but Carl’s father, a glazier by trade, refused consent for Carl to pursue further art studies. His father objected to art as a career, believing that nobody could make a living as an artist, and wanted Carl to train (and join two other sons) in the family business.

The Brenner family emigrated to the United States in 1853, when Carl was fifteen. They landed in New Orleans, where there was a strong German presence in the arts community, and stayed there briefly before journeying upriver that winter to Louisville, Kentucky, which also had a substantial German population. Carl remained in Louisville for the rest of his life. He originally worked with his father as a glazier (which turned out to have been a handy skill for constructing that portable hut!), then later as a house, sign, and ornamental painter. Carl’s artistic workmanship drew much admiration, however, even when used just for painting signs.

1988.9.2Not long after arriving in Louisville, Brenner’s talent was noticed by an influential patron of the arts, George P. Doern, publisher of the Louisville Anzeiger, a German-language city newspaper. After seeing Brenner’s pencil sketches of scenes along the Mississippi River, Doern advised him to become a landscape painter. In 1863, Brenner received his first professional artist’s commission, a vast panorama (35,000 square feet) of Civil War scenes, from its beginning through the battles at Chancellorsville, for the Masonic Hall of Louisville. By 1867, Brenner had rented a studio at 103 West Jefferson Street, where he pursued his true passion of painting canvases when he was not painting signs and houses to afford his avocation.

In 1871, Brenner began devoting more of his energies to landscape painting. His friend, U.S. Representative (and future Kentucky governor) J. Proctor Knott is said to have boosted Brenner’s career around 1874 by arranging for the sale of his painting Beeches to William Wilson Corcoran, founder of the Washington, D.C., gallery that bears his name. (Brenner named one of his sons after Knott.) Encouraged by the Corcoran sale and the Civil War panorama commission, Brenner gave up his business to become a full-time landscape painter at the age of forty, using his earnings as a glazier, house, and sign painter to establish his own studio at 407 South Fourth Street (Fourth and Jefferson) in 1878.

Brenner had become a very popular and well-esteemed figure about town. “Night-time sales of his work in his gas-lit studio were social events of the time,” stated Heilenman. (Sounds a bit like the current First Friday Trolley Hop tour of art galleries in downtown Louisville, doesn’t it?) Cody shared a contemporary account of one such event: “Every year, just before Christmas, Brenner conducted his annual auction at his studio. A newspaper account in 1885 noted, ‘The studio was well filled last evening. The bidding was lively, although the pictures went for very modest sums.’ The top price was $113.” Heilenman also noted, “Prices rose from $35 a painting in the 1870s to more than $1000 just before his death.”

During his lifetime, 1999.12.8Brenner was the most well-known of Kentucky artists. His paintings were exhibited in Vienna, Philadelphia, New York, and California, as well as regionally in the first Louisville Industrial Exposition in 1874 (and every subsequent annual exposition) and the 1883 Southern Exhibition on the site of what is now St. James Court in Old Louisville.

Brenner’s 1864 marriage to Anna Glass, daughter of an eminent Louisville violinist, produced six children. Three sons inherited his artistic talent; Edward became an architect and Proctor Knott studied art before taking holy orders at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana. Carolus showed such promise that he was sent to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, since his father knew for certain that one could indeed make a living as an artist! Several works by Carolus are also in KOAR, one of which is included as the last image here. (Perhaps more on Carolus in a future blog…)

Carl Christian Brenner died of a kidney ailment on July 22, 1888, in Louisville and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery. “Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal, wrote in 1888, shortly before Brenner’s death at the age of 50, ‘It was a grand triumph of Carl Brenner, an untutored sign painter of limited education and little or no instruction in art, to have painted the beech better than any American dead or alive,’” Cody quoted, then later continued, “Brenner, at the time of his death, was written up in the London Magazine of Art. Not bad for a self-taught artist from Louisville.”


An image of Carl Brenner sketching on the Kentucky River is available at:

“Brenner on the wall used to be central to being a kid” by Jean Howerton Cody in the Louisville Courier-Journal, November 8, 1979, is available at:

“A Legacy – Carl Brenner 1838-1888” by Diane Heilenman in the Louisville Courier-Journal, February 3, 1985, is available at:

Available through the KOAR Publications webpage ( are:

Catalogue of the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum’s 1947 exhibition “Kentucky Paintings by Carl Christian Brenner” at:

Patty Prather Thum’s “Artists of the Past in Kentucky”, which contains an informal biographical sketch of Brenner on p. 11-12, at:


KOAR images shown here (top to bottom):

1958.1.24                Carl Christian Brenner, Winter
2008.2.8                  Carl Christian Brenner, Winter Landscape
1988.1.9.2               Carl Christian Brenner, Winter Sunset
1999.1.12.8             Carolus Brenner, Untitled


Louisville’s Historical Glass Flasks, Part 2

January 6, 2012

Handblown glass flasks of the nineteenth century are distinctively American forms. Originally intended as containers to hold distilled spirits, they also were used for a few other liquid products such as medicines and bitters. Unlike today, distillers did not bottle their own spirits. Instead merchants, druggists, tavern keepers, and other vendors would fill glass containers from distillery casks for sale to customers, who could get these bottles refilled at the same place.

GIX-8 "scroll" (or "violin") flask
GIX-8 “scroll” (or “violin”) flask

Portable easy-to-carry flasks were made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, in over 750 known designs. The range of shades and colors was often due to various impurities in the ingredients used to make the glass, especially the aquamarines, greens, and ambers resulting from iron oxides; for more brilliant or intense colors such as purples and blues, other specific metal oxides were added intentionally. Figured flasks (also referred to as “historical”, “pictorial”, or “decorative”) with embossed motifs and molded designs were manufactured primarily between 1815 and 1870. Since they were both functional and attractive, these flasks became quite popular
and seldom were discarded unless broken, so many still survive.

As mentioned in our earlier blog, from 1850 to 1901 at least seven glass factories operated in Louisville and two others just across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. Several were known by more than one business name over the years, and many glassblowers in the Louisville factories also were involved at various times with those in New Albany. The earliest known evidence of glass manufacturing in Louisville is the formation of the original Kentucky Glass Works (1850-circa 1855), which in later years became more commonly known as the Louisville Glass Works (circa 1855-1873). The 1850 Census recorded a total of 50 workers employed there, 21 of them glassblowers. The sand used for making the glass was from nearby Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky, as reported in the February 3, 1866, issue of the Louisville Industrial & Commercial Gazette.

GII-27 "FARLEY & TAYLOR" flask
GII-27 “FARLEY & TAYLOR” flask

Kentucky (later Louisville) Glass Works manufactured bottles, jars, tumblers, and similar functional containers, as well as other handblown glass items in the “South Jersey” style. (The New Jersey connection was also discussed in our earlier blog.) In fact, one of the later investors, Dr. John. A. Krack, owned a local pharmacy and purchased an interest in the glassworks in 1856 to help supply bottles for his druggist business. (He remained a part-owner until at least 1871.) The original Kentucky Glass Works did not mark any bottles with their factory name or initials. Several of the unmarked eagle flasks and the similarly shaped flask marked “FARLEY & TAYLOR / RICHMOND KY” were probably made here in the early 1850s. Louisville Glass Works became well known for the popular “scroll” (or “violin”), “double eagle”, and “ribbed” flasks; these are typically marked “LOUISVILLE KY / GLASSWORKS”. Their wide range of colors indicates that these were produced in quantity, and over fairly long periods of time.

Louisville Glass Works closed permanently by 1873, evidently as a result of the recession of that year, and never reopened. The invention of the automatic bottle machine in 1903 eventually put glassblowers out of work forever. Also in 1903, Emil and Tony Stanger helped make the largest glass bottle ever blown, at “108 GAL”, in Millville, New Jersey, later exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. (It was dethroned in 1992 during Millville’s “Glass Blast Weekend”.) The actual site of the original Kentucky Glass Works factory, razed three or four times since the 1870s, is almost directly across the street, and slightly south of, Louisville’s “Extreme Park” built in 2001.

Additional images and more information on “Louisville Glass Factories of the 19th Century” can be found in David Whitten’s three-part article published in 2005 by Bottles and Extras, the official magazine of The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, which is available online at: