"Père Marquette and the Indians" by Wilhelm Lamprecht

Romanticism and Western exploration of America

By Haggerty Museum of Art

Pere Marquette and the Indians (1869) by Wilhelm LamprechtHaggerty Museum of Art

German-born artist Wilhelm Lamprecht (1838-1922) studied at Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts before settling in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1867 Lamprecht co-founded the Institute of Catholic Art (or Christian Art Society). Two years later, in 1869, he painted "Père Marquette and the Indians" for a fundraiser benefiting impoverished artists who were friends of the Art Society.

The painting depicts Rev. Jacques Marquette, S.J.,—a Jesuit missionary after whom Marquette University, the parent institution of the Haggerty Museum of Art, is named—during his expedition in the 1670s through the western Great Lakes and Mississippi River system.

Marquette had many interactions with the Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Valley.

He often relied on their knowledge of the land to aid his voyage.

Detailed first-person accounts of his journey were recorded by Marquette and later published. He documented his many contacts with Indigenous peoples.

He included observations about their appearance and customs.

He also described the flora and fauna of “Northern American” in detail.

Some of Marquette's writings can be accessed through the Marquette University Library's Online Catalog

Lamprecht painted Father Marquette in a canoe with two Miami guides who led him from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River, and eventually to the Mississippi River.

Marquette describes this scene in detail in his travel journal, which could have been the source of Lamprecht’s composition: “The next day, being the 10th of June [1673], the two Miamis, who were to conduct us, imbark’d [sic] with us in site [sic] of all the Inhabitants of the Village…We were inform’d[sic] that within three Leagues of the Maskoutens,[sic] there was a River that runs into the Mississipi [sic], and that we were to go directly to the West-South-West to find it…had it not been for our Guide, we had never been able to find it…”

Lamprecht was very familiar with Christian iconography. He spent much of his career painting church frescoes across the Midwest and East Coast.

One interpretation of this painting suggests that the artist included this seated female figure as a representation of the Virgin Mary, who is repeatedly invoked in Father Marquette’s travel journals.

This painting was made more than a decade before the 1881 founding of Marquette University. It was one of the first works of art to enter the University’s collection. That history is explained in an 1890 letter from Rev. Stanislaus P. Lalumière, S.J., who helped establish Marquette University and served as its president from 1887-89.

He states: “After passing through several hands…Fr. Winniger [Weninger] got it from them and presented it to M.C. [Marquette College]. Fr. O’Neil when rector in C. [Chicago] wrote to me that I could get it for $150 or $200. The painting was worsted [sic] by remaining in C. by coal dust, and Mrs. Abbey in the Plankinton retouched it and took a copy which she keep [sic] in her parlor. As a work of art it is considered of a high order.”

A detail of the painting forms the lower half of Marquette University’s seal. Read more at About Marquette

In 1898 the United States Post Office issued a one-cent stamp based on Lamprecht’s painting. Titled Marquette on the Mississippi, the stamp was part of a Trans-Mississippi Exposition Issue designed to celebrate the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.
Read more at Marquette University’s Special Collections and University Archives

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