Rosenthal, Max

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ROSENTHAL, MAX (1833–1918), painter, printmaker, and inventor. Born in Turck, Poland, Rosenthal was apprenticed to a Paris lithographer, Martin Thurwanger. When in 1849 his employer went to the U.S. to work for a lithographic firm in Philadelphia, Rosenthal accompanied him as his chief assistant, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The Rosenthal family, including Max's brothers Morris, Louis, and Simon, organized a lithography business in Philadelphia: Max was the principal artist. Rosenthal was a pioneer of chromolithography in the U.S. and made the plates for the first American book furnished with a set of chromo-illustrations, Wild Scenes and Wild Hunters. In 1854 he produced the largest chromolithograph yet made (22 × 25 inches) in the U.S., after his own drawing, Interior of the Old Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. During the Civil War, Rosenthal traveled with the Army of the Potomac as official illustrator for the United States Military Commission, and produced the color plates for a medical and surgical history of the war. He made detailed images of every camp until Gettysburg. Rosenthal's chromo-lithograph Battle of Antietam (1865) depicts the Union Army victorious against the forces of General Robert E. Lee. Until 1884, he made a living making lithographs of famous Americans; after that year, he concentrated on etchings of British and American military leaders, illustrations for the poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and original works such as Jesus at Prayer. This altar painting for a Protestant church in Baltimore was found objectionable due to the phylacteries which Rosenthal included on Jesus' forehead and right arm. A Catholic church then offered a substantial sum for the work if the artist would paint in a halo, but Rosenthal refused to do so. A versatile man, Rosenthal also became known for his technical achievements, among them his invention of the sandblast process of engraving glass. Rosenthal portraits are numerous. His mezzotint Colonel George Washington displays the future president as a young man, pensive but determined. Another mezzotint Portrait of General Smallwood depicts this military leader in dramatic illumination which imparts the sagging face of his sitter with flattering chiaroscuro. His son, albert rosenthal (1863–1939), was his collaborator on many projects. He was a painter and lithographer but was best known for his knowledge of 18th and 19th-century American art, and he often served as an expert both for American museums and for private collections. Rosenthal's works are in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; the National Portrait Gallery; the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; the Smithsonian Institution; and the State Museum of Philadelphia, among other museums.


C. Roth, Jewish Art: An Illustrated History. Revised ed., Bezalel Narkiss (1971); R. Tyler, American Canvas: The Art, Eye, and Spirit of Pioneer Artists (1990).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]

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Rosenthal, Max

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