Artworks by Friedrich Richard Petri
A German painter's relationship with neighboring American Indians in Texas
German artist Richard Petri painted scenes of Native Americans living in the Texas Hill Country in the 1850s. His colorful, thoughtful artworks are both a valuable historical record and an intimate view of everyday life.
Friedrich Richard Petri (1824–1857) immigrated to Texas in 1851 with friend, brother-in-law, and fellow artist Hermann Lungkwitz (1813–1891) and several members of their family. The pair became friends while art students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, and just a few months before emigrating, Lungkwitz married Petri’s sister Elisabet. Once in Texas, the group briefly rented a home in the German settlement of New Braunfels. Before settling on a 320-acre farm in the Pedernales River Valley, five miles south of Fredericksburg, Petri signed an 1852 petition urging the removal of American Indians from Texas. Despite this support, family lore and the body of Petri’s work show that he had a special relationship with the indigenous groups living near Fredericksburg.
Petri’s art education in Germany was deeply impacted by European Romanticism, which included the opinion that Native Americans were a vanishing race doomed by white encroachment. European intellectuals, by whom Petri was educated, saw Native Americans as people who lived in harmony with nature and the land — a stark contrast to the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution happening in Europe. Once in Texas, American Indians became a dominant theme in his work. His subjects included Comanche, Lipan Apache, and Lenape (Delaware) men, women, and children. He painted them as leaders, warriors, fathers, mothers, and families. The repetition of these themes in Petri’s work indicate a desire to show the humanity of his American Indian neighbors.
Petri’s career as an artist was cut tragically short when he accidentally drown in the Pedernales River in 1857. He left behind a full body of work that contributed significantly to the visual landscape of pioneer life in Texas.
Courtesy Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin
Time Period: 1845 - 1861
This artifact is currently on view.