Robert Sidney Merrill (1842 - 1924)

Birth date: 1842 Death date: 1924  
Birth location: Union, New York Death location:  
Media: Painting , Photography Web site:
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Robert Sidney Merrill

Born 1842 in Union, New York

Died 1924 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Robert Merrill came to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin with his family in 1856 when he was in his mid-teens.  According to family accounts, he honed his self-trained artistic skills by completing decorative painting on furniture and perhaps carriages for the family furniture business.

From 1863-1865, Robert served in the Civil War’s First Regiment Wisconsin Calvary, Company K.  He was assigned to drawing maps of strategic military information including troop arrangements and he sketched battle locations.  Facsimile copies of his Civil War diary and drawings are housed in the West Bend Art Museum’s Early Wisconsin Art Archives.  Upon his release from Civil War duty, on June 13, 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee, he returned to Beaver Dam where he became the first art instructor at a men’s college, which is now the campus of Wayland Academy.  He continued to instruct there until 1867. From 1867-1869, he was in a photography partnership in Beaver Dam and experimented with solar printing. In 1870, his father moved the family furniture business to Rock Island, Illinois.  During this time, Robert traveled extensively and frequently by rail and by boat throughout the Midwest and sold many of his paintings.  In 1878, he earned a diploma at the Northwestern Agricultural and Mechanical Association.  He also spent time in Dubuque, Iowa and Leavenworth, Kansas where he is reported to have executed several commissions for banks and businesses.  His father moved to La Crosse in 1885. It is presumed that the artist’s painting, Maiden Rock, Lake Pepin, Minnesota, of a Mississippi Riverboat, was done while staying with his father or while the artist was in Dubuque.  The entrepreneurial artist assisted his father in the family furniture business while continuing to paint, combining business travel, sales and purchases for both purposes.

Although he completed many oil paintings and taught some art classes, as business required, he also did photography, decorative furniture and coach paintings, as well as completing, as he described in his memoirs, “canvas prints.”  His canvas prints were probably images transferred to canvas using a photographic process and then colored to resemble oil paintings.  This process was a fairly common practice, which allowed the average consumer access to a quick and relatively inexpensive likeness of an image, which most often was a portrait of a family member.

 By 1897, Robert moved his family to Minneapolis, where he continued to produce watercolors, pastel on paper and oil paintings on canvas until at least 1908.

© 1023/2007  Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, Wisconsin                                                               6/2/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

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