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Painting, Thomas Nast, 1884

Painting, Thomas Nast, 1884

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Born in Germany, Thomas Nast (1840–1902) immigrated to New York in 1846. Nast’s gifts for illustration and social observation found ready use in national mass-circulation news magazines that did not yet have the means to publish photographs. Nast published more than three thousand drawings, primarily in Harper’s Weekly between 1862 and 1885.
Nast favored Union-affirming policies and enjoyed the relative autonomy to express his political views. Nast’s early cartoons skewered the corrupt regime of New York City’s William Marcy “Boss” Tweed. Nast went on to popularize the elephant and donkey as symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively.
Nast may have painted this self-portrait around 1884, when he lost his fortune in a Wall Street Ponzi scheme. It is perhaps a self-caricature. Nast renders himself with a furrowed brow, collapsed into a chair. An open drape reveals New York’s Trinity Church, at the foot of Wall Street.
Out of favor with his editor, Nast left Harper’s Weekly in 1887. He later joined the Democratic National Committee as a contract cartoonist but never recovered a national audience or financial position.
Object Name
date made
ca. 1884
depicted (sitter)
Nast, Thomas
Nast, Thomas
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
overall: 30 in x 22 in; 76.2 cm x 55.88 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, General History Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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