Henry Ulke
Frankenstien 1821-Washington 1910
Heliocereus [sun cactus]

PROVENANCE: Provenance: By descent through the family till now.

Pencil and watercolour on buff paper

300 x 210 mm. (11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in.)

Henry Ulke was born in Frankenstein in southern Prussia in Germany in 1821 and died in Washington D.C. in 1910. The life of Henry is quite extraordinary. One of his claims to fame is his portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant which hangs in the White House. Henry Ulke is a famous portrait painter with more than 300 portraits in US government and private collections today. He had connections socially and politically to the presidents, indeed he was one of the few eyewitnesses of the tragic death of President Lincoln, after the president had been shot in Fords Theatre he was carried across the street to Peterson house in which Henry Ulke and his brother resided.

Henry Ulke was not known outside his immediate family to have painted botanicals. This was a sideline for his own pleasure and these pieces remained in family hands until now. This artistic aspect of his work fits with another facet of the man, that he was a member of the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia and an avid collector of beetles. He spent countless hours in the woods and amassed tens of thousands of beetles over his lifetime, a collection he sold in 1900 to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

Henry Ulkes abilities also extended to writing and before his emigration to the US he contributed to a comic publication Kladderadatsch, as well as the revolutionary Rtli Zeitungen, circa 1845-6, and was associated with freedom aspiring enthusiasts such as Titus Ullrich in Berlin. In 1852 Henry emigrated to America to join two of his younger brothers who had already moved there. Henry busied himself with photographic work and prepared daguerreotypes. He also produced photographic portrait prints of famous individuals of the period and was so successful that he was able to invite his parents and brothers and sister to join to him at his expense. In 1860 Henry set up in Washington a studio for portrait painting and photography. Henry was clearly a man of great intellect and travelled back to Germany and Europe between 1868 and 1870 and in Weimer mixed with some of the greatest composers and literati of the day including Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.