Trouble with Prang
“Many times I tried to imitate American painting but it was not possible for me.
It was without style and without method.”
“The blood rushed to my head, I conquered the anger that overtook me
and after a minute replied to Prang that . . . I accepted only the civic code of the United States,
I spit upon the others, and that neither Prang nor anyone else
would have obliged me . . . to the laws of slavery.”
As Tommaso Juglaris adjusted to Boston life, he received an invitation that seemed to offer a promising entrée into the city’s highest cultural circles. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts was organizing an “Exhibition of Works by Living American Artists,” for November 9 through December 20, 1880. Juglaris was asked to lend to the show his two award-winning Paris Salon paintings, Paolo Veronese in Venice and The Invasion. The exhibition roster was choice and, except for two German-born artists, Otto Grundmann and Ignaz Gaugengigl, very American. Indeed, the other artists to be represented in the exhibition were already prominent and daily gaining more attention across the United States. They included Helena de Kay Gilder, Will H. Low, Francis “Frank” Millet, Ernest Longfellow, William Merritt Chase, Sarah W. Whitman, George Inness, J. Alden Weir, Frank Crowninshield, Charles Dana, Emily Sartain, William Sartain, and Maria Oakley. After only nine weeks on American shores, it must have been very flattering to Juglaris to be included in such company and deemed a “living American artist.”
Unfortunately, matters were not as sanguine and bright for Juglaris as artistic director for Louis Prang & Company. In Juglaris’s first weeks at the Prang firm, circumstances took an unexpected turn. Prang quickly proved to be a tyrannical employer. He not only reneged on details of Juglaris’s employment contract but also made other demands on his time and talent, including an imperious request for a portrait. Meanwhile, he brusquely challenged Juglaris’s right to exhibit his Paris Salon paintings at the Boston Museum exhibition. Prang insisted that he “owned” Juglaris and was fully entitled to control his creative activities, even outside of working hours. Adding insult to injury, Prang complained that Juglaris’s art style was “too French” to suit American tastes and that he needed a period of apprenticeship to learn a different style. In vain, Juglaris protested that the most respected American painters had received their training in France or Italy. Defiant, Juglaris exhibited his works at the Boston Museum anyway. After this, he and Prang avoided each other.
The souring of the relationship with his employer perplexed and demoralized Juglaris. As he explained in his memoir, “I understood nothing and nothing could I understand.” To make up for slashed pay and to keep food on the table, Juglaris took on students. Since there was still months left on his six month contract with Prang, he had to bide his time until he was free to do anything else. When the employment agreement finally expired, an angry Prang openly vowed that Juglaris would never work in Boston again.
All that Juglaris had to show for his time with Prang was a handful of Christmas and New Year’s cards he had designed, plus some advertising art. Stymied by limited English, ignorant of his rights, hampered by a volatile temperament, and Prang’s continued ill will, he now had to make his way as an independent artist in a world where he did not yet understand the rules.
Gallery of Christmas and New Year's Cards by Juglaris