Thomas Nast (1840-1902)

Our Thomas Nast Collection

Macculloch Hall Historical Museum holds the largest single collection of American political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s original works in the United States. Acquired directly from the artist’s family, the collection includes pencil and ink drawings, sketches, watercolor and oil paintings, preliminary drawings and doodles, and artist and printer proofs. The Museum also holds a Nast Archives containing the artist’s personal correspondence and photographs, including a family photo album. While Nast works are always on display at the Museum, the collection is available for research by appointment.

Thomas Nast (1840-1902)

Thomas Nast immigrated to America from Landau, Germany when he was five years old. With limited education and little artistic training he joined the art staff of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated as a teenager. In 1860 Nast traveled to Italy as a war correspondent for The Illustrated London News and New York Illustrated News. Embedding himself with Giuseppe Garibaldi’s campaign to liberate and unify Sicily and the southern Italian states, Nast depicted what he saw in pencil, crayon, ink, and paint in a sketchbook now in the Museum’s collection.

Upon his return to the United States in December 1860, Nast began to cover the American Civil War for New York Illustrated News. In 1862, the artist joined Harper’s Weekly as its war correspondent. Just 22 years old at the time, Nast was often summoned to the battlefields to draw what he saw firsthand. He worked for the weekly until 1877. During his tenure, Nast created hundreds of cartoons including the Democratic Donkey, Republican Elephant, Uncle Sam, Columbia, Tammany Tiger and Santa Claus.

In 1870 Nast moved his family out of New York City to Morristown, NJ in 1870, believing it to be a safe distance from his political enemy, William “Boss” Tweed of New York. Although his work for Harper’s took him to New York weekly for overnight stays, Nast was an active resident of Morristown. He was an honorary member of the fire department and supported the efforts of his local lyceum and other charities. Many of his drawings depict his home, Villa Fontana, located just across the street from Macculloch Hall.

Following reversals in both his relationship with the editor of Harper’s Weekly and in his personal fortune, Nast was nearly bankrupt by the turn of the nineteenth century. In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Nast a minor diplomat to Ecuador– the only steady paying job the artist could find. Nast traveled to Ecuador where he died of yellow fever just a few month’s after his arrival.