Morris County Through Kranich’s Paintbrush

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
May 9, 2023

The meticulously rendered paintings of local artist Edward Kranich (1826-1891) are rare indeed, not only in number, but also in the level of detail with which they capture mid-19th-century Morris County. Today, just six of his serenely bucolic works are held in local institutions, including two in MCHS’s collection, but they provide an invaluable lens into the area’s rural past before the days of ubiquitous photography.

A View of Morristown from Fort Nonsense (Looking East), c.1860 Courtesy of Macculloch Hall Historical Museum and Stan Freeny
Bridge and Water Streets, Morristown, c.1855 (MCHS Collection) Today, Bridge Street is the part of Speedwell Avenue just off The Green.

A German immigrant, Edward Kranich came to New Jersey with his family when he was 16 and was already listed on the ship manifest as a painter like his father. He first worked in Essex County as a shade painter before moving to Morris County in the mid-1850s. His documented ties to the area, however, began when his sister Amelia married shoemaker Sidney Collins in Morristown in 1851. The couple moved there a few years later and Kranich seems to have followed close behind, marrying Sidney’s sister Vashti Collins around 1857. Some of his earliest extant works likely date to this period, including A View of Morristown from Fort Nonsense (Looking East) and Bridge and Water Streets, Morristown. The latter painting is speculated to have been painted for his brother-in-law to commemorate the opening of his shoemaking business at that corner.

By 1859 he was advertising his availability to take commissions from “gentlemen desiring to have views of their homes and grounds, or other scenery transferred to canvas” featuring “his ability to sketch and paint with fidelity the beautiful and romantic scenery with which the country abounds.” He is known to have painted several local residences including The Sycamores, home of the Bonsall family, for which he was likely commissioned around 1860 (top photo). He is also known to have painted signs for customers, hiring local builder Ira Lindsley to make several sets in 1862.

Notation by Ira J. Lindsley on April 29, 1862 regarding two signs made for Kranich.
Kranich’s advertisement in the 1876 Elizabeth directory.

The last known record of Kranich in Morristown was his registration for the draft in June 1863. Sometime near the end of the Civil War, he moved to Elizabeth where he lived for the rest of his life. While he continued to work as an artist for decades, virtually none of his works from his time there survive. His legacy lives on, however, in two dozen or so of his paintings that beautifully depict the mid-19th-century Morris County landscape and views of local life so different from today.

The Sycamores and Bridge and Water Streets, Morristown are on display in MCHS’s current exhibit through the end of May.

View of Morristown from Fort Nonsense Hill (Looking North), c.1855 Courtesy of Morristown National Historical Park


Speedwell Village and Iron Works, c.1855 Courtesy of Macculloch Hall Historical Museum and Stan Freeny


View of Morristown from the Hill Behind the First Presbyterian Church, c.1855 Courtesy of Morristown National Historical Park