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McCall’s Ferry, Susquehanna River
Hermann Herzog (1832-1932)
38” x 30”
Oil on canvas

The two major paintings that Herzog executed of McCall’s Ferry – the subject painting, and a companion piece now in the White House Collection – are certainly among his most successful.  Both are characteristic of his best work and fully display his genius  in catching, at a glance all that was characteristic in the scene before him, of choosing the most effective illumination, most favorable season and time of day, and,  assisted by a rapidity of execution capturing  the most transient phenomena of light and shade which rendered his pictures unique among landscapes.”[1]    Both paintings depict the active ferry landing from the same vantage point up the bank of the Susquehanna.   The White House view,  Old Ferry Boat at McCall’s Ferry (975.1164.1)(Gift of the White House Historical Society)  shows the ferry just as it is landing,  while the subject painting depicts a mule drawn fully loaded hay wagon as the team and attending rider start to pull the hay wagon off the ferry and up the bank.[2]   Both paintings appear on Herzog’s personal “Hand List of 1,000 Paintings” in which he catalogued  his private collection c. 1900.  The subject painting is denoted as  #258 Team Crossing McCall’s Ferry and retains the original inventory number attached to the stretcher.

McCall’s Ferry was a well known and busy crossing point on the Susquehanna River to the southwest of Lancaster near the falls of the river above the Maryland border.   Today, McCall’s Ferry Farm in York County, Pennsylvania, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  According to the history compiled by the National Park Service, the farm was named for its historical association with the well-known Susquehanna River ferry boat operation run by the McCall family for almost forty years beginning in 1772.   The McCalls succeeded Robert Nelson who had established a ferry at the same narrows in 1740 which had been utilized by numerous travelers including Mason and Dixon during their famous surveying expedition.  Nelson’s ferry appears on several Pennsylvania maps in the second half of the 18th century including Jeffreys’ atlas and the famous Scull map.

Of Scots-Irish descent, the three McCall brothers (John, Matthew and Robert) who operated the ferry acquired large tracts of adjoining farmland and their name continued to be associated with the ferry long after their passing.  York County historian George Prowell described McCall’s Ferry as “the most important crossing place over the Lower Susquehanna for a century and a half.” Indicative of the significance of this ferry to travelers and commerce, John Reid’s 1796 map of Pennsylvania, one of the earliest printed in America, denoted “McCalls F” located near a complex of islands not far from the Susquehanna falls a few miles north of the Maryland border.

Born in Bremen and trained in Dusseldorf , Hermann Herzog immigrated to America  in his late 30s  (exact date of his arrival is unknown) and lived in Philadelphia for the remainder of his long life.[3]    By this point in his life Herzog was already a well established artist in Europe and had begun to be known in American artistic circles.  Eleven of his paintings were exhibited by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1863 and 1869.   His first known sketching trip took him through the northeast in 1871 and he continued to travel widely throughout the country often traveling with other artists including his good friend George Cope.  Herzog enjoyed considerable artistic and financial success during his career, investing his extra capital in the Pennsylvania Railroad.  While he continued to paint, his investments allowed him to retire and cease to sell any of his paintings, many of which remained with his family at his demise. [4]


[1]  Herman Herzog, 1831–1932 (New York: Chapellier Galleries, 1971), np.

[2] Art in the White House, “William Kloss, et al., White House Historical Society in cooperation with The National Geographic Society,  New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1992 & Email correspondence with the Office of the Curator of the White House, 11/3/2016.

[3] American Paintings of Herman Herzog, Essay by Donald S. Lewis, Jr, Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 1992.

[4] Herman Herzog, 1832-1932, American Landscape Artist, Gallery Catalogue, Vertical Files, American Art National Portrait Gallery Library.










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