William (George Wilhelm Frey) Frye

Photo from Eden
 Portrait and Landscape Painter

Born:September 13, 1822, Breslau, Germany (now Czech Republic)
Died:July 1, 1872, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Buried:New Cemetery, at Bryce Hospital, Alabama


•  When Virginia Clementine Clay wrote "Echoes of the Past: Old Mahogany Table Stories," she described portraits of local people to tell the stories of Huntsville. Because Frye was a portrait painter, he has a strong connection with Clay's stories. The name "Frye" appears at least 88 times. If you are interested in William Frye, this book offers much. - Clay & Rohr

•  Minnie Frye Coleman wrote this about her father and his portraits:
"Out of the Past they come to me,
In beautiful song and story,
Breathing a romance, sweet and true,
With a thrill of old-time glory.
Matron and maids from century wall,
Talk of lavender, old laces,
While gallant men, handsome and tall
Bow to the rose sweet graces.
Infants claspt in their mother's arms -
Proud of the babe she embraces.
In groups or alone, each hath its charm
Those old-time, dear canvas faces."
- Clay & Rohr

•  Minnie Frye Coleman Writes Her Father's Story: Washington, D.C. September 14,1909 Dear Virginia,      "Katie handed me your letter with the request that I answer it. I will do the best 1 can, but have not an especially fluent pen, and am now under the weather. To begin:
     My father was born on September 13, 1819 - just ninety years to the day before the receipt of your letter inquiring about him. Singular coincidence, is it not? The place of his birth was Reslau, on the border of Bohemia. He was reared in Vienna, Austria, where his father was a large cloth manufacturer. His art education was received at Prague, in Bohemia. His grandmother was a cousin of that grand old author and philosopher, Jean Paul Richter. His brother, Christopher, was an officer in the Austrian Army, the most magnificent body of men in the world. His sister, Ida, married the son of Joseph Lanner, "The Waltz King," of Germany. It was in his orchestra that the elder Strauss won his first laurels as a composer - and upon Lanner's retirement, Strauss succeeded him as leader of the King's Orchestra.
     (A digression here may be of interest to you to not relevant to my father's biography. It was Lanner's custom to compose a waltz each week to the King and, on one occasion, being indolent or indisposed he delegated the task to Strauss, whose composition met with approval, and paved the way to his receiving the title of "Waltz King" when Lanner laid down the baton.)
     Now to resume my father's history. While at College in Prague, he and a number of students became fascinated with the "Noble Red Man" as depicted by Fenimore Cooper, and they planned to run away to the New World. It was during the Christmas holidays when they were well supplied with funds, that they made their start. My father had been the recipient of three purses - one from his Godfather, who was the Forester to the King of Bavaria, one from his grandmother and a third from his parents.
     After the Christmas visit to their homes, the students proceeded to Bremen to take ship for this country. The others lost courage and turned back, but my father still felt the lure of Adventure and the Indians - so he set sail, and reached New York after a three months' stormy trip.
     His cousin Count Johann Schmidt, was then German Consul to New York. He gave him letters to influential men throughout the country, among others, to George D. Prentice. He, in turn gave him letters to prominent citizens of Huntsville. There he met my mother, Miss Virginia Catherine Hale, fell in love and married her then and there terminating his quest after the Red Man. From that year, 1847, until he passed away in 1872, he called Huntsville his home having completed his naturalization papers in 1852. I append a few of the notable people whose pictures he painted:
     Jefferson Davis; Gen. Leroy Pope Walker and his wife and children; and I think your father, uncles, Clement C. and H.L. Clay, and your aunt Virginia Clay; Generals Lee, Morgan, Jackson, Forrest, and others of the Confederate Army I cannot now recall. of the United States Army there were - Logan, Stanley, McPherson, and Mrs. Logan and children. These, with General Logan's other mementoes, were for years kept in Mrs. Logan's home, Calumet Place in Washington. But I believe the General's memorials and portraits have been donated to the State House of Illinois.
     In the late 60s, all of the artists in the United States were requested to compete for a colossal sized portrait of Henry Clay. My father's portrait, an immense full-length, was selected and now hangs in the Capitol at Frankfort, Kentucky.
     Outside of Huntsville, I can recall a few only of the social world. You see I was a little girl when he died. I remember my father painted Mrs. Corinne Goodman and Mrs. Brinkley, of Memphis, and the famous Sallie Ward of Louisville when at the zenith of their "Belledom." I know but little of the prices that he received. I think two and three hundred dollars was the average price for bust portraits.
     You ask about Ida and me. Ida lives in San Francisco. She spent the two years following the earthquake with us but has now returned to California. Katie is still in the Treasury. Willie, poor boy, died three years ago. I have been happily married for 25 years to Mr. Thomas L. Coleman of the dramatic profession. We have one son who will be 24 years old today. Another birth coincidence. He is named for our friend, Mr. Hugh Carlisle, of Guntersville. His full name being Thomas Carlisle Coleman, but we call him by his middle name. He has his grandfather's artistic gift, but we have directed along the practical lines, and he is a young architect.
     Now I am well aware that this long story will need considerable pruning. Use as much or as little of it as you like. We are much pleased that you desire to write about our father, and hope you will send us copies.
     Remember us to each of your family and believe me,
     Most cordially yours,
     Minnie Frye Coleman
     In a later letter, requesting the full name of Mr. Frye, Mrs. Coleman replied:
     My father's name was G. Wilhelm Frey - properly written - but as he had difficulty in getting his mail in this country, the Post Office people calling it "Fray" - and everything but Frye - he anglicized it by making G. Wilhelm Frye, putting the e after the y. The G was for George, but he never used that name. - Clay & Rohr

•  Nancy Rohr writes:
     "William Frye had come to America on a mission to encounter the native Indians. Readers throughout the world had been thrilled earlier with the tales of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1854) who said he could write a better novel and did. Among the most read of his books were The Spy, Leatherstocking Tales, Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer . During his quest to meet the "Redman" of Cooper's depictions, Frye met George D. Prentice (1802-1870). Originally from Connecticut, Prentice had become editor of the Louisville, Kentucky Daily Journal, and the most powerful Whig newspaper in the southwest. Prentice gave advice to young Frye who then settled on a career for himself in America.
     William Frye became an itinerant portrait artist and set up business in 1847 in Huntsville. He married Virginia Hale the next year and they raised a family of four children while he painted on commission throughout the South. In addition to the paintings recalled in the Echoes, during the Civil War, Frye was able to take advantage of the influx of Yankee officers who were garrisoned in Huntsville at Camp Taylor. Many of the officers wanted to send portraits back to their families in the North. Mrs. Coleman mentioned the paintings of Gen. John A. Logan, but her father painted many other portraits during the time of Federal occupation. Mr. Frye survived the War successfully with his family intact and money in the bank. The 1870 Federal Census showed Frye had worth over $18,000 and three household servants tending to his family of six.
      Frye's sister Ida married Joseph Lanner (1801-1843) who transformed Austrian folk music into sophisticated social dances. He was called the "Mozart of dance music" and worked with Strauss. Unfortunately Lanner died of typhoid fever and left Frye's sister, Ida, a widow. Continuing with the family news, Minnie Frye Coleman noted that her sister, Ida, had been in San Francisco during the time of the great earthquake of 1906. "Poor Willie," their brother, also died about 1906, and one might wonder if he was a casualty of the quake.
      In 1869 Mrs. Frye wrote to Dr. Peter Bryce at the Alabama Insane Hospital in Tuscaloosa about her husband. He had suffered some kind of stroke and paralysis. His paintings had become distorted, and Frye could not perceive the difference. By 1871 Frye had another attack and developed violent behavior. He was diagnosed with 'Influenza of the Brain,' and in the fall of that year his wife committed him to the Hospital. He was judged both "a lunatic and indigent." William Frye died July 1, 1872 and was buried in the cemetery at the hospital. At least 135 Frye portraits have been identified." - Clay & Rohr

•  This by Virginia Clay in her "The Old Mahogany Table":
You were a faithful painter of each dear face,
And limned the mind and the gentle grace;
And made the waters of Lethe go
Where sorrow held away and tears did flow;
With magic brush, dipt in softest hues,
You let all your ART and HEART suffuse!
And exprest the soul in painting rare
Of queenly forms and faces fair,
Of manly men who filled Fame's niches
In State, the Nation - Home enriches!
Spirit of Frye! Thru Eternity,
Here's homage to your memory. - Clay & Rohr

•  He married Virginia Catherine Hall (from Huntsville) in 1849 and he made Huntsville his home for the remainder of his life. - Clay & Rohr

•  Children:
     Ida L. Frye m. Capt. P.H. Flood
     Katie Frye
     Minnie Frye m. Coleman
     Willie Frye, d. 1906 - Clay & Rohr

•  June 1866: The Louisville Journal wrote that at a session of the Kentucky Legislature, a resolution was passed to offer payment for the best portrait of Henry Clay. Artist William Frye of Huntsville, Alabama was the winner. - Eden

•  Two good quality copies of paintings connected to Huntsville are found in this volume. One of the Big Spring and one of three Herstein children. - Stevens

•  Studio at this time was listed as North West Corner of Eustis and Green
Home at this times was listed as North West Corner of Green and Holmes - 1859 City Directory

•  "George William Frye, 42, an Austrian, settled in Huntsville about 1848. He married a local girl, Virginia Catherine Hale, and they and their three daughters lived at the comer of Greene and Holmes Streets where he kept his studio. Frye painted regional landscapes and portraits. With the influx of men with money to spend and the desire to send a likeness to loved ones, this became a busy time for the local artist. Union soldiers, Colonel Scott and others, commissioned works from Frye. The artist worked quickly?Scott's portrait was completed in just a little over a month." - Chadick and Rohr

•  Mr. Frye instructed a young Howard Weeden even before she was 10 years old. "Though Mr. Frye surely instructed his little pupil in the dainty copy work popular with young ladies of the day, he may also have inspired her rather unusual interest in drawing faces, figures, and flowers from real life. Of the artist's works surviving from this earliest period is a tiny picture painted on silk, titled "The Sea of Galilee." This painting shows the marvelous quality of her miniature-like work, even at so early an age." - Fisk

•  As Harvie Jones and others began to think about the details and features for the buildings in Constitution Hall Park, they looked to William Frye's painting of Huntsville's Big Spring for clues about how public building looked in earlier times. Example: "The circa 1850 Frye painting of Huntsville tells us several valuable things since it includes color, fences, and utilitarian buildings of a type now rare. It shows us that service buildings were frequently unpainted clapboard, that vertical board siding was sometimes used on outbuildings (Post Office stable), and that white was a frequent clapboard color." - Jones

•  He came to the South and settled in Huntsville in 1848 and became an American citizen five years later. - Marks

•  He became a citizen of the United States in 1853. - Filson Historical Society

Related Links:

•  1859 City Directory - Huntsville Directory, City Guide and Business Mirror. Volume 1. 1859-'60, by Reprinted by The Strode Publishers

•  Alabama Heritage - Article Abstract

•  artnet.com - A subscription service for estimating art values. But there are links to other portraits. One can see the portraits without the pricing information.

•  Ask Art - A subscription service for estimating art values. But there are links to other portraits. One can see the portraits without the pricing information.

•  Chadick and Rohr - Incidents of the War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Jane Chadick, by Nancy M. Rohr, 2005, page 155.

•  Clay & Rohr - Echoes of the Past: Old Mahogany Table Stories, by Virginia Clementine Clay, Edited and Annotated by Nancy M. Rohr, 2010.

•  Eden - Eden of the South: A Chronology of Huntsville, Alabama, 1805-2005, by Raneé G. Pruitt, Editor, 2005, pages 30, 36, 37, 60, 61, 66, 103.

•  Encyclopedia of Alabama - Biography

•  Filson Historical Society - Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley by the Filson Historical Society. 1921. (Bio covering the sequence of events bringing him to Huntsville, AL.)

•  Fisk - Article titled "Howard Weeden, Artist and Poet" by Sarah Huff Fisk in Huntsville Historical Review, Volume 33, #1, Winter-Spring 2008, Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society, page 39.

•  Historic Arkansas Museum - Shows a portrait done by William Frye (person not from Madison County)

•  HMCPL - Vue of the Huntsville Spring from Nature, by William Frye. c. 1845, from the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Digital Archives. (Originally found at http://digitalarchives.hmcpl.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15431coll1/id/379/rec/1.)

•  Jones - Article by Harvie P. Jones titled "Constitution Hall Park" starting on page 57 of Historic Huntsville Quarterly, Vol. XXV, #1-2, Spring-Summer, 1999, Historic Huntsville Foundation.

•  Live Auctioneers - A short bio with two photos of Frye's work.

•  Marks - Alabama Past Leaders, by Henry S. and Marsha Kass Marks, 1982, page 105.

•  Senate Gov - Photo of a painting by Frye of Henry Clay (Originally found at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/special/Clay/images/LargeImage/Timeline_1866_1.htm.)

•  Shapiro - Two black and white photos of portraits by William Frye in an article by Norman M. Shapiro for the Huntsville Historical Review, Volume 32, #2, Summer - Fall 2007, Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society, pages 35 & 36.

•  Stevens - Historic Huntsville: A City of New Beginnings, by Elise Hopkins Stephens, 2002, pages 131, 133.

•  Treadway Gallery - Short bio and a painting named: "Work and Play" (Originally found at http://www.treadwaygallery.com/ONLINECATALOGS/Sept.2003/PAINT/0548.html.)

Painting of Big Spring from Frye's Landscapes

Portrait of Henry Clay from Senate Gov
The Following Pages Link to this Page:
•  1859 City Directory
•  Chadick and Rohr
•  Clay & Rohr
•  Eden
•  Fisk
•  Jones
•  Shapiro