Born in the Hesse, Germany village of Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1833, William Kurtz gravitated towards print media at an early age. At 14, he decided to pursue his love of painting at a Frankfort art academy known as the Staedlishe Institute. His studies abruptly ended with the death of his father, and he became a lithographer's apprentice while attending art school part-time in Offenbach-on-the-Main.
As the Crimean War broke out, Mr. Kurtz found himself in England looking for lithographic work. Unable to find steady employment, he spent the next three years as a sailor. He and a friend set sail on the ship Oxnart, which was headed for San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. However, a shipwreck off the coast of the Falkland Islands required an immediate change in direction, and Kurtz eventually docked at Old Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia in late 1859. From there, he traveled to New York City, where he quickly found a job at George Loud's photographic gallery. Here, he began experimenting with shadows and light in a style reminiscent of Dutch painter and printmaker Rembrandt Van Rijn.
After a brief stint at George Rockwood's studio, Mr. Kurtz opened Huston & Kurtz at 895 Broadway in 1865. When that partnership dissolved seven years' later, Mr. Kurtz opened his own studio on Madison Square, where his Rembrandt-style portraits received immediate attention and enthusiastic praise. He experimented with various techniques, including crayon portrait transfers and perfecting Meisenbach's halftone process. Mr. Kurtz developed a color technique that he successfully applied to halftone blocks. While he did not invent this process, his cost effective method allowed for color reproductions to be made in mass quantities. His lithographic background served him well as he improved upon the Coloritype process that originated with German chemist and photographer Hermann Vogel. This process involved color separations, from which positives were made that were then turned into halftone negatives and printed.
In May 1893, Mr. Kurtz was issued a patent for his tricolor process, which caused considerable controversy because any printer or engraver who attempted to utilize this method in any form was found in violation of the patent. The Coloritype Company also opened in 1893 at 32 Lafayette Place in New York, with Mr. Kurtz serving as its president and guiding force. He moved his family to Far Rockaway, Queens, in 1899, and it is there William Kurtz died of pneumonia on December 5, 1904. He left behind a wife, seven children, and invaluable contributions to color printing.
1903 American Printer and Lithographer, Vol. XXXVI (Chicago: Oswald Publishing Co.), p. 156.
2011 Brooklyn Museum (URL: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/52309/Portrait_of_Evelyn_Sloan).
1895 Inland and American Printer and Lithographer, Vol. XV (Chicago: Inland Printer Company), pp. 265-267.
1943 My First Seventy Five Years (Washington, DC: Theodore Regensteiner),
pp. 98-99, 211-212, 215-217.
1873 The Photographer's Friend: A Practical, Independent Magazine, Vol. III (Baltimore: R. Walzl), pp. 71-73.
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