The Old Print Shop

George E. Burr


George Elbert Burr was an American printmaker and painter. Born in 1859 in Munroe Falls, Ohio, his mother introduced him to drawing and painting at a young age. In 1869 the family moved to Cameron, Missouri, where, in the early 1870s, Burr began experimenting with etching on pieces of scrap metal in his father's hardware store. Burr was mostly self-taught. Outside the teachings of his mother, his only formal education was a brief three-month stint at The Chicago Art Institute in 1878-9. Though some historians feel he studied in Europe, the Catalogue Raisonne by Louise Combes Seeber (a relative of Burr's) says such "statement[s are] at best ambiguous," as there is no viable proof that Burr "had either the time or the inclination to seek formal guidance from other artists."

By 1888 Burr was creating illustrations for prestigious publications like Scribner's and Harper's Magazine. He also created works for John Muir's Picturesque California. A year later, he moved to New York City and began working for the Cosmopolitan magazine and Frank Leslie's Weekly Newspaper. His job allowed him to travel across America and create the very landscapes and scenes he so loved.

The only thing Burr loved more than creating art was "learning that [his work] gives pleasure to others," as he is noted for having told Leila Mechlin, the Secretary of the American Federal Arts, a decade before his death. It was this element that led Burr to refuse exclusive dealerships; he wanted his work to be affordable and obtainable. To him, it was better for his work to be enjoyed than it was to have coins in his pocket. Burr was hardly poor, however. He repeatedly mentioned in letters than his work allowed him a comfortable lifestyle and that he and his wife had never felt that they went without.

John Taylor Arms is noted for having said “the [etched] landscapes of George Elbert Burr are marvels of intricate drawing and faultless biting." 

A prolific artist, Burr created thousands of works over his lifetime, spanning the mediums of printmaking, drawings, paintings, and watercolors. He is also noted for having pulled more than twenty-five thousands etchings off his printing press over the nearly seven decades he worked. 

Burr was a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Brooklyn Society of Etchers (Renamed the Society of American Graphic Artists, SAGA), New York Society of Etchers, and many other art organizations. 

His works are in the collection of Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Brooklyn Museum; Carnegie Institute; City Museum, St. Louis; Cleveland Museum of Art; Colorado State University; Denver Art Museum; Detroit Institute; Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, California; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Library of Congress; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Newark Museum, New Jersey; Phoenix Fine Arts Association; 1931; Public Library, Santa Barbara; Toledo Museum of Art; Berlin; Luxembourg, Paris; Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris; Victoria and Albert Museum; and British Museum, London