Rufus Ward: Nicola Marschall's Columbus portraits


Ida Sykes Billups in her wedding gown.

Ida Sykes Billups in her wedding gown.
Photo by: Courtesy



Rufus Ward



Nicola Marschall was a Prussian born portrait painter whose works included portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Otto Von Bismarck and many other notable figures of the mid to late 1800s. Marschall had studied art at the Dusseldorf Academy and emigrated to the United States in 1849. He settled in Mobile but soon moved to Marion, Ala. In Marion be became noted as a portrait painter.


During the Civil War he is credited with designing the Confederate "Stars and Bars" flag and the Confederate army uniform. The gray of the Confederate uniform came from the color of Prussian army uniforms.


After the war ended the depressed economy of the south caused Marschall to travel to different towns and cities to paint portraits and finally to move to Louisville, Ky. In 1870 Nathan B. Forrest, then president of the Selma, Marion and Memphis Railroad, wrote a letter of introduction on behalf of Marschall to A.S. Humphries, S.M. Meek and John M. Billups of Columbus. Forrest recommended Marschall as a "skilled" painter of portraits. Probably as a result of that letter, Marschall came to Columbus during the mid 1870s and spent several months painting portraits.



Marschall painted a large number of portraits while in Columbus. For the Billups family alone, he painted at least nine portraits. One of these was of Ida Sykes Billups. T.C. Billups and Ida Sykes were married on Jan. 28, 1875, and Marschall painted a portrait of her in her wedding gown. The portrait was completed in April 1875 in Louisville, and shipped to Columbus May 1 after having been exhibited in Louisville for a week. Marschall charged $150 for the portrait, $50 for the frame and $2 shipping.


In Louisville Marschall had a studio and acquired a national reputation for his work. Examples of his portraits were exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. There he won a medal for his work. He continued painting until 1908 and died in Louisville in 1917.


Many homes in Columbus are still graced with family portraits that he painted.


Rufus Ward is a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to him at [email protected]



Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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