This circa 1900 Gund beer advertisement is actually a metal tray, printed with a color lithograph. The painting it reproduces combines several traditional 19th century conventions intended to please the viewer. The romanticized natural landscape enjoyed by this hunting party is replete with mist rising off the pristine lake in the background, and reflects the influence of the popular painters of the Hudson River School. Domestic animals, especially dogs, were beloved subjects of Victorian-era paintings, and this painting features a handsome pair of hunting dogs.
But what takes center stage in this composition, painted with great attention to detail? Two cases of Gund Peerless ale, of course! The dogs, instead of hunting up game, are pointing at the cases; hence title, “A Good Point.”
John Gund Brewing Company was one of La Crosse’s biggest breweries, and Peerless was its main brand. The Gund Brewery operated from 1873 until 1920, when labor problems and Prohibition forced it to close. But in 1910 the thriving Gund Brewery employed over 450 people.
Near the top of the picture are the words “Gund’s Bottle Beer, the Sportsman’s Favorite.” Bottled beer that would keep and could be taken on a hunting trip was a fairly new innovation, the results of pasteurization, developed in 1876, and the crown cap, the same bottle top we know today. This tray is in fact the results of two late 19th century advances in technology: bottled beer and the color lithography that allowed printers to reproduce relatively cheaply the rich colors of the original art work. In the case of this tray, the beautiful color reproduction is being used to remind consumers that they can enjoy Peerless beer anywhere.
Although you can no longer enjoy a bottle of the “Sportsman’s Favorite,” you can enjoy seeing this lithograph in person. It will be on display as part of the exhibit, Designed with Style: Breweriana from the Schwalbe Collection, from February 26 through April 17, at the Pump House Regional Art Center. This exhibit will feature a choice selection of the “breweriana” artifacts donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society by Tye and Sandy Schwalbe. Color-lithographic prints, on paper and metal, promote the products of La Crosse’s early 20th century breweries with beautifully illustrated images. These are great examples of early advertising art and charming reminders of our city’s past.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.