Carl Gutherz
... and his beautiful Memphis Mardi Gras Invitations



Carl Gutherz was an International artist of note who lived in Memphis from 1859 to 1868 and again from 1873 to 1875.   While his art career began in Memphis, he received most of his formal training in the art schools of Paris.  At the height of his career he produced large-scale paintings with Christian imagery based on the concepts of the art movement Symbolism.  While he will always be associated with the cities of Memphis, St. Louis, and Washington D.C., he is especially remembered in Memphis as "the artist who designed those beautiful Mardi Gras Invitations".



Today, the world's largest collection of works by Carl Gutherz is held by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, with over 70 paintings and drawings.  Included are his allegorical works, the portraits and landscapes, as well as a selection of his designs for the Memphis Mardi Gras.

    Gutherz painting  



Click on small photos to see an enlargement




Carl Gutherz ...biography

Carl Gutherz was born in 1844 in Schoefland, Switzerland.  He was the second oldest of the children in the family of Heinrich and Henrietta Gutlierz.  The family immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1851 where Heinrich established a terra-cotta works.  Carl began his art career  there by modeling clay in the studio.  But by 1860 the terra-cotta works failed and the family re-settled in Memphis, where they remained during the Civil War occupation.  The  elder Heinrich died during this period and young Carl began work as a draftsman at a foundry while studying art with a Memphis portrait painter.  His older brother, Gottfried joined the Confederate army and his sister Lena married a Union soldier and moved to St. Paul after the war.  From 1869 to 1872, Gutherz received his art training at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Gutherz 1875     

Schoefland, Switzerland  

Memphis 1870


Gottfried drawing

Ecole des Beaux Arts



In 1875 Gutherz accepted a teaching position at Washington University in St. Louis.  He remained there for 9 years and was very active in establishing the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts.  He also continued frequent visits to Memphis doing portrait commissions, and especially designing the Mardi Gras invitations, floats, and costumes.  During one of these visits to Memphis he met and married Kate Scruggs and they had two daughters and a son.  In 1906 he produced a design for an arts and sciences pavilion which was the basis for the development of Brooks Memorial Art Gallery in Memphis.


St. Louis School-Musuem

Kate Scruggs Suzanne Family 1895 Washington Univ 1873 Invitation


During his St. Louis period, Gutherz made frequent trips to visit his sister in St. Paul.  While there, he did murals at the People's Church and also murals for the Court house at Fort Wayne, Indiana.  From 1884 to 1895 he returned to Paris to study at the Academie Julian.  It was here that he was influenced by Symbolist theories, which resulted in his most successful paintings - large allegorical works.  In 1896, Gutherz moved to Washington D.C. - where he executed a series of ceiling panels for the Library of Congress.  He spent the rest of his life there, dying in 1907.  He is buried at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D. C.

Gutherz 1875


People's Church Academie Julian Allegorical Works Library Congress




Carl Gutherz ...the paintings          


Gutherz was associated with the American Symbolist Movement of the late 19th century.  He established a modest but growing reputation in Memphis, St. Louis, and St. Paul, as well as Paris.  Guntherz preferred to paint the allegorical works, but there was little demand for these.  Thus he continued to paint landscapes and especially portraits.  The largest collection of Carl Gutherz paintings is held by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.  Gutherz' son Fredrick Marshall (who changed his name to Marshall F. Goodheart) donated over 70  paintings and drawings to the museum.

Portraits ...

Allegorical ...

Landscapes ...

Library of Congress Murals ...

The Light of Progress  mural ... Library of Congress Sketch 1895




Carl Gutherz ...and the Mardi Gras designs

In 1873 Gutherz was commissioned by Memphian Colton Greene to design the invitations for the new Memphis Mardi Gras - the first being held in 1872.  From the beginning he became noted as "that artist who designs the invitations".  To create interest in the Mardi Gras, the invitations were sent out weeks in advance of the event and the invitations themselves became the envy of the city.  Everyone wanted one.  If you didn't receive one in the mail, the only way of getting one was to bribe an official for one of them.  They were and still are, true collector's items. 

Carl Gutherz


Each invitation was different.  Notice how the elaborate designs unfold.  The Memphis Mardi Gras ran from 1872 to the early 1900s.  Gutherz' designs were made during the first 10 years.  By the time he quit designing the invitations, the Mardi Gras had run its course and had begun to fade away.

The outside of the Invitation   The inside of the Invitation

During Mardi Gras, posters would be put up all over the city and they would also be shipped to other states as well as to Europe.  During carnival season (just before Lent) this most coveted invitation  was hand delivered by a servant wearing a white jacket.  The 1878 invitation was described by Molly Crosby in her book,  "The American Plague".  The envelope was exquisite, large and generally square, with golden calligraphy.  Inside it took the shape of a scroll on powder-blue parchment with a regal crown framing the top where CARNIVAL:  MEMPHIS MARDI GRAS was engraved.  Fanning out of the Egyptian pyramid the secret order of the Ulks  and Memphi invites you and your household to attend pageants March 4 and 5, 1878.  >


1878 Invitation

1901 Souvenir


1876 - Outside 1876 - Inside


1879 - outside 1879 - Inside 1881 - Outside 1881 - Inside



1884-Outside 1884-Inside 1888-Outside 1888-Inside


The Invitations were so beautiful that many recipients  framed them.  The one on the right is hanging in the historic Mallory-Neely Home on Adams Avenue in Memphis.  The Mardi Gras year is unknown.  (Currently there are other invitations in the Memphis Public Library, but they haven't yet been added to their on-line collection).

Mallory-Neely Home

Year Unknown

This 1888 envelope and tickets on the right were sent to prominent Memphian John Gaston, who had one of the most respected restaurants and hotels in Memphis - next to Court Square.  See the full invitation above.  (Although the design certainly looks like Gutherz, he may not have been still designing the invitations in 1888)


1888 Envelope

1888 tickets

The 1890 Invitation below is so "different" that it obviously wasn't designed by Gutherz.  The others certainly look like his work but have not been positively identified as the Memphis Mardi Gras and the years are currently unknown.



Note:  If you have an "Invitation" for a year we don't have:  Please scan your copy for us (front and back - high resolution) and we'll post it with your credit.  >    Email






May I have the envelope, PLEASE?

The envelope sometimes gave a hint to how the folds on the invitation might open.  Each year it was an experience simply unfolding the actual invitation.  Since the envelopes were hand-delivered, they are not dated unless the receiver wrote the date on the outside. 


Envelope Envelope Envelope


Envelpe 1876-77 Memorabilia Envelope

The 1876, 1879, and 1881 Invitations (above) were all delivered to prominent Memphian Charles N. Grosvenor.  Included in his 1879 envelope was this coveted ticket to the masked ball with his name on it.  Grosvenor was a major real estate investor in downtown Memphis and was very active in establishing the Memphis streetcar lines.  His wife, Olivia, was the daughter of Napoleon Hill, and the owner of the lot where the Sterick Building is located.  All 3 invitations, the Grosvenor portrait, and the ticket are in the collection of George Whitworth.

C. N. Grosvenor

1879 Ticket





Carl Gutherz did it all ... This artist not only designed those innovative and exquisite invitations, he also did the illustrations for Harper's magazine, and then designed the Mardi Gras floats ... as well as the costumes.


Over 10,000 people would answer this invitation to Mardi Gras in Memphis, including one year, the president of the United States.  As many as 40,000 revelers would stand shoulder to shoulder along the downtown streets of the city.  Harpers magazine would reserve front-page coverage, sending their best illustrator (They often hired Gutherz).  The glitter and glamour of the event was known across the country.  And so Carnival would begin ...


Memphis Mardi Gras 1872

Engraving Printed Engraving National Magazine coverage

Gutherz became involved with the Memphis Mardi Gras in 1873.  The invitation he produced was an elaborate pyramid-shaped design that integrated Egyptian icons with a menagerie of birds.  It was the first of many Mardi Gras commissions he would execute over the next years.  He later became totally involved by designing the costumes.  He used mythical characters and fantasy figures as inspirations for his costume designs.  And he also designed the floats, as well as providing art for the newspapers and magazines.

Costume Costume Costume Illustration Float Designs Float Design

Costume Costume Costume Float Designs Illustration Illustration




and Colton Greene - Originator of the Memphis Mardi Gras

Colton Greene was a leading citizen of Memphis and is best remembered as the originator of the Memphis Mardi Gras.  His business was insurance and he was one of the founders of the Tennessee Club.  Like most of the South after the War, Memphis was suffering from the Reconstruction.  City leaders thought the city needed a show of civic pride that might bring the residents together.  When the Memphis Appeal solicited ideas to attract business to the city, Greene proposed that the city celebrate Mardi Gras and establish the secret society of "Mystic Memphi" to organize and sponsor all the activities.   It was a popular idea which caught on immediately.


Colton Greene

The first Mardi Gras was held in 1872.    Greene carefully selected a core group of Memphis business men to plan the first major event - Joseph Specht, a candy and ice cream manufacturer, Matthew Galloway, editor of the Appeal, and Lou Leubrie, owner of the New Memphis Theatre.


The lavish Mardi Gras balls were generally held at the huge Industrial Exhibition Hall on Jefferson and the SW corner of 4th.  The city had built the great building in less than 6 months in 1872.  Although each exposition at the hall lasted only one month, the hall was used year round.  After an exposition closed, the hall was used for the huge Masked Balls during Carnival, Christmas, and special occasions.  It was also used as a skating rink and for conventions.

Ind. Exhibition Hall         

Location of Hall        Hall interior Location - today... 1874 1874 1880 1881

* Colton Greene has his own comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here



P. S.

On one occasion Carl Gutherz, the designer of the invitations, had to  sue the City of Memphis for the money it owed him    >










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