Precious little is known about marine artist Conrad Freitag. Those points which are remembered are well worth noting. Best known as the portrait painter of New York harbor’s pilot ships, he was a professional acquaintance of William Garner, a vice-commodore of the New York Yacht Club and owner of New York’s People Line. Garner commissioned numerous works by the artist, many of which now belong to the collections in the N.Y.Y.C. and the Museum of the City of New York. Garner, his wife and two others were lost in 1875 while sailing off Staten Island onboard the schooner MOHAWK, which capsized in a sudden gale. Freitag’s association with the club lessened after this loss.
Freitag served in the Civil War, having enlisted in 1862 at the age of 19 in Brooklyn, New York. Mustered in as a private in Company B of the 14th Brooklyn, he was promoted to corporal in 1863. Wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania, Laurel Hill, Virginia, he returned to convalesce in New York, where he painted a scene of this battle, and his art career began.
His contribution to American marine painting, although not as varied as some, is important for the accurate detail and strong artistry of period ships which were often overlooked as subjects by others. Often shown in supporting roles, the pilot schooners, with their long careers and interactions with all the ships arriving at New York, are worthy of such fine commemorations.