Carl G. von Iwonski, painter, was born at Hilbersdorf, Silesia, Prussia, on April 23, 1830, the son of Leopold and Marie (Kalinowska-Tshirski) von Iwonski. His father was formerly a Prussian army officer. Little is known of Iwonski's childhood before the family immigrated with the Adelsverein colonists to New Braunfels, Texas, in 1845. He reached adulthood in Horton Town (later Neighborville), a nearby farming community, working at his father's farm, stage stop, and saloon. As an artist he was largely self-taught; training in art was not generally cultivated in Texas at the time. He may, however, have received art lessons from Friedrich Richard Petri or Hermann Lungkwitz, both Dresden-trained artists who arrived in 1851.
Iwonski established his first studio in New Braunfels in the mid-1850s. There he made pencil, ink, watercolor, and oil portraits of German settlers. He gave six pencil sketches of Texas subjects to prince Paul of Württemberg during the prince's visit to New Braunfels in 1855. During the next two years Iwonski also made a series of drawings of scenes performed by the New Braunfels Amateur Theater. His well-known panorama of New Braunfels was lithographed in Leipzig, and his lithograph of the Germania Gesangverein of New Braunfels in 1857 depicted the first German singing society in Texas (see TEXAS STATE SÄNGERBUND). In the late 1850s the family moved to San Antonio, where Iwonski painted scenery and scenes from plays performed by the German settlers' Casino Club. He also learned photography from William DeRyee, a pioneer chemist and photographer from Bavaria. Iwonski and DeRyee were business partners for a few years.
Immediately before the Civil War, Iwonski made sketches of Texas state troops in San Antonio and at Camp Las Moras near Brackettville. The latter work was the first Civil War sketch reproduced in Harper's Weekly. Iwonski's The Terry Rangers (Sam Maverick and the Terry Rangers) is a well-known painting of Texans galloping off to war. During the war and Reconstruction, Iwonski also taught drawing at the German-English School in San Antonio.
During Reconstruction, part of Iwonski's art was devoted to political ends. He and his father were Radical Republican leaders in San Antonio; the former served as city tax collector and the latter as Bexar county treasurer. In aid of his party during crucial elections, Iwonski sketched cartoons ridiculing the opposition. Answer of the Germans was photographically reproduced and pasted to the front page of the San Antonio Express on February 8, 1868. Leopold von Iwonski died in office on October 15, 1872. Carl von Iwonski was removed from office by the Democrats in May 1870.
With his friend and fellow artist Hermann Lungkwitz, Iwonski set up a photographic studio in San Antonio. There they continued their business until 1870, when Lungkwitz moved to Austin to become a photographer for the General Land Office. Although primarily a portrait photographer, Iwonski experimented with landscapes and attempted to record an eclipse of the sun with his camera. During this period he produced a sculpted bust of Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1869) and a heroic painting of the German general staff during the Franco-Prussian War (1871). During most of 1871 Iwonski also studied art at the Academy in Berlin.
Iwonski proved a versatile artist in a variety of mediums. The breadth of his interest was large and included landscapes, scenes of pioneer life, amateur theatricals, stage scenery, busts, lithographs, still lifes, political cartoons, Indians, and Civil War episodes. He was best known, however, for his portraits of Texas pioneers. Among more than 100 items cataloged in 1976 were likenesses of Governor Sam Houston, the Delaware scout and chief John Conners, Manuel Yturri, Sr., José Fermín Cassiano, Col. John Robert Baylor, Johanna and Edward Steves, Dorothea and Carl Hilmar Guenther, Julius Schuetze, Samuel Augustus Maverick, and Governor Edmund Jackson Davis. Iwonski's pencil portraits of children were especially sensitive in treatment and can be favorably compared to those of Richard Petri. During his years in Texas, Iwonski steadily improved his technique, especially in oil painting. The versatility of his work exceeded that of his contemporaries who pioneered in the fine arts in nineteenth-century Texas.
Iwonski, a lifelong bachelor, returned with his mother to Germany in 1873. There he remained active in art circles in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) and Silesia. He died on April 4, 1912.