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What Remains of the Home of an Early Czech Pioneer in Texas

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178.     EMSLEY, Charles. Dignowitty [i.e., Dignowity] House, Hill, San Antonio, 1885, Chas. Emsley [title painted on verso]. Painting (oil on canvas, stretched over original wooden board and secured by original nails and three corner pieces) showing Dignowity’s idyllic San Antonio home (built in 1853), a European-type structure with blooming tree and yucca in landscape, peacock in foreground, blue sky and puffy white clouds above. 15.3 x 25.1 cm. Signed by artist in red paint at lower left: “C. Emsley.” Slight chipping of paint mainly confined to corners, mild discoloration, overall very good.

     The painting shows the home of Anthony Michael Dignowity (1810-1875), early Czech-American author, physician, inventor, businessman, and public official. The outspoken abolitionist was born in Bohemia and fled the Austrian conscription laws in 1832, landing in New York. While traveling with Arkansas volunteers to fight in the Mexican-American War he stopped in San Antonio and decided to stay after realizing the city needed a physician. He was the first Czech to settle in San Antonio. See Handbook of Texas Online.

     Dignowity Hill, east of downtown San Antonio on the highest hill, was the first exclusive residential area in San Antonio, preceding King William and Laurel Heights. The fate of the Dignowity House east of downtown San Antonio is described by Lewis Fisher in Saving San Antonio (Texas Tech University Press, 1996, p. 136):

In 1927 the city purchased, commendably, a block of land on the city’s east side. It included the deteriorating two-story home built in 1853 by Anthony Michael Dignowity, pioneer San Antonio physician and perhaps the first Czech to immigrate to Texas. In one of the more bizarre cases of landmark abuse in San Antonio’s history, a pile of shingles in an upstairs room of the Dignowity House was saturated with kerosene. At six o’clock one August morning the pile of shingles was ceremoniously lit by Acting Mayor Phil Wright, and the “old place slowly burned to the ground” while three companies of city firemen stood by. The burning saved the city “from tearing it down and carting off the lumber, rock, and adobe.” Debris was swept into two deep wells on the property. [quotations from San Antonio Express, August 5, 1927, p. 8]

The site of the Dignowity home became a park. The city later sold the property to the Baptist Hospital but repurchased it when the deal did not materialize. In 1952 the land was finally dedicated for “park and recreation purposes only” and officially named Dignowity Park. In 1981, San Antonio formed the historic district of Dignowity Hill, along with the Alamo Plaza.

     English artist Charles Emsley was born in England in 1863, came to California in 1918, and resided in Santa Cruz until shortly before his death in 1928. He was a member of the Santa Cruz Art League. (Source: Edan Hughes, “Artists in California, 1786-1940”). At the time this piece was painted, the arts were thriving in San Antonio and artists from all over the country and abroad visited the region. Emsley paintings seldom appear on the market.


Sold. Hammer: $2,600.00; Price Realized: $3,120.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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