Census records indicate that Frederick Kemmelmeyer was more than forty-five years old in 1800, and therefore born sometime prior to 1755, but no record of his birth has been found. A Frederick Kimmelmeiger listed in naturalization papers issued at Annapolis, Maryland, on 8 October 1788 is presumed to be the artist. He first advertised in the Maryland Gazette; or The Baltimore Advertiser on 3 June of that year, announcing his services as a drawing instructor, a painter of miniatures and larger pictures in watercolor and oil, and a sign painter.
Kemmelmeyer lived and worked in Baltimore until 1803. His journeys as an itinerant over the following fourteen years can be traced through his advertisements and portrait sitters. In June 1803 he offered lessons in drawing, painting, and gilding in Alexandria, Virginia, where he opened a school the following September. This was probably not successful, for he relocated across the Potomac in Georgetown in October. He solicited western Maryland patrons in the Hagerstown and Frederick-town newspapers in 1805, then traveled north to Chambersburg, Pennsyvania, in 1806. His advertisements appear in Winchester, Virginia, journals in 1810. The following year he worked in Maryland, and two years later he taught and painted in West Virginia. By 1816, the year of his last known portrait and the latest advertisement discovered to date, he had returned to Hagerstown.
Kemmelmeyer's known works include a few religious pictures, a number of pastel portraits, an oil painting of Martin Luther copied from a print, and historical compositions. Kemmelmeyer's decision to paint historical scenes was unusual and ambitious for an untrained artist. Choosing such subjects, particularly Washington, whom he painted at least five times, suggests awareness of the developing market for paintings of distinctly American themes. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 238-239.