A selection of exceptionally beautiful and important paintings from the Man at Work Collection housed at the Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering.
This painting by Martin van Valckenborch is among the earliest and finest examples of industrial paintings in the Grohmann Museum Collection. The work is emblematic of the collection in that it is at once viewed as both a master work of art and a historical document. The point at which art history and the history of technology merge is a unique space that allows for recreation of historical industries in historical places.
Misfortune at the Mine is among the most unique works in the Grohmann Museum collection, unlike any other in both style and approach. The majority of paintings in the collection are literal interpretations of the industry of focus, painted in a straightforward manner and primarily representational. This painting represents a departure from this norm in that Getty Bisagni evokes biblical imagery in his depiction of the fallen miner.
The painting adopts the formal quality of cathedral glass in a type of cubist treatment of the subject. And the positions of the five figures are reminiscent of Old Master paintings of Jesus Christ’s descent from the cross. Fields of color formed in stripes run through the composition and lend to the scene the look of light streaming through a stained-glass window. The miner’s positioning is also reminiscent of the positioning of Christ in Michelangelo’s Pietá.
This painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger was so popular that no fewer than twenty versions were produced in the artist’s workshop. In fact, more than 100 variants exist, though certainly not all were produced by Brueghel himself. Our Peasant Lawyer was authenticated in 2002 and was dated to around 1620 using dendrochronology, or tree ring dating applied to the panel on which it is painted.
The painting appears under different titles, including The Tax Collector or The Payment of the Tithes, but the setting is that of a village attorney’s office, with clients lined up to enlist his services. Perhaps it is a tax note from the local government, perhaps orders from a magistrate. Whatever the matter, there is no shortage of folks in need.
Files are organized in sacks arranged throughout the space as the attorney studies the document at hand. An hourglass is visible on the lawyer’s desk as an allusion of fleeting time, or possibly as commentary on charging by the minute.
Central to the mythological views of metalworking is the visit of Venus to Vulcan’s forge. Vulcan was the mythological God of Fire and the original blacksmith; manufacturer of arms, iron, jewelry, and armor for various gods and heroes. Here, Venus visits to persuade Vulcan to produce weapons for her lover, Mars. In these scenes, we often find Cupid accompanying Venus. Venus was Vulcan’s wife but by Cupid’s arrow succumbed to infidelity with Mars. This was later discovered by Vulcan, who caught them in the act by means of a magical snare that he forged.
This myth - popular with Flemish painters of the 16th and 17h century - was often featured in the work of Jan Beughel the Elder. Here it is explored by Brueghel the Younger, accompanied by Hendrick van Balen; two master painters of their era. Here we see a picture within a picture, with the stylistic touches of each artist apparent to the viewer. The Italianate ruins in the distance and the assorted armor on display is distinctly Brueghel, whereas the figures are more aligned with Balen’s style. The armor and associated metalwork are painted in fine detail, and were repeated time and again in both artist’s treatment of this Allegory of Fire.
Eyre Crowe illustrates a forge shop featuring a drop forge hammer driven by a water wheel. A pair of workers position a hot work piece under the forge hammer; their faces shielded from sparks and heat. They are wearing aprons and shin guards that also cover their feet. The work piece lies on an iron base serving as an anvil. A cam wheel to the right lifts the hammer. As the cam turns farther the hammer will fall onto the glowing hot work piece. On the right a boy is holding a cart, ready to move the work piece. On the left a young woman delivers food and something to drink.
Eyre Crowe spent his childhood in Paris, where his father, the historian Eyre Evans Crowe, was foreign correspondent for the Morning Chronicle. In 1839, he began his study of painting with Paul Delaroche, with whom he visited Rome in 1843. A fellow pupil on this trip was Jean-Léon Gérôme, with whom Crowe remained a lifelong friend. On his return to London in 1845 Crowe entered the Royal Academy Schools, exhibiting his first picture at the Royal Academy the following year. In visits to the United States, Crowe had looked sympathetically at the plight of black slaves and in 1861 exhibited The Sale of Slaves at the Royal Academy. This picture was based on sketches he had made in 1853 when visiting Virginia. He pursued this social commentary with such works as the Dinner Hour, Wigan which presents another view of factory workers. Later in life Crowe worked as an inspector and examiner at the South Kensington schools and was elected Artist of the Royal Academy in 1876.
The Forge was previously in the Forbes Collection, purchased by the Forbes family as Christopher “Kip” Forbes pursued his degree in Art History from Princeton University in the early 1970s. Then labelled The Foundry—a tag that remains on the frame—it serves as a reminder that we must look at the art of industry through a variety of lenses. Not only do we examine them art historically, we must also understand the processes captured in the compositions.
Previously attributed to Rembrandt himself, this painting carries a “Rembrandt van Rijn“ signature (at left center, above the globe), which could have been done by star pupil Willem Drost (to whom the painting is currently attributed). The contemporaneous nature of the signature has been confirmed by the conservator of the painting. Drost is known to have inscribed the Rembrandt signature on other paintings; for example, Portrait of a Young Man in the Wallace Collection, London. In painting The Geographer, he has employed chiaroscuro: the typical light-dark painting techniques of his master. Students in the Rembrandt workshop also used the same paint mixes and other supplies (brushes, panels, etc.) as the master.
Alternately, legend has it that Rembrandt often put final touches on works by his students and occasionally signed some paintings to inflate the prices his assistants could command for their works. Regardless if signed by master or pupil, the contemplative geographer is portrayed with the tools of his profession: globe, divider and triangle. During the 17th century, geography was among the most well-regarded applied sciences; with the age of discovery came a need to chart new lands. Thus, geographers enjoyed elite status, as evidenced in this painting.
Potato Harvest joins Ludwig Knaus’ Behind the Scenes and Magician in the Barn in this feature of Masterworks from the Grohmann Museum. Not only is this an outstanding painting by one of the most beloved artists of the German Romantic period, it is also an examination of farm work as a family operation. Here, Knaus depicts a family harvesting potatoes, with no fewer than three generations represented.
Father and grandmother till the soil, unearthing potatoes for harvest. They are joined by a younger woman and two small children, who scan the fresh tilling for tubers. In the foreground, another youngster tends to potatoes in a fire, baking them to provide food and energy for the weary workers. Beside her, mother holds an infant, offering a bit of potato as a snack or to sooth its teething. A log cart—tended by neighbors or possibly extended family—passes in the distance, leading the viewer’s eye to the village off in the distance.
Painted around 1816, Cooper Shop, Old German, 1568 depicts a cooperage from an earlier time—a time of guilds and master tradesmen. The technology—for example, the use of ash wood hoops rather than metal bands—and mode of production speak more to the 16th century than the 19th. As such, Carl Wilhelm Kolbe’s composition may have been co-opted from an earlier print or illustration.
Here, the master cooper is testing journeymen to determine their worthiness to accept his daughter’s hand in marriage. The journeymen toil as the master looks on, judging their every move. This was common in the guild system; masters would prefer to keep the business in their family and often looked for worthy successors to mentor.
This painting is also known as the Cooper Shop that Made History, in that it inspired several artistic and literary works that followed. In 1818, romantic novelist E.T.A. Hoffman saw the painting and was inspired to pen the epic poem Master Martin the Cooper and His Journeymen. In it, Master Martin has a beautiful daughter, Rosa, for whom three men (a painter, a goldsmith, and a nobleman) vie. However, Martin will only accept he who masters the cooper’s craft. Hoffman’s poem, illustrated by Heinrich Schmidt, prompted Franz Ignatz von Holbein to adapt the material into a successful stage comedy in 1925. Further, Richard Wagner used this work as inspiration for his 1868 opera, The Master Singers of Nürnberg, in which the character of the cooper is replaced with a master singer. Indeed, Kolbe’s Cooper Shop made history.
Though born in Norway, Peder Severin Krøyer spent his adult and professional life in Denmark following tutelage at Copenhagen’s Technical Institute and later the Royal Danish Academy of Art. He was quite active in a group of Danish and Nordic artists known as the Skagen Painters, becoming one of the most renowned and respected members. The group would gather in the summer to paint the local surroundings.
Best known for his peaceful landscapes and recreational scenes, Krøyer was also captivated by scenes of labor and industry. Three Smiths at Hornbæk, Denmark records the master blacksmith in the Danish town of Hornbæk. The master is working with a journeyman and an apprentice. The master holds a horseshoe bar in his tongs. The impact of the sledge on the hammer creates sparks as it punches nail holes in the bar. The apprentice operates the bellows observing the forging process performed by the two skilled men.
In 1875 Krøyer produced another version of this forging scene. It is part of the Hirschsprung Collection in Copenhagen. The Hirschsprung contacted the Grohmann Museum in 2012 regarding this “lost twin” and confirmed that they have the companion piece. While they would like to reunite these works by one of Copenhagen’s favorite sons, the painting will remain a centerpiece of our blacksmith gallery.
In his work Flax Barn in Laren Max Liebermann depicts a pre-industrial mode of spinning even though this production process was, at the time, already adapted to industrial manufacturing. Here, women and children spin prepared flax into raw yarn. This is accomplished by a process that combines methods from the classical cottage industry and a true factory. Twelve women twist the flax into thread and onto spools, employing spinning wheels powered by a row of children seated along the window wall. Two spinners work with each spinning wheel. Although spinning machines had been invented, old technologies were applied if cheap labor was available, as was the case with women and children in Holland.
Max Liebermann was a renowned German painter and an early adherent to Impressionism in Germany. He was trained at, named to, and later became the president of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. The painting displayed here is a study for the final painting, which now hangs in the Berlin National gallery. When it was first unveiled to the public, Flax Barn in Laren was roundly criticized for its faithful depiction of child labor. Although a widespread phenomenon, this was a subject largely ignored; omitted from the genre painting of the day. While Liebermann often offered social commentary in his work, he later argued against the blending of art and politics.
In Harvest Time, Richard Lorenz shows the gathering of grain in the open landscape of Western Wisconsin. Consistent with the division of labor common since the Middle Ages, the man cuts the culms with a scythe while the woman gathers the stalks and rakes bundles. The complementary colors of the golden-yellow grain and the blue sky have been arranged to create a peaceful, harmonious composition.
Richard Lorenz was born in Voigtstedt near Weimar in Germany and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Weimar. In 1886 he travelled to Milwaukee to take a job with William Wehner’s American Panorama Company. Panorama paintings came to the United States in 1883 when Wehner founded his company on Wells Street in Milwaukee. He chose Milwaukee because of its German population, as he brought some 20 academy-trained artists to work on the panoramas in what was then known as “Little Munich,” and wanted to make them feel at home. Lorenz was among them
Following his work as a panorama painter, Lorenz became one of the most important genre painters of the American West, but his local connections are many. In 1901 he was one of the founding members of the Society of Milwaukee Artists, later known as Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors. He was also a lecturer at the Wisconsin School of Design (aka, Wisconsin Art Institute), founded Lorenz School of Art, and taught at Milwaukee Art Students League’s Wisconsin School of Art.
Constantin-Emile Meunier is unquestionably the most important 19th century Belgian artist dealing with the subject of work. Both a painter and sculptor, he depicted the work and living conditions of Belgian miners and metalworkers as no one else had. It was in the late 1880s, while travelling in the Belgian industrial district of the Borinage, that his attention was drawn to these themes. From that point on, he devoted his energy and creativity to portraying his industrial impressions in paintings and sculptures.
Meunier wasn’t terribly interested in the technical documentation of industrial work. Instead, he was much more concerned with honoring the worker. In this painting, a young couple is taking a rest from their toil. The young man stands with a clay pipe in his left hand, while the young lady sits on a stool with legs crossed. An industrial landscape with smoking chimneys provides the backdrop for this work. Rather than appearing withered and worn, this couple exudes a strength and a dignity not altogether common in depictions of hard work. Through his treatment, a regal portrait of prideful workers is produced.
For more than a thousand years the myth of the construction of the Tower of Babel has been depicted in art. This myth can be found illustrated in many cultures, but the best-known and most complete description is found in the Old Testament—Genesis 11:1-9. People from across the land set out to erect a tower all the way to the heaven. In response to this display of arrogance and to counter the idea that there was a shortcut to heaven (beyond living a good life), God created many different languages so that the architects and workers could not understand one another. The result was that communication was inhibited, architectural styles did not mesh, and thus the tower ultimately collapsed. This myth also provided us with the words babble, as in the sounds a baby makes, and babel, or a scene of noise or confusion.
Since the middle ages, the pictorial presentations of this myth have been ambivalent. The tower inevitably remains unfinished, but the punishment by God is usually only weakly indicated or left out entirely. The focus and emphasis is usually on a representation of human achievement. Only rarely can you find examples of a dramatic punishment of human arrogance.
This painting from the circle of Gillis van Valckenborch comes from an era when hundreds of paintings depicting the Tower of Babel were created in the Netherlands. It shows the monumental, unfinished project being admired by the builder and his entourage. Numerous workers are busy with the preparation and transport of additional building materials. Curious are the blend of historic building styles that led to the tower’s collapse.
Belgian brothers Lucas and Marten van Valckenborch created numerous landscape paintings depicting industrial processes and building projects. They were part of arguably the most prominent family of Flemish painters of the 16th and 17th centuries, with no fewer that 14 artists in their lineage. In Fantastic River Landscape with Ironworks, brother Martin creates what appears to be a typical Dutch river landscape painting, but in the foreground a flurry of activity brings 17th century iron technology in full view.
Jan van Goyen is among the most under-recognized artists in the Grohmann Museum collection, but is also one of the finest Dutch landscape painters of the 17th century. He was very influential in his time, with many other painters adopting his palette, style, and technique. His paintings often began with a thin oak panel, which he covered in a white lead ground to fill the wood grain and provide a smooth painting surface. From there, we relied on a palette taken from the very nature he sought to capture; natural grays, earthen browns, and red ochres taken from earth.
This earthen palette serves Goyen well in A River Landscape with Lime Kilns. While he was primarily a landscape painters, Goyen maintained a certain sensitivity in the rendering of the subject occupying his scenes. Here, he shows two lime kilns and their supporting structures located next to a river. A worker carries a bag of limestone up to the charging area. Tools needed for arranging limestone and charcoal in the kiln and the removal of the finished lime are seen leaning against the kiln wall. Other workers toil at a fire to the left of the kilns. The scene is completed with figures occupying the boats in the foreground.
In lime making, crushed limestone is burned for several days at 1800°F, turning it to powdered lime. Lime is used in making mortar, fertilizer, whitewash, and concrete. In and around Milwaukee, lime production was an important local industry, primarily in providing mortar for Cream City brick. Local sites such as Trimborn Farm in Greendale and Lime Kiln Park in Grafton are a testament to this industrial heritage.
Wouter Verschuur was a Dutch Romantic painter who specialized in livestock painting, particularly horses in working scenes. He exhibited his first painting at the age of 15 and was appointed a member of the Royal Academy in Amsterdam at the age of 21. His prodigious nature, coupled with the popularity of his paintings, provided him with the wherewithal to travel widely and paint freely.
Verschuur’s Quarry provides an opportunity to study both livestock at work in heavy transport but also the engineering behind the harvest of stone below the Earth’s surface. While the transport of stone is the primary theme of this painting, it is the red lifting wheel that dominates the scene. These lifting wheels, featured in several paintings in this gallery, allowed for a one-ton block to be raised from 100 yards below the surface using only the power provided by a few workers. The large diameter of the wheel greatly reduced the force required to lift the heavy blocks by multiplying the torque on the shaft, making the load much ‘lighter’ by turning a large wheel rather a small one. Much like a large gear on a bicycle is easier to turn than a small gear.
This painting has also prompted a great deal of debate among Museum staff, docents, and patrons. Where do you stand? Is the horse trying mightily to start moving the load up the incline? Or is he struggling to stop the load from moving? You be the judge.
While the transport of stone is the primary theme of this painting, it is the red lifting wheel that dominates the scene. These lifting wheels, featured in several paintings in this gallery, allowed for a one-ton block to be raised from 100 yards below the surface using only the power provided by a few workers.
At any time from the late Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century thousands of itinerant vendors offered their products and services for sale from village to town to city. It is estimated that in the mid-19th century there were 50,000 itinerant street hawkers working in London alone. These vendors included itinerant healers such as tooth extractors, cataract depressors, and quacks offering their powders, salves and elixirs, as seen in this painting by a follower of the famous Gerrit Dou.
The loud promotional call of the quack led to the name ‘charlatan,’ derived from the Italian word ciarlare, meaning to babble or prattle. Quacks often claimed to have developed a wonder cure, but based on the dubious reception by the assembled crowd, perhaps the only ‘wonder’ this quack created concerned his steep prices or the quality of the medicinal agent being offered. For example, Theriac was considered an exceptional miracle drug made in ancient Greece from aniseed, caraway and fennel. It was often used to treat snakebites. Over time, the drug was continually adulterated, so that by the Middle Ages such things as duck blood and viper meat had been added. Theriac was considered a wonder medicine that prolonged life and was distributed well into the 19th century by doctors.
Dou's follower ironically illustrates the way a quack entices people and possibly seduces them. The withered tree to the left forms a stag's head with antlers, sometimes symbolic of fertility or the hunt/chase. Perhaps it is the quack who is on the chase.
Harvesting scenes were popular themes in paintings of farm work in the 19th century. The portrayal of women and men working on fields in beautiful landscapes provided artists with a variety of motifs and interpretations: religious gratefulness, happiness due to good crops, hard work, muscular bodies, clothes and rituals in folkloric scenes, and finally the sharing of the harvest with the poor by allowing them to glean.
Together with Millet, Breton and Lhermitte, Julien Dupré was an adherent of this genre of painting. He was born in Paris in 1851 as the son of a jeweler. He received his most influential training as a painter from his fellow-countryman Désiré François Laugée (1823– 1896) and later married Laugée’s daughter. He created a considerable number of paintings with farming themes, many of them part of major museum collections the world over.
This painting is a companion to The Hay Harvest (also in the Grohmann Museum collection) and could be another version of the same scene. A woman wearing clothes with the national colors of France (red, white and blue) picks up a pile of hay with her pitchfork while two other workers to her left also pick up hay with fork and bare hands. The ox-drawn hay wagon stands to the rear with a worker stacking the wagon. Other harvesters work in the background.
A previously forested area has been clear cut. Logs are being pulled to a wagon by a horse. The wagon has a three-horse hitch. A tripod hoist operated by one logger lifts the logs up to the wagon bed where another positions the logs. The wagon is held from moving by a stout stick jamming the wheel. Branches are stacked in piles throughout the area. The majestic horses are English-bred coach horses—Clydesdales from southern Scotland.
Wright Barker became well-known through his livestock paintings. His use of the initials RBA after his name suggests that he studied at the Royal British Academy, where he also exhibited from 1891-1938. He lived and worked in Ollerton/Newark on Trent, north of Nottingham. His most beloved paintings depict dogs, hunting scenes, horses, cattle in the highlands, and occasionally simple landscapes. The Loggers were probably observed by Barker in neighboring Lincolnshire, a region less densely populated and east of his home in Ollerton.
A master American painter at the turn-of-the-century, Frederick Arthur Bridgman was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, and found most of his artistic inspiration during his stays in France, specifically in Brittany and Normandy. This is where the subject for his seaweed gatherers could originate. The incoming tide washes the weed on shore while men and women gather it with pitchforks specifically designed for the activity. In this scene, the artist demonstrates his skill in capturing water on canvas in all its facets. Bridgman is considered one of the most significant painters of his time, especially for his so-called Oriental paintings of scenes from Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cultures.
Seaweed has many important uses, including: commercial production of food in Asia, Polynesia and the British Islands: iodine: non-flammable, lightweight alginate textile fibers used in theater curtains; hosiery and medical dressings; and gum used in water-remoistened products. The seaweed harvested in this painting is sessile algae and can be green, brown, red or blue-green. It is being gathered on the coast of France at Pointe de la Torche/Penmarche, Finistere, Brittany. Bridgman painted this scene when he was living in Lyon-la-Forêt in Normandy.
John George Brown was born in England in 1831, but moved to New York—his adopted home—in 1853. He began study at the National Academy of Design in 1854, was elected a National Academician in 1861, and acted as vice-president of the Academy from 1899-1904. His work was regularly exhibited at the academy and throughout the Northeast.
Among the most well-known genre painters of his day, Brown often sought to capture the spirit of children as they worked the city streets. These included chimney sweeps, bootblacks, street merchants, and newsboys. Among the most popular paintings in the Museum’s collection, Extra, Extra captures a newsboy in action—walking along, calling out, his scarf flowing in the breeze while he carries copies of the latest edition.
In the late 19th century, New York (and other large cities) teemed with working children, actively engaged in the support of their families or even living on the streets. Brown’s work often depicted their activity, ambition, and vigor while ignoring many of the harsh realities they experienced.
Much like the sideshow performers in Knaus’ Behind the Scenes, the magician and his assistants (likely his children) travel from town to town plying their trade for the enjoyment of the assembled audience. Here, a group looks on in awe as the magician calls forth canaries from a man’s hat. The gentleman whose hat is used as a prop is likely the farmer or landowner; the host of the performance, surrounded by his neighbors, friends, and family. Following the performance, the magician and crew will load their cart and move on to the next stop.
Brass Casting is a composition focused on the unity of work by a master of turn-of-the-century Dutch painting. Johan Coenraad Herman Heyenbrock spent his career painting much of the local industry, and travelled extensively building his portfolio of work. He painted the miners of the Borinage coal mining district in Belgium, the shipbuilders of Scotland, the stonecutters and loggers of Sweden, and all manners of work throughout Western Europe. He sought to capture entire work processes, from raw material through production, providing a complete view of industry.
Here we glimpse a foundry interior in which six men surround a mold that is being poured using a double-handled pouring shank holding a crucible of molten metal. Four men—two at each end—manage the tilting/tipping of the ladle while two men in the background look on. White smoke billows forth as a result of the activity, an indication that brass is being poured.
As Heyenbrock was inspired by history, factories, and industry, he became known in his native Dutch as de schilder van licht en arbeid, or the painter of light and work. He further pursued his passion by founding the Museum van den Arbeid—The Museum of Work—which opened in Amsterdam in 1929 (now the NEMO Science Museum).
With many paintings in the Museum’s collection, we are not simply viewing a generic scene of work or industry. Instead, many works document a real, well-known industrial area or even an actual company, the history of which is highlighted in the art on display. We can also learn a great deal about the industry depicted. Besides, a museum in Milwaukee would not be complete without a display of brewing history in one form or another.
This painting was acquired by the Bardou family for the Castle of Aubiry at Céret, France, built between 1894 and 1900. Four workers are shown working in the Brasserie Béthencourt in northern France, three of them at the ‘mash tun.’ Mashing is the brewing process whereby grains (starches) are converted into sugar so the yeast can produce alcohol during fermentation. The grains and malt (sprouted and roasted grain) are mixed with water in a large pot called a tun at an elevated temperature for a period of time and stirred with a paddle while taking temperature readings.
Heat is supplied by the copper heater with a steam vent as shown. During this process, enzymes are released into the solution, transforming the grain and water into sweet wort. The wort will then be ‘sparged’—where the remaining grain is rinsed to extract the sugar and clarify the wort. The wort boil is followed by the adding of hops, chilling, and then fermentation using yeast.
Many works in the Museum collection are Masterworks based on who created them and the context in which they were created. Others, like Charles Ernest Cundall’s The New Forth Road Bridge, are Masterworks in skill, execution, and the scene captured.
This painting documents the construction of the suspension bridge across the Firth of Forth connecting Edinburgh and Fife, Scotland (also to Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen). It replaced a ferry for passengers and eventually vehicles, established in the 11th century. Prior to its construction, car traffic would have to travel 40 miles south for crossing and another 40 miles north to reach the point across the Firth.
A marvel of engineering, when the bridge was completed in 1964 it was the longest suspension bridge outside the United States and the fourth largest bridge in the world. Its total length is 8,238 feet and its two towers, 512 feet above mean river level support the two 2-foot (diameter) cables. The construction project used 39,000 tons of steel and 150,000 cubic yards of concrete.
The painting shows the two side span piers almost complete and the foundations for the two cable towers complete at left. Holes and foundations for the next side span pier are being built as is the cable anchorage near the third side span pier at right. These piers support the approach viaduct at the south end of the bridge.
Construction of a third bridge is currently underway to reduce traffic bottlenecks and erosion problems of the New Forth Road Bridge
These women are washing clothing in fresh water flowing from the rock at right, where two women are drawing water. A woman with her finished laundry heads back to the village on the path coming down to the beach. It appears to be afternoon with the sun blocked by surrounding hills and the tide is out. The women scrub the clothing using their paddles and soap then twist them dry on spindles. Brittany is on the northern coast of France near the English Channel.
Jules Breton first visited Brittany in 1865; one of many artists and travelers to visit the area where the inhabitants kept to the language, religion and culture of the earlier Celtic settlers. He visited the beaches and observed washerwomen and other peasants at their daily work, creating large canvases like this one. Breton portrays the women in a more realistic and natural manner related to the work they perform rather than the more classical poses. This early form of naturalism failed to win the approval of critics when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1870. It was one of the earliest major works of Breton to be acquired by an American collector; Edwin Denison Morgan, governor of New York and later a United States senator. The painting disappeared after his death and was not seen until it was purchased by the Grohmann Museum.
The Washerwomen of the Breton Coast was recently on loan to the St. Louis Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum for their Impressionist France exhibition. It was there that we learned that the central figure in The Washerwomen was a local woman with whom Breton was quite enamored and often included her in paintings created in the area.
Otto Bollhagen’s Forge in Sterkrade depicts one of the most impressive—and powerful—of all industrial processes: the forging of large workpieces in a hydraulic press under tools powered by extreme fluid power. The painting documents a large-scale forging operation at the Gutehoffnungshütte (GHH) mining and mechanical engineering company in Sterkrade, Germany.
The press of the type depicted here was capable of hundreds, even thousands, of tons of pressure. In 1913, pressures generally ranged from 1000-2000psi. Assuming pressures in this range along with a piston diameter of 36 inches (1018 square inches in cross-section), this press was capable of creating 500-1000 tons of working pressure. Research shows that by 1920 dual-piston presses were capable of achieving pressures in excess of 10,000 tons; indeed an impressive, and powerful, process.
Few artists matched Otto Bollhagen in skill, detail and accuracy in the depiction of industrial interiors. He began his career as a decorative painter of frescoes and interiors. Later, he worked as a commercial artist before finding his place among the great industrial painters. As such, he earned an honorary degree in engineering following a 1910 exhibition in Brussels where his works on industry were featured. A highly skilled and prolific artist, his paintings were admired for their quality but also their precision in depicting complex industrial processes. Atelier Bollhagen, which he established in 1892, continues this tradition in fine painting. The atelier (studio) is now managed by the artist’s great-grandson, also named Otto Bollhagen.
Many paintings in the Museum collection depict industrial advancement and highlight expansion and prosperity. These themes often surround the spectacle of the expanding railroad, connecting industry with the countryside as local populations bear witness to a time of great progress for their town and region.
This progress, of course, does not come without great toil, like that on display in Leonhard Sandrock’s Railroad Workers (Adzing for Tie Plates). This scene of railroad construction was produced by one of the masters of German industrial painting. In this painting, two four-man crews are alternating work and rest cycles, providing for constant adzing of the twin tracks shown. An adz is similar to an axe but with an arched blade at a right angle to the handle. Railroad ties are adzed to provide a smooth and level surface for the mounting of tie plates, and subsequently rails.
Sandrock painted at a time when ties were manually worked in preparation for applying the plates. This operation was later replaced by the work of an adzing machine, like the Nordberg Mobile Milling Machine, developed in Milwaukee in 1928. A significant contribution to our local industrial history, it was the first self-powered machine for roadway maintenance and established Milwaukee as a pioneer of railroad equipment and service. In viewing the backbreaking work captured in the painting, it seems it would only be a matter of time that the mechanical engineer would develop an efficient alternative.
The scene captured here lies in the Meuse River Valley in the Netherlands, and the industry depicted is that of iron smelting. Not only does Valckenborch provide a detailed view of the iron industry in 1611, but he also includes the mining scenes from which the raw materials are unearthed to fortify the production. This is among the most complete and detailed depiction of the iron industry of the time and allows the viewer a glimpse of the processes in place. The water-powered forge is positioned in proximity to the mining operation to make for efficient production and operation.
Numerous surveys in Germany note that Carl Spitzweg’s Poor Poet is clearly his most popular and well-known painting. The Grohmann Museum collection includes an oil study as well as the first of three final versions of the famous painting. When Spitzweg submitted the then-new painting to the art association of Munich for an exhibition in 1837, it was not accepted, as it did not comply with conventional notions of art. But Spitzweg’s style of genre painting eventually took hold as he became perhaps the most beloved painter of the Biedermeier period in mid-19th century Germany.
In his attic studio apartment, the poet lies on a thin mattress with an umbrella over his head to combat his leaky roof. His writing is interrupted by a flea or louse, which he pinches between the fingers of his right hand. Spitzweg’s poet is the quintessential starving artist, as he has resorted to burning his manuscripts for heat.
Carl Spitzweg takes the viewer into a library of the second half of the 18th century, decorated in rococo style. The librarian’s dress is also of that period. The old man is standing at the top of the ladder, nearsightedly reading in a book. Another open book is in his right hand. He holds a third one under his left arm, and with his knees the fourth. Here, written works become part of the librarian’s physical existence, making him a “bookish” person in the real sense of the word.
Spitzweg’s Bookworm is as equally myopic as Norman Rockwell’s. Spitzweg treats this with a sense of irony, as his subject is reading in the “Metaphysics” section of the library. The field of metaphysics is concerned with grand philosophical inquiry, but this Bookworm appears mired in minutia.
Norman Rockwell created The Bookworm as a cover piece for the August 14, 1926 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The viewer quickly realizes that the subject’s errands have been interrupted as he browses art titles found at a local bookstall. A personification of the absent-minded professor, Rockwell’s Bookworm appears lost in thought as he is consumed by the book held mere inches from his face. It is unlikely that he will stay on task—with coat buttoned incorrectly, wearing mismatched shoes—despite the string around his finger and the note in his basket reading, “don’t forget matches and cheese.”
Rockwell’s Bookworm painting was modeled after that of Carl Spitzweg, also in the Grohmann Museum collection. As Palmer (2011) has noted, Rockwell was strongly influenced by the German Romantic painters, as he had three books on Spitzweg in his personal library, and numerous others covering the Romantic period.
Ludwig Knaus was one of the most beloved German Romantic painters and a member of the Düsseldorf school of painting, the Munich Academy, the Berlin Academy, and many others. He was also professor at the Prussian Academy, Berlin, where he resided for much of his adult life. He was best known for his engaging genre scenes of everyday life across the Bavarian countryside.
In this painting, we are taken Behind the Scenes of a traveling side show; itinerant performers going town to town offering entertainment and earning a living at the same time. This is likely a family affair, evidenced by the clown feeding the infant and the children and dogs beside the cook stove. Personal meets professional, both scattered across the foreground of the painting; a drum, weights, and juggling balls at left, kitchen utensils and household goods at right. The clown’s expression indicates that ‘juggling’ work and family is no easy task.
One of Peder Severin Krøyer’s most engaging compositions and perhaps his finest painting, Wine Harvest in the Tyrol depicts a family grape harvest on a sunny day in the Southern Tyrolean Alps (an area in Northern Italy). Shaded by the dense growth, two young men and three women tend to the vines on bended knee along the left of the composition, joined by an elderly gentleman who instead stands, harvesting at eye level. Dappled sunlight spots their faces as it cascades through the leaves. At right, a younger man empties a bushel basket into a larger basket/vessel (wooden staves with steel banding, fabricated much like a barrel). Beyond him the vineyard extends into the sunny distance, with Alpine peaks as a backdrop.
In South Tyrol, there are three indigenous varieties of grape: Schiava, Gewürztraminer and Lagrein. Given the color and size of those in Krøyer’s painting, the family is likely harvesting grapes of the Lagrein variety. Lagrein grapes are a descendant of the Teroldego strain and are related to Syrah and Pinot Noir varieties. They are typically harvested from August to October. Later in life, Krøyer would summer in the Tyrol, as he felt the Alpine air was beneficial to his good health.