|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following, The Panorama Painters of Milwaukee, by Michael Kutzer, was submitted by by Gene Meier. It pertains to five artists including Herman Von Michalowski.|
At the end of April 1885, five artists crossed the Atlantic with the
steamer “Fulda” and came to Milwaukee. August Lohr from Munich,
Friedrich Wilhelm Heine and Berhard Schneider from Dresden, and Hermann
von Michalowski and Franz Rohrbeck from Berlin. Lohr had his family
and maid with him, Heine left his family in Dresden, the others were
bachelors. There was also a male model Klötzer.
This group arrived in Milwaukee to paint for the American Panorama
Company of William Wehner huge circular canvasses with scenes from the
Civil war and later of religious motifs. Nobody of them moved back to
Europe again and they shared the fate of so many immigrant artists.
In Europe they just disappeared from the scene until today. The cut
was final. And in Amerika? Well, there was a time when for instance
Milwaukee was proudly called “German Athens”. Indeed there was a huge
amount of German artists in Milwaukee and around in Wisconsin. It
isn’t exaggerated to say that the origin of the art scene in Wisconsin
was mainly originated by German artists. But there came a time when it
wasn’t good to be German in Amerika. These painters, who got lost for
Europe, also were forgotten here.
They remained in limbo for decades, until some scholars became
interested. Here in Wisconsin it was primarily the merit of Peter C.
Merrill to write a profound compendium about these German-American
artists and to collect the information left from that time, and it was
the merit of the Museum of Wisconsin Art under the leadership of Tom
Lidtke to collect the works of this lost generation. But there
remained still a big black hole about what happened exactly here in
Milwaukee, after those five artists I already named arrived in 1885. The artists’ biographies are falling short and often hide any
participation in this Panorama business, as for a long time these huge
paintings weren’t taken seriously and were just seen as commercial art
unworthy of a true artist. This misjudgment has changed in the last
years, and the interest what happened in Milwaukee has grown .
And in the middle of all this fog of ignorance and lack of information
a source was found with solid dates and names and details of the entire
process of Milwaukee Panorama painting: the diaries of one of those
artists, Friedrich Wilhelm Heine. They cover the years from 1880 to
1921 with notations for nearly every day and therefore content a huge
amount of information. A long time they lay safe, but unread in the
shelves of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, after the grand
daughter- in-law of Heine, Lea Heine, had donated them to this
organization. They remained unread, as Heine had written them not only
in German, but in a mixture of Old German and Latin letters and in such
a tiny writing that you can’t decipher the lines without a magnifying
glass or by blowing them up by computer scan.
Finally a project was created by the Max Kade Institute in cooperation
with the MCHS and the MWA and this year sponsored by the Bradley
Foundation to start the deciphering of Heine’s information.
When I as the lead transcriber of this project was asked to hold a
speech at this event about something related to the diaries of
Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, I thought about, what could be of general
interest to this auditorium and I decided it would be most fitting in
sight of so many artists to speak less about the making of panoramas
than about the artists themselves, who painted here in Milwaukee
together and how they dealt with each other. Artists are known as
individualists and it is always interesting to see how they manage to
work in a group together and how this process of socializing is
The 19th century was a significant time for the appearance of artist
groups or artist colonies starting with the so called “School of
Barbizon” and later the “Impressionists” in France, the “Worpswede
painters” in Germany or here in America the “Hudson River school”, “The
Ten” and many others. We often have our very romantic imaginations
about these groups and even art history did so a long time.
Take for instance the Barbizon painters. Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny,
Millet, Diaz and all the others lived in the little village Barbizon,
the day over they painted in the forest and in the evening they met in
the cozy village tavern and talked about their experiences. Nonsense!
Talks happened of course, but not regularly, beside of Rousseau nobody
of them lived for a longer time in that village and Corot, often in art
history called the “Father of Barbizon” appeared rather late at the
scene. Rumors and soap bubbles!
The interesting thing with the Panorama artist group of the 1880s in
Milwaukee is, that they really were tightly connected, as they worked
together on these huge paintings called Panoramas and by the diaries of
Heine we get a real insight into their group dynamic, not veiled by the
fog of a longer distance, but directly, day by day.
The first artist the American Panorama Manager William Wehner hired was
the Austrian landscape painter August Lohr, who had worked as a
Panorama painter under Louis Braun in Munich, and Lohr chose Friedrich
Wilhelm Heine as his companion. The fact that Wehner hired Lohr misled
to the conclusion that Lohr was the main leader of the group. In
reality Lohr and Heine were a leading couple making all decisions
Both are well fitting to some prejudices we have about Germans and
Austrians. Lohr was more nonchalant, taking problems easier, so for
instance some misbehavior of workers or colleagues or the education of
his own children. When there was a theater performance in the evening,
his teeny daughters were also allowed to go to the tavern
thereafter,and if it became late, Lohr wouldn’t care about school the
next day and let them sleep longer.
Heine in opposite is a man of duty, Prussian to the bones even if he is
from Saxony, fun has its place, but discipline is regulating his life.
Think alone about this self discipline to write a diary from day to day
since he became 14 until the end of his life! While we have some very
talky, detailed and fluent letters from Lohr, Heine’s diary notations
are rather short, but notating the exact time to each event, the prices
of things he bought and even sometimes the glasses of beer he
consumed. Such a character also expects discipline from the others and
you may imagine that this could cause some problems in the cooperation
with other artists. Nevertheless these different temperaments worked
well together and Heine and Lohr swore to each other to care for the
other’s family in case one of them would die.
Heine hired Michalowski and Rohrbeck as figure painters and Schneider
as landscapist. Very soon he became the real midpoint of the group.
As the leading artist he made the composition and organized the working
process. But more important for the human aspect he was the one who
cared in a patriarchic way for the well being of all his colleagues.
Lohr as I already pointed out had his family with him and lived in a
rented villa, whereas the others all together lived in the same
boarding house in Grand Avenue nowadays Wisconsin Avenue. This way
they shared their life not just during the working hours. They had
their daily dinner together and spent their evenings in the same
taverns or in the rooms in the boarding house. This way Heine had
enough occasions to realize their different characters and personal
problems. There couldn’t have been a bigger diversity than between the
funny Hermann Michalowski, the grim Franz Rohrbeck and the a bit idle
and whiny Bernhard Schneider.
Michalowski was the youngest of the entire group, an artist who knew
not only to paint, but to enjoy life and impress by his extravagant
outfit. With his floating coat, white binder and long curly hair he
was fetching the eyes of the people and the workers called him the
Spaniard. Though of weak health he searched for fun wherever he could
find it and decorated the new Panorama building with some joky
But one day he lost his humor totally. Full of despair he showed his
colleagues a letter from his bride he had left in Germany. No, she
hadn’t abandoned him, in contrary, she was on the way to meet him here
in Milwaukee without having asked for his agreement. What a shame!
That didn’t fit into the male dominated world of that time and all
artists said determined: send her back immediately! But the young lady
was already on her way, and one day Michalowski got a telegram to pick
her up in Chicago. Heine’s decision: You remain here! If she has found
the way until Chicago, she’ll also find the rest! And when she came
and shook in self awareness their hands, Heine was disturbed. Oh this
poor weak person. He wrote about Michalowski in his diary. The other
artists agreed with Heine, but the bride found the right way to reach
her goal. She befriended with Lohr’s wife, and after a while all
accepted that she was there and in October there was wedding. But
Heine watched the couple further with suspicion. He noticed that
Michalowski’s engagement for the Panorama project was no more 100 % and
criticized their easy handling of money. And indeed, a year later the
couple had a thousand dollars deficit.
Franz Rohrbeck is, as I already said, grim. He is depressive and
choleric, not a very pleasant companion in the group sometimes. He and
Michalowski are like dog and cat, and it is touching to read how Heine
tries to avoid if possible, that these two different characters have to
work too often side by side. There are nights. when Rohrbeck comes to
Heine for a confident talk apologizing and trying to explain why he is
overreacting and regretting it afterwards. Heine gets to know that his
irritable behavior is caused by an inferiority complex. And Heine is a
good listener trying to understand. Not by chance is Rohrbeck after a
while the only one Heine is notating sometimes with his first name,
whereas he otherwise consequently uses just the family name.
In each good story book about a group, may it be a school class or the
rover gang of Robin Hood there has to be the corpulent phlegmatic guy,
and as life often is writing the best stories, Bernhard Schneider is
overtaking this part, the thick Schneider, as Heine calls him sometimes
in his diary. Often he mocks about him as a whim, always sweating and
moaning, especially after having some beers too much, when he the next
day is swearing no more to touch any beer mug, laying on the couch
groaning and too phlegmatic to chase the flies away which bother him.
But Heine isn’t just a heartless mocker. He enjoys, when Schneider is
painting well, proving that Wehner was wrong, when he declared
Schneider would never become a good Panorama painter. He also notices
that Schneider despite of his size is an elegant dancer.
Schneider is persecuted by his past in form of a lot of creditors
demanding their money from his time in Dresden. As he is rather bad in
economy, Heine is overtaking the task to help his colleague to get rid
of his debts. It is Heine, who is corresponding with the creditors,
protecting his colleague against too high demands and detracting a
reasonable amount from Schneider’s salary to pay back all debts step by
This is the nucleus of the Panorama crew, the painters who experienced
the very beginning of the panorama business with all the difficulties
and success doing this job the first time. They really work as a team
and identify themselves with their first huge painting. There is no
real gap between the bosses Heine and Lohr and the others. It is
significant that none of them is leaving the group as long as the
panorama painting is going on.
But a good story also needs an outsider to make the group process interesting.
And here he is: Theodor Davis. Davis worked as drawing correspondent for Harper’s Weekly
during the Civil War. He witnessed the battle in person that had to be
painted, and Wehner hired him as a competent historian to watch that
all would be painted in a correct way. He is not continuously with the
group, and his role as a controller isn’t always accepted.
Unfortunately Davis is soon seen as a know-it-all, a smart ass, who is
using his knowledge to dominate the group. He demands to show the
generals in the foreground as this would be more attractive for the
public, whereas Heine will mainly show the battle scenes. Later he
demands to fill the canvas with more and more troops and when one
artist moans, that this would destroy his carefully painted landscape,
Davis just says: this painting is about fighting, not landscape.
Nobody really likes him and his self-confidence or better
self-importance doesn’t improve this tension. Davis is a brilliant
writer, but when he is writing an article about the Panorama group it’s
first of all an article about him. That doesn’t make friends, and that
Davis is ruthless taking a crayon and corrects, adds or overdraws
things on the canvas, doesn’t improve the relation between him and the
With a kind of satisfaction Heine describes in his diary, how Davis
makes his corrections, excited that all have to follow his directions
and behind his back the other artists are pretending to follow his
advices, but in truth they’re busy to extinguish the crayon strokes and
annihilate his work. Somehow also Davis felt the distance between him
and the other artists and when the first panorama finally was done he
pointed out clearly, that he actually didn’t paint any stroke of this
Long before this happened, Heine and Lohr realized they would need
more artists to manage the deadline Wehner was setting for the first
panorama. It is typical, that they don’t try to find them in the
Milwaukee art scene. There is Henry Vianden painting and teaching.
His most famous student is Carl Marr, often returning from Germany to
his hometown Milwaukee, where he couldn’t make a living. But curiously
Heine and Lohr have no contact to this group. It is first in 1887, that
Heine is meeting Vianden. They’re totally focused on the
German/Austrian art scene, the artists they know or who are recommended
by the professors of the academies in Munich , Düsseldorf or Vienna.
So the next artists they hire are landscaper Wilhelm Schröder, who
studied in Düsseldorf, genre painter Theodor Breidwiser, chosen by
Lohr, who knew him from Vienna, and Albert Richter from Dresden, a
Richter is a very good friend of Heine from his years in Dresden with
the nickname Servus. Later Heine will write deeply disappointed: ”Never
hire your best buddy!” Every good story book needs a skunk and from the
start Servus is overtaking this role showing parts of a character
Heine didn’t know from their common years in Dresden. It is like
America made another person out of him. Just arrived he makes nasty
comments about America and the Americans. They have no behavior and
their houses look like ridiculous bird cages. Heine is disturbed. He
had from the start fully accepted Milwaukee as his home and thought it
But it is becoming worse. Until now there were some personal tensions
between the artists like between Michalowski and Rohrbeck or Heine and
Schneider, but generally they felt as a crew sticking together to reach
their common goal. Not Servus. Especially when he is drunk he is
bitching uncontrolled that he is the only gentlemen and some others
like Rohrbeck are from low origin and don’t know how to behave. He
bitches about the quality of the meals and the working conditions. One
day he attacks Heine himself accusing him to be a treacherous friend
and far under his level. “I am an officer and you just a sergeant”.
Heine really gets tired of these attacks and it doesn’t help that
Servus becoming sober again promises to provide him with antlers for
decorating his room. One day when Richter has made again some nasty
comments about Americans, Heine writes in his diary : “Some day he’ll
get a thrashing for that” and it is obvious wish thinking.
Also Breidwiser is a disappointment. His Austrian charm soon is fading
away, and Heine is disgusted by his primitive manners. He’s eating
like a sow, Heine is notating. As they’re still living together in a
boarding house, such a factor can really be disturbing. But also his
painting looks clumsy to Heine. That’s causing problems. Every artist
is hired by an individual contract related to their qualification. As
Breidwiser was expected to be brilliant, he had gotten a very high
calculated contract and after a while Heine and Lohr have to tell him,
that he has to work for less money or to leave. That’s an unpleasant
thing to do, and typically Lohr is writing a letter to Breidwiser, but
it is Heine who has to discuss the problem with the upset painter in
Arriving of Schröder in Milwaukee
Wilhelm Schröder seems at the first look to be the most unproblematic
of the three newcomers. But like Michalowski he has the tendency to
take things easy. Starting at the point in the morning isn’t his
thing. He’s also addicted by playing Scat and seducing Schneider in
the same direction. They return from the tavern sometimes at 3 o’clock
in the morning and then come late to work unable to do their job
because of their hangover. The discipline of the group is breaking
down. This is a slow, but steady process.
But it is not only caused by the newcomers, that the old harmony and
common sense are fading away. In October Heine and Lohr go to Atlanta
to make researches for their second Panorama. As the weather turns bad
in Atlanta, they make a trip and try to reach Havana. Realizing that
this goal would take too much time they return at the southern end of
Florida. But obviously the crew in Milwaukee is misunderstanding this
trip. Out of their view their bosses are on an amusing entertainment
tour, while they have to work hard. When Heine returns after being
rather busy in Atlanta and New Orleans, the mood has changed. That the
workers Klötzer and Kranefeld became involved in a murder case,
sharpens the situation. There has opened a gap between him and the
crew, which never closes again.
Searching for solutions:
Over and over again, Heine is claiming in his diary that the group is
working too slow; they have alcohol excesses in the night; and the next
day they hang around like dead. Heine tries to motivate them by
highing up their salary. That’s not the Prussian way. Heine is showing
here his Saxon nature. There is told this joke--- that a Saxon is
mocked at in a tavern and after this continues, he reacts with a
terrible threat: “When you continue to be mean, I’ll look for another
place.” Saxons are said not to be aggressive at all. If you don’t work
enough, I’ll pay you more.
But soon the inefficiency continues. Heine, pressed by his angry
manager Wehner, sees his role more and more changing from a father like
leader of the crew to that of a controller and demander. Not only
Breidwiser is threatened to be fired. Also Servus Richter gets to know
that he is fired, if he once more is saying nasty things about the
Panorama crew in the public.
The year 1886 has started with some new names. Desperately Heine and
Lohr try to strengthen the efficiency of the group by hiring more
artists. Not certain, if Breidwiser and Richter will remain, they take
for the first time two artists from Milwaukee, Robert Schade and Frank
Enders. Schröder is getting his family from Germany, and with them is
arriving Feodor von Lürzer. From New York come Schultz and his wife,
and from Düsseldorf the painters Wendling and Wilhelmi.
The crew has grown, but the problems also increase. Frank Enders has
already worked as a panorama painter for Kindt and Gardener, the
Panorama painting group which had started in Milwaukee before the
Heine/Lohr group and of which Heine didn’t think very high.
Nevertheless the young Milwaukeean has problems to become a useful
member of the crew. Heine visits him in his huge studio and realizes in
astonishment that Enders’ work there is of much higher quality than
what he‘s showing in the Panorama. Panorama painting is a special and
tough kind of work. Standing the entire day on the scaffold needs a
good bodily condition and working after a general plan today here and
tomorrow there isn’t everyone’s thing. Enders just disappears out of
Heine’s diary a short time later. Also Schade, von Lürzer and Schultz
are struggling for a while.
A very important change also is that the boarding house is losing its
social function. Michalowski has moved out; also Schröder is living
with his family elsewhere. Heine is also searching for a house to rent
for his family, which will arrive in May and Wilhelmi and Wendling move
into their own apartment. Gone are the days, when the artists shared
their privacy with long talks and reading together out of the monk
Meeting still in the taverns isn’t an equivalent. The Panorama family
dissolves and an important factor of feeling tied together disappears.
The work in the Panorama changes to a common employee-employer
relationship. The influence of the artists’ wives sharpens this
process of separation. Extra work in the Panorama is now seen from
their site as a family hostile sacrifice . Michalowski refuses to work
on Sunday, and when Wehner arrives one Sunday finding the Panorama half
empty, he rebukes Heine should search for artists willing to work also
on Sunday if necessary.
Schröder’s wife is making sneering remarks against Heine claiming her
husband would any time be as qualified as Heine to lead the group. This
is influencing also Schultz and his wife. Soon Heine has to realize a
front of resistance building up against him.
The arrival of Wilhelmi and Wendling brings another aspect of
separation. From the start both artists show by their behavior an
elite conceit of being something special by their education at the
Düsseldorf Academy. Their performance isn’t justifying their arrogance
at all. One day Heine criticizes, that Wilhelmi has painted the ear of
one person twice as big as normal and Wilhelmi answers that has been
just a joke. Sourly Heine notices that a newcomer should better avoid
But it’s not only the Düsseldorfers. The spirit of separation is
growing further, and old buried prejudices come to life again. Heine
watches with suspicion that the Austrians are more chattering than
intensely working, and one day he sees himself and the Dresden painters
Schneider and Richter accused as a treacherous group. He had sent
information material about the Panorama painters to the “Dresdener
Anzeiger” in Germany, and these German editors were so proud of their
Saxon countrymen, that they only wrote about them and didn’t even
mention Lohr’s name. Lohr became upset and supposed this had been
Heine’s intention. Heine of course felt innocent and offended. Then he
found out, that Lohr, who made all the contracts with Wehner, earned a
lot more money than his companion and felt cheated and now Lohr was
offended. The trench warfare had caught the entire group, and only
thanks to Heine’s patience and sense of diplomacy this crisis calmed
down after a while and the total disintegration of the group could be
All these upcoming difficulties were mainly caused by the obvious lack
of identification with their work. They didn’t see it any more as
their work because the character of the working process had changed.
The first painters, the Fulda people, had experienced the very start of
the first Panorama painting. There was no routine; they were all kind
of pioneers with a challenging task. This period of challenges had at
last faded away. When the first panorama was finished, the working
process became more routine, and I can imagine that additionally
painting copies of an already done Panorama isn’t inspiring at all.
It’s just a job. It is significant for the lack of identification with
the Panorama, that most of those, who arrived in February, are already
gone in September. Also Richter, this everlasting pain in the neck has
gone in the meantime, whereas Breidwiser surprisingly still remains.
End of April 1886 arrive Franz Biberstein and Otto Dinger and June 1st Richard Lorenz.
Especially Biberstein and Lorenz are excellent artists, and it looks
like with them is starting a new process of consolidation. They seemed
to be responsible enough to give their best. In addition a new chapter
of the Panorama Company was starting: No more battle scenes of the
Civil War, but Jerusalem and the days of Jesus Christ. This part of
the diary isn’t transcribed yet. I’ll talk about it in fall time in the
MWA in West Bend.
What I tried to point out is how a community of artists built up and
nearly dissolved again and to show the conditions causing this
process. A little group of artists was sharing their life night and
day and started a challenging work totally new for all of them. Then
the community grew and routine came up. Lack of identification and
separation weakened the common spirit, until some new strong
personalities showed up.
But there was some wire, which carried this group through the better
and the worse and this was without doubt Friedrich Wilhelm Heine. He
always tried to understand his colleagues; he criticized their
mistakes, but was always ready to acknowledge quality where he saw it.
He was the soul of this entertainment, and he remained a solid pillar
of the Milwaukeean art life until his death.
Here you see Heine in his late years after receiving the Wisconsin
Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award in a little more glorious way as
we do it today. - No, unfortunately I’m kidding. Heine’s influential
position in the Wisconsin art of the late 19th century never got an
award. In contrary: This man cared tireless for his colleagues and
tried to hold a high standard of art work, he also was one of the
founders of our still existing organization WVA. Despite all this
Heine’s studio finally was destroyed by arson. The hatred driven mob
didn’t even realize that he had become an American citizen and loved
his new homeland. He was from German origin and so his studio had to
It is overdue for compensation and I will end my lecture with the
application to future committee deciding about these awards: Give this
noble artist who became your country man, finally the honor he deserves!
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A Panorama painter, muralist and portrait artist, Hermann Michalowski was from Berlin, Germany, the oldest of eight children whose father was a mechanic. Hermann studied at the Munich Academy in 1883 and arrived in America in 1885, having been recruited by August Lohr to work in Milwaukee for the American Panorama Company, specializing in figure painting. |
His studio was at 105 Grand Avenue, now Wisconsin Avenue, and from there he was also much sought after as a portrait painter and a mural decorator of Milwaukee buildings including the home of the prominent brewer, Emil Schandein. Also Hermann did altar paintings for St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church in Watertown, Wisconsin.
By 1895, he was in Chicago, and the next year, living at the corner of Ontario and State streets, became a naturalized citizen. He died in that city at age forty-three from tuberculosis.
Peter Merrill, "Hermann Michalowski", German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee: A Biographical Dictionary
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|