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 Frederick William Heine  (1845 - 1921)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin / Germany      Known for: figure, genre, mural and panorama painting

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Frederick William Heine
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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 Friedrich Heine.

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 .

Heine’s diary

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 developing.

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 together.

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 drawings.

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 step.

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 group.

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 work..

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 horse painter.

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 was beautiful.

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 person.

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.

New artists:

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.

New problems:

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 book.

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 such jokes.

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 avoided.

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 burn.
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!

Michael Kutzer

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
St. Paul Daily Globe, Thursday, June 17, 1886, p.3 The Distinguished Artists

Prof. F. W. Heine and August Lohr, the principal artists of the war panorama the BATTLE OF ATLANTA, arrived in the city yesterday and were accompanied by Theodore Breitwiser, Paul Wilhelmi, and Franz Biberstein of the staff of artists who will put in the finishing touches to the picture.

Theodore R. Davis, the war artist, arrived on Monday and is at the (Hotel) West busy with the preparation of maps,charts, etc.  The canvas upon which the picture is painted was shipped from Milwaukee Monday on two flat cars (50 x 400=20,000 sq.ft), in a single roll and was expected to reach here last evening or this morning.  Capt.Arms, who superintended the hanging of the SIEGE OF PARIS, MISSION RIDGE and other panoramas, is on the ground to superintend the handling and William Wehner, in whose studio the picture was painted, will be here this morning.  A week or two will be consumed in hanging the painting and putting in the foreground, and the panorama will be open to the public between the 25th of this month and July 1, without fail.

Information provided by Gene Meier

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