Raab, born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on 26 February 1866, was the son of German immigrant parents, Christian Raab (1822-1880), a merchant, and his wife Charlotte Bode Raab (1822-1889). In the year of his mother’s death, Raab began studies under Richard Lorenz (1858-1915), director of the Wisconsin School of Design, who had done his studies in Weimar. Lorenz specialized in painting horses, panoramas, and scenes of the American West. One may conclude that Raab was studying in Europe between 1891 and 1898, when his name did not appear in the Milwaukee city directories. He was, in fact, at the Weimar Art School under the Norwegian-born painter Carl Frithjof Smith (1859-1917) and reportedly in the Académie Colarossi in Paris, receiving instruction from Gustave Courtois. The combination of Courtois’ academic technique, the Munich style, American tonalism, and developments of French impressionism, as well as Art Nouveau, steered Raab in various directions. An undated still-life (Mr. and Mrs. Proctor K. Raab) features cloisonnisme techniques of Gauguin or Emile Bernard. Raab seemed closer identified with impressionism, if one considers his later landscapes executed in Milwaukee. Raab toured Italy in 1897, when Symbolism was prominent. As in France, there was a wealth of aesthetic activity. Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, for instance, who used a divisionist technique (which was developed from impressionism) was part of a period of intense cultural experimentation. Soon-to-be futurist Giacomo Balla was twenty-six years old, and would study in Paris three years later. In literature, Gabriele d’Annunzio had just published Le Vergini delle rocce. Most likely, Raab would have visited the great museums to study old masters, whose destruction the Italian futurists would soon be urging.
Back in Wisconsin in 1899, Raab became one of the founding members of the Society of Milwaukee Artists (1900). The group held exhibitions in the Milwaukee Public Library starting in 1901. Raab taught at the Milwaukee Art Students League and at the Wisconsin School of Art, and was named curator of the Layton Art Gallery in 1902. He married a Missouri woman named Helen Hammond Ware in 1912. A year later, he became director of the Art Institute and Art School in Springfield, Illinois but soon left to direct the Decatur (Illinois) Art Institute. Raab gave lectures on art history in the 1920s (Lidtke and Merrill, 1994, p. 20) and later he became director of the School of Fine Arts at Millikin University, also in Decatur. He returned to Milwaukee in 1937. Besides painting, Raab executed outstanding block prints and sculptural reliefs. In the 1930s, Raab reflected Wisconsin regionalism. This versatile artist was an important educator and he was influential within his own local area. He died in Milwaukee on 24 September 1943.
Lidtke, Thomas and Peter C. Merrill. George Raab: Prominence in 19th Century Regional Art. Traveling exh. cat. West Bend, WI: West Bend Art Museum, 1994; Merrill, Peter C. German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee: A Biographical Dictionary. Madison, WI: Friends of the Max Kade Institute, 1997, pp. 101-104.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.