Kat Murrell

German art and architecture to go with German Fest

By - Aug 2nd, 2011 04:00 am
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Detail of Ludwig Knaus' "Dance Under the Linden Tree (Festival in Westphalia)," 1881. Image courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

With German Fest in full swing and Milwaukee getting all the gemütlichkeit it can handle, the time is right to explore how Teutonic culture has influenced our fair city.

The Milwaukee Art Museum holds many German works. Marcia and Granvil Specks and Maurice and Esther Leah Ritz are well-known donors in this regard, especially for German prints prominent in the modernist galleries.

In a more remote part of the museum, MAM offers a look at everyday life in 19th-century Germany and Austria. To find the René von Schleinitz Gallery, go into the permanent collection of MAM. Then walk in the opposite direction of any signs pointing toward Summer of China exhibitions. You’ll soon find yourself in the Italian Renaissance section, so look in the galleries for the prominent Madonna and Child by Nardo di Cione. Mary and the infant Jesus are regally portrayed on a shimmering gold panel in the shape of a pointed arch — you can’t miss it.  Walk toward this painting, and then look to your right. Down the stretch of galleries, hanging on a dark blue wall, looms the portrait of Friedrich IV von Sachsen-Gotha. Yes, yes…succumb to his penetrating gaze, be drawn closer…closer.

And there you are. Welcome to Gallery 9, home of MAM’s 19th century German and Austrian art.

The more time you spend with them, the more entertaining the pictures become. In the great spirit of genre painting (i.e., subjects of everyday life), these works are crafted in fine detail. Many are like are like short stories in picture form.

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Detail of Franz von Defregger, The Friendly Game, (1895). Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Feasting and festing in Westphalia are exuberant. If you enjoy people watching, Ludwig Knaus’s Dance Under the Linden Tree (1881) puts you in the party. It may remind you of German Fest. Take a look at the bar scene of Franz von Defregger’s A Friendly Game (1895) and recall shooting bar dice at your favorite watering hole. And we may chuckle a bit at the misfortunate monks of The Catastrophe (1892), by Eduard von Grützner. A loose sandal has led to the loss of a very fine basket of wine, broken and spilled on stone steps. Whoops!  Let that be a cautionary tale to any of us in loose-fitting flip-flops.  Other pictures delight in simple scenes of rural and village life. Contented bovines wander through fields and streams, a proud man shows his prize horse to neighbors.

Beautiful Biedermeier furniture augments this fun dip in the cultural wellspring of the 19th century. The pictures are undeniably old, even quaint, but the furnishings appear contemporary, posh, eternally glamorous.

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The bronze statue of Capt. Frederick Pabst, in the courtyard at Best Place. Photo courtesy of Best Place.

Beyond the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can get the idea that this is the city that German immigrant beer built. The Pabst Theater, the Pabst Mansion and the remains of the Pabst Brewery adorn the town. A few years ago, entrepreneur Jim Haertel bought the abandoned Pabst corporate office and visitors center, housed in 19th century buildings. In a great leap of courage and faith, Haertel restored Blue Ribbon Hall and established Best Place Tavern, 901 W. Juneau Ave.

Open Thursday through Sunday, with tours on Friday and Saturday, Best Place is a must-visit. Haertel is not your average scripted tour guide. His enthusiasm for this place and its layers of history overflows with humor and anecdotes.

Haertel covers the brewing process in about a minute. This is about is the heritage of Milwaukee, one of the defining industries, and a location that is part of the cultural patrimony of the city. Without preservation, such places as Best Place and their memories would fade, to leave us with an empty hole where the city’s past used to be. But Haertel continues to patch up, fill in and polish. No, they certainly don’t make things like they used to — love those stained glass windows and exquisite wood carvings — and it’s all the more reason for preservation and appreciation.

So in honor of the great German names, landmarks, art, architecture, and accomplishments that made Milwaukee famous (to borrow the old Schlitz slogan). Raise a glass — Prosit!

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Art

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