May 06, 2019
by John Eastberg, Executive Director, Pabst Mansion, Milwaukee, WI
The restoration of the Pabst Mansion is much like a jigsaw puzzle, constantly putting pieces into place so you attain a richer image of what once was. This is especially true with rebuilding the original art collection that was displayed on the walls of the Pabst Mansion during the 1890s. Over the last two decades we have worked diligently to understand the original collection of artwork gathered by Captain and Mrs. Pabst. Researching artists, examining photos and purchase receipts, their placement within the mansion and most importantly, the trajectory of these pieces when they went out into the world in 1907 as the collection was dispersed to the heirs after the deaths of Captain and Mrs. Pabst.
Sixteen years ago, we began the process of trying to gather three paintings that had once hung together in the dining room of the mansion. One thing we knew for certain was that each one of the paintings had gone to three different branches of the Pabst family. Between a clear photograph taken in 1897 and the original inventory, we knew exactly what we were looking for. Comprising this hang were a large still life by French-artist, Jean Baptiste Robie and two pendant paintings that hung below the Robie—a smaller still life by Austrian-artist, Camilla Friedlaender and a Cossack on horseback by Polish artist, Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski.
Jean Baptiste Robie (Belgian, 1821-1910), Still Life with Flowers and Strawberries, re-framed by Lowy in a 19th century French Barbizon style composition frame with demi-centers and corners
Through successive Pabst family inventories, we were able to track down the large still life by Robie and contact the fourth-generation Pabst family member who currently had the painting. Once they realized they had an original painting to our collection, they readily donated it to the Pabst Mansion. Likewise, the smaller still life by Friedlaender, which had been rediscovered in Southern California in the late 1990s, was recently donated back to the Pabst Mansion. The Friedlaender has been beautifully cleaned and restored by Keith Raddatz, a Wisconsin-based artist and painting conservator, who has restored a remarkable fifteen paintings in our collection. Our Pabst Mansion Volunteer Council sponsored not only the conservation of the painting, but also the reframing of the piece in a period 1890s gilded frame.
Camilla Friedlaender (1856-1928), Still Life with Armor, re-framed by Lowy in a 19th century American composition frame with corners
We have located the final piece to this puzzle and are earnestly working towards bringing three old friends together after more than a century of being apart. For me, these pieces have an anthropomorphic quality to them, as the objects had and continue to have a life of their own—their own journey—their own story to tell. One can imagine when they are all back on the wall in the dining room the stories they will tell of their years since they have last been together.