West Bend Art Museum

West Bend, WI



Segment from pages 5-7 of 1994 essay titled "Prominence in 19th Century Regional Art" by Thomas D. Lidtke, Executive Director, West Bend Art Museum. The essay segment is contained in the Museum's catalogue prepared for the exhibition George Raab: Prominence in 19th Century Regional Art. Essay and image reprinted with permission of the West Bend Art Museum.


Prominence in 19th Century Regional Art

by Thomas D. Lidtke


As an artist, arts administrator and teacher, George Raab was in a position to be a key participant in the evolution of visual arts in Wisconsin and Illinois during the first part of this century. Raab's personal work was never in the forefront of contemporary art; however, through his association with art schools, galleries and leagues, he became an important figure who helped to influence regional art.

The George Raab archives are filled with lecture papers, theoretical notes and letters that reveal his vision, ambition and appreciation for a diverse range of artistic media and style.

Although these archives clearly place him in the category of teacher, advocate, administrator and privy counselor, as an artist he created a substantial body of work. It is George Raab, the artist, that will be examined in this brief essay. (left: Untitled (Landscape, bridge), oil, 21 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches, Mr and Mrs Proctor K. Raab)

Several stylistic changes occurred throughout his life, each reflecting the current influences and trends of the time and location in which he found himself:

Generally there are some unique characteristics of an artist's work that reveal a personal interest, motivation or influence. For George Raab, that manifestation lies with his love for nautical themes. That subject matter would reoccur in his work throughout his life. His earliest influence was affected by Lake Michigan, as evidenced by some of his earliest works. This influence was no doubt related to the fact that he lived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is one of the world's largest inland water bodies and it has a great effect on the region, a fact that is commonly overlooked or taken for granted by the people who live in this area.

A substantial number of his early drawings survived from that era, and illustrate the allure Lake Michigan must have had on the young student artist. The drawings and sketchbooks also reveal a remarkable talent that was beginning to develop independent of formal training.

Many young midwestern artists of that era seemed destined to go to Europe for training and Raab was no exception. Although he received his early training in Milwaukee, he later studied in Weimar and Paris. While in Weimar, he honed his drawing skills in keeping with the academic tradition of the late 19th century. The life drawings that he did during that time deftly display his drawing ability and dramatic use of light to emote feeling or mood.

In stark contrast to those are the drawings he presumably completed in 1895 while he attended the Colarossi School in Paris. Few works from that year exist, however, the two examples illustrated were undoubtedly influenced by the art nouveau style that was at its zenith in 1896. The flowing decorative lines, flatness of shape and lack of modeling are unmistakable hallmarks of that popular movement and contrast sharply with the work done previously in Weimar which emphasizes chiaroscuro, an emphasis on change from light to dark.

A few of Raab's paintings reveal his interest in still another early 20th century French influence, that of the fauves or "wild beasts". Although he did not use the arbitrary and exuberant colors of the fauves, he did succeed in conveying a lyrical sense of color that dominates the flat surface of the canvas. In his work Raab uses space and shape in a way that strongly suggests the influence of Henri Matisse.


Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the West Bend Art Museum

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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