Born in Austria in 1835, Defregger was originally trained as a wood carver and captured the public’s attention with his sentimental scenes depicting Tyrolean and Bavarian life. Eventually he took an interest in painting genre scenes of peasants in addition to portraits, interiors, and paintings depicting historical periods. The subject of his historical paintings are Tyrolean battle scenes from the early 19th century. Exhibiting in both Vienna and Munich, Defregger was eventually appointed Professor of Painting at the Munich Akademie and rewarded with a noble title in the latter years of his life.
Pieces by the artist proved to be very popular in the Midwest because many of the industrialists of the 19th century had deep roots in Germany and admired the simple and traditional scenes that Defregger rendered. This legacy of collecting is still visible in museums of the Midwest, where pieces by the artist are in museums such as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Interestingly, one of the pieces at the MIA was a gift from Dr. Alfred Bader who owned the Aldrich Chemical Company in Milwaukee.
One of the most noteworthy admirers of Franz von Defregger was Captain Frederick Pabst. Pabst emigrated from Germany as a child and eventually built a beer company in Milwaukee whose name is known across the country to this day. Pabst was a beer baron, sea captain and philanthropist interested in fostering the unique German heritage of Milwaukee by promoting and supporting the arts. Pabst built a beautiful theater downtown that is still in operation and built a home in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style that is now open to the public for tours
The Pabst Mansion sits on Wisconsin Avenue near the campus of Marquette University and houses an impressive collection of German art, furniture and literature. Among the many treasures are a number of small paintings by Defregger depicting charming Tyrolian scenes and a few three-dimensional wood carvings after his most memorable paintings. A fascinating note that speaks to the great importance of the artist to Pabst is the fact that the dining room was dominated by a wall sized painting by Defregger that has since been lost.
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is also a fan of the artist and his cozy traditional depictions of German life. MIR has a unique piece by the artist painted on wood panel that captures a group of traditionally dressed men and women sitting around a table listening to the war tales of a sharply dressed soldier from the community. They sit in the dimly lit room spellbound by the soldier who, it can only be supposed, has just returned from the Franco-Prussian War. The piece is unique in that, unlike other works by the artist, it is a painting executed over archaically rendered photographs of the subjects’ faces.
This truly unique treasure is available for viewing by appointment at our office on Michigan Avenue just south of the river and north of Millennium Park.
Principal Appraiser and Director: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601