Robert Koehler (1850 - 1917)

Birth date: 1850 Death date: 1917  
Birth location: Hamburg, Germany Death location: Minneapolis, MN  
Media: Graphic Art , Painting Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.


Robert Koehler

Born 1850 in Hamburg, Germany

Died 1917 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Robert Koehler came to Milwaukee in 1854 and studied at the German-English Academy under Henry Vianden. Around 1865, he was apprenticed at Siefert and Lawton, a Milwaukee lithographing and engraving firm; he was also a private student of Heinrich Roese, studying painting at night until he left Milwaukee in 1871. That same year, while working as a lithographer in Pittsburgh, he also studied at the New York Academy of Design under Lemuel Wilmarth, who was also a student at Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Wilmarth encouraged Koehler to go to Munich to further his studies. 

Koehler attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich during two separate periods: 1873-75 and 1879-92. His first teacher in Munich, Alexander Straehuber, was a graphic artist, lithographer and painter. In 1875 Koehler returned to Milwaukee to work as a lithographer, and became one of the founding members of the Art Student’s League of Milwaukee. He soon returned to Munich for further studies and enrolled in the class of Ludwig von Löfftz, who was known particularly for his landscapes and genre scenes.  He also took a composition class from Franz von Defregger.  While in Munich, Koehler earned distinction for his intensely realistic scenes of social protest and Munich street life. He was the first Wisconsin artist known to interject social questions into artwork. In 1886 Koehler's painting, The Strike, (considered his masterpiece), was exhibited at New York's National Academy of Design.  He conducted private art school lessons in Munich for five years.

In 1892 Koehler returned to the United States, and operated a portrait painting studio in New York for one year. He then moved to Minneapolis where he married Maria Fischer in 1895. From 1893 to 1914, he was director of the Minneapolis School of Art. While in Minnesota, his attention shifted to less controversial subject matter and his style relaxed somewhat. Koehler was a genre, portrait and landscape painter, a lithographer and an etcher.  He is especially remembered for his large paintings, which contain many figures. In 1917 he died suddenly of a heart attack.

Selected Group Exhibitions

1878     National Academy of New York, New York International Exposition, Munich, Germany

1886     National Academy of Design, New York, New York

1889     Exposition Universalle, Paris, France

1893     Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois

1894     Chicago Art Institute, Illinois - American Annual (also 1897 and 1902)

1895     Chicago Art Institute, Illinois - Watercolor Annual

1914     Minneapolis Art League, Minnesota

1989     West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts (now known as West Bend Art Museum), Wisconsin, German   Academic Painters in Wisconsin

1992     West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts (now known as West Bend Art Museum), Wisconsin - Early Wisconsin Art History

1992     West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts (now known as West Bend Art Museum ), Wisconsin - Early Wisconsin Ambiance:  Environments & Landscapes by Wisconsin's Early Artists 1880-1940

© 4/30/2002 Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, Wisconsin                                                                6/2/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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