What is it?
Richard Lorenz (Voigstedt, Germany 1858–1915 Milwaukee)
Interior Scene, Home in Milwaukee
Oil on canvas
29 x 39 ½ in.
Loaned 2015, Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center Collection
About the Work
Although best known as a painter of the great outdoors, and particularly grand themes of the panoramic and wild American West so strongly romanticized in the nineteenth century, here Richard Lorenz turned his eye and hand to a cozy domestic interior.
A bitterly cold, snowy winter’s day in Milwaukee is kept at bay by a set of windows that backlight a scene of resonating tranquility. A young lady and a girl are stuck indoors, but their confinement is relieved and belied by richly colored furnishings and houseplants that surround them with thriving greenery. The older girl is industrious: she takes advantage of the natural light to make lace. The younger one, although situated in the foreground, gazes out of the window in the background, establishing a strong spatial recession and the subtle pull of delayed adventure. By contrast, the lace maker reads as a quiet silhouette against the distant and muted urban backdrop. The effect is compelling and timeless.
This convincing and appealing depiction of Midwestern domesticity harbors a fascinating detail: three small paper Japanese lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Just as the craze for the American West traveled across the pond to capture the imagination of Europeans, the vogue for “Japonisme” moved in reverse, starting in Europe in the 1870s and reaching the United States in the 1880s. Following Japan’s opening up to foreign cultures in 1858, all manner of Japanese items such as prints, ceramics, textiles, and lanterns were exported to new markets hungry for what they deemed exotic. Hanging almost unnoticed in this modest Milwaukee home, they add a touch of more far-reaching worldliness.