Meet the collectors: Eckhart Grohmann

Ludwig Knaus (German, 1829–1910). The Golden Wedding, 1859. Oil on canvas. Collection of Eckhart and Ischi Grohmann.
Ludwig Knaus (German, 1829–1910). The Golden Wedding, 1859. Oil on canvas. Collection of Eckhart and Ischi Grohmann.

Eckhart Grohmann has collected art since the 1960s. His “Man at Work” collection, which he donated to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, comprises more than eleven hundred paintings and sculptures and focuses on people at work through time. The Grohmann Museum at MSOE is named in his honor.

Q: Can you tell us about the work by Ludwig Knaus that you lent to Milwaukee Collects?
I love the picture because I went to school close to the village of Willingshausen, between Frankfurt and Kassel, where Ludwig Knaus and many other nineteenth-century German painters studied. Knaus made many visits there because he liked the originality of the country folks.

The painting was first shown, in Paris, in 1859 and was extremely well received. It was then shown in Vienna and Cologne in 1864. After that, it fell off the map—nobody knew where it went. For 120 years, the original painting’s location was unknown, and all that existed were black-and-white lithographs. In 2000, the work came up at a Sotheby’s auction, and I realized that was my Dance Under the Linden Tree [a work by Knaus in the Museum’s collection], and I had to buy it.

Q: What is your favorite work in your collection?
A: Every picture that I’ve bought has a story to it—and I have a group of favorite pictures—but I hesitate to take one and single it out.

Q: Do you have a favorite story about a work in your collection?
That would be Severin Krøyer’s Blacksmith, which came on the market in New York in the early 1970s. I was on the phone bidding for it, but was building a business at the time and didn’t have the money to meet the competitor. Ten years later, I was in London going through the galleries at Bond Street, and I see my Krøyer. It, again, was a six-digit pound figure, which the gallery might get for a Krøyer, but I told the guy that he’d likely never get that money. People don’t hang a smithy [blacksmith] in their bedroom or dining room, but maybe because of the name, he might get it. He said, “Well, if I don’t, I’ll put it back up at auction.” Sure enough, another few years go by, and I get an auction catalog and there’s my picture. So over the phone, I competed for it, and I got it.

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