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Questions of Provenance: Recent Discoveries: “Wedding Procession in the Tyrol” by Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Assistant Curator of European Art finds new provenance for a German painting. Keep reading to see if all its mysteries are solved.

Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl (German, 1827–1888), Wedding Procession in Tyrol (detail), ca. 1866. Oil on canvas. Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.90.

Periodically in the past, the blog has featured a series of posts called “Questions of Provenance,” which discussed issues related to provenance, or the history of ownership of a work of art. Over the next few months, this series will continue with posts highlighting recent research into works in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection. In case you missed it, the first one was published in January.

The last story I shared was about an accidental discovery related to the provenance of the painting Dance Under the Linden Tree (1881) by Ludwig Knaus. Today, I’m going to share a similar surprise discovery, about Wedding Procession in the Tyrol by Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl (German, 1827–1888).

It all started with the Bouguereau & America exhibition at the Museum in 2019. As one of the organizers of the exhibition, the Museum took the lead in producing the exhibition catalogue. One of my tasks was to compile and review the published references for each painting in the show. When doing this for Homer and His Guide, the Bouguereau painting in the Layton Collection, I found in our records that it was reproduced in the 1880 book Art Treasures of America: Being the Choicest Works of Art in the Public and Private Collections of North America.

All three volumes of the book are digitized on the Internet Archive, a digital public library, so I was easily able to confirm that Homer and His Guide was reproduced by line drawing on page 44. At the time of that publication, the painting was part of the collection of Mrs. Alexander Turney Stewart. 

Then I wondered: Are there other Milwaukee works listed in this publication? I didn’t have the time to check right then, but I put it on my to-do list.

Finally last summer, I went through Art Treasures of America and discovered that besides Homer and His Guide, three other Milwaukee paintings are in the book, including Wedding Procession in the Tyrol! You can see it reproduced on p. 129 in the middle of the page below.

Edward Strahan, ed. The Art Treasures of America: Being the Choicest Works of Art in the Public and Private Collections of North America, vol. 1, title page. Frick Art Reference Library, courtesy of the Internet Archive.
Edward Strahan, ed. The Art Treasures of America: Being the Choicest Works of Art in the Public and Private Collections of North America, vol. 1, p. 129. Frick Art Reference Library, courtesy of the Internet Archive.

This is how we learned that, in 1880, the painting was in the collection of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe. 

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was an important 19th-century art collector, said to be the richest unmarried woman in the United States during her lifetime. In fact, Wolfe was the first female benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. Not only did she bequest her collection to the Met in 1887, she also left the museum funds for future acquisitions. Her gift transformed the museum.

Wolfe’s bequest to the Met included the painting Wedding Procession in the Tyrol. I was able to prove this by tracing the Met collection guides. The earliest I found was from 1905; you can see it here. The description is spot-on, and the measurements are close enough to be considered a match. The catalogue entry confirmed the bequest and said that Wolfe had purchased the work in Berlin, in 1866; this is the year that we think it was painted.

As I went forward in time through the Met catalogues, I found the painting listed as being on view. The last catalogue that I found included it was from 1954. If the Met had decided to deaccession (or sell) it at that point, the timeline would be just right for René von Schleinitz, the donor who later gifted the painting to our collection, to purchase it.

Portrait of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe by Alexandre Cabanel, dated 1876, one of the paintings that she left as a bequest to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

With some additional web searching, I found a painting at the Chrysler Museum of Art that was part of the Wolfe bequest that the Met sold in 1956 at the auction house Parke-Bernet. Thinking it likely that this was the same auction that included Wedding Procession in the Tyrol, I requested the auction catalogue through interlibrary loan through our librarian, Heather Winter. The scan that I received included a photograph, which proved that it did sell at that auction, as lot 125.

My next step was to get in touch with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see if they had additional information on the painting. Jane R. Becker, collections specialist at the Met, said that, according to their records, the purchaser of the painting in 1956 was Louis Lion.

A quick web search told me that Louis Lion was an art dealer born in Austria in 1884. He was a partner with the art dealer Theodor Einstein in Munich starting in 1910. He quit in 1921, buying a quarter of his employer’s inventory and half of the property where the Einstein gallery was located. In 1922, he and his brothers, Hans and Fred (Fritz), opened an art gallery in that location called Brüder Lion, or the Brothers Lion. The brothers later opened locations in Berlin and Marienbad, in the Czech Republic. Although Austrian citizens, the brothers were considered Jewish because of their ancestry, and the Nazis forced them to close the Berlin location in 1933 and the Munich location in 1937. Fleeing Germany, Louis and Fred emigrated to New York while Hans went to France. Once in New York, Louis continued dealing with art on a modest level and often worked as an agent for other dealers.

Did the Museum’s donor René von Schleinitz buy the painting from Louis Lion? Did Louis Lion buy the painting for another art dealer who then sold it to Von Schleinitz? Or did Louis Lion act as an agent at the auction for Von Schleinitz himself? We don’t know. But it leaves an enticing question for future research. I’ll be sure to let you know when I find out more!

Are you curious to learn more about the provenance of works in the Museum’s collection? Read past posts in the Questions of Provenance series and follow us on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for more art and Museum updates.

Catherine Sawinksi  headshot

Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.

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