The Grohmann Museum collection currently comprises more than 1,700 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from 1580 to the present. They reflect a variety of artistic styles and subjects that document the evolution of organized work from manpower and horsepower to water, steam, and electrical power. It was gifted to MSOE in 2001 by Milwaukee businessman and collector Dr. Eckhart Grohmann.
The earlier paintings depict forms of work, such as men and women working on the farm or at home. Later images show trades people engaged in their craft, such as the blacksmith, chemist, cobbler, cork maker, glass blower, and taxidermist. This includes a unique collection of approximately thirty 17th century medical paintings depicting the primitive beginning of early medical treatments. More recent works are images of machines and men embodying the paradoxes of industrialism of the mid-18th century to post-World War II. These works, often commissioned by the factory’s owner, are views of steel mills and foundries surrounded by hefty train tracks or dark factory interiors where glowing molten metal is juxtaposed with factory workers and managers.
Most pieces in the collection are by German and Dutch artists, however, there are also representations from American, Austrian, Belgian, Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, English, Hungarian, Flemish, French, and Spanish artists alike.
Highlights of the Collection
- The Carl Spitzweg Collection and Norman Rockwell’s (1894-1978) Bookworm, 1926
- Flemish painter Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612), River Valley with Iron Smelter, ca.1600
- Dutch artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638), The Peasant Lawyer
- Dutch artist Jan Josefsz van Goyen (1596-1656), A River Landscape with Lime-Kilns
- German painter Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910), Magician in the Barn, 1862
- American painter J.G. Brown (1831-1913), Extra, Extra (The Paper Boy), 1904
- American painter F.A. Bridgman (1847-1928), Seaweed Gatherers, 1912
- German painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) an oil painting that led to his renowned Flax Barn at Laren painting, now at the National Gallery in Berlin.
- French painter Julien Dupré (1851-1910), Stacking Grain Sheafs
- German artist Erich Mercker (1891-1973) The collection includes 81 works by Mercker who, working in loose brushwork style, rendered colorful images of steel mills and foundries, bridge- and ship-building, quarries and interior views of factories.
- Bronze sculptures include: Longshoremen, farmers, miners, foundry workers and other laborers in the process of using the tools of their trades. Artists include Adrien-Etienne Gaudez, Gerhard Adolf Janensch, Constantin-Emile Meunier, Emile Louis Picault, and Americans Malcom Alexander, Max Kalish, Landon Lamb and Frederic Remington.
Dr. Eckhart Grohmann, Collector and Donor
The Grohmann Museum is named in honor of Dr. Eckhart Grohmann, an MSOE Regent, Milwaukee businessman, and avid art collector, who donated this collection to MSOE in 2001 and subsequently the funds to purchase, renovate, and operate the museum that bears his name. Dr. Grohmann and his wife, Ischi, are longtime supporters of scholarships for MSOE students and donated funds to purchase the property for the Kern Center, MSOE’s health and wellness facility that opened in 2004.
In discussing his gift of the art collection to MSOE, Grohmann identified the similarity between the evolution of work and the pragmatic educational approach of the university. A university setting provides students, staff, and visitors with a historical context for their own activities as they relate to engineering and business.
In discussing his gift, Grohmann said:
“Exposure to this collection will help open students’ eyes to the historical evolution of work from its early, modest beginnings and allow them to better understand the roots of today’s production processes.”
Grohmann grew up visiting his grandfather’s large marble processing business and quarry operation in Silesia, Germany (now within the borders of Poland). It was there, watching the stone cutters and sculptors select raw material that would soon become a work of art, that he developed his appreciation and admiration of work. To Grohmann, hard work is not an idealized concept but a principle of life.
Grohmann is the former chairman and president of Milwaukee’s Aluminum Casting & Engineering Co., a firm he acquired in 1965 and grew from a small foundry of 35 employees to a company ten times that size when he sold the business in 2007. A successful entrepreneur, Grohmann co-founded Central Control Alarm Corp. in 1980 and developed it into the leading alarm company in Wisconsin before selling it to Ameritech in 1997.
He earned a Diplom Kaufmann (MBA) from the University of Mannheim in 1962 and received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from MSOE in 1999. Dr. Grohmann has served as an MSOE Corporation member since 1974 and Regent since 1990. He has been collecting works of art since the 1960s. In 2020, Grohmann received the "Witness to History" award from the Milwaukee County Historical Society, which honors those who have played a significant role in shaping and documenting our community’s history.
In discussing his gift of the art collection to MSOE, Grohmann identified the similarity between the evolution of work and the pragmatic educational approach of the university. A university setting provides students, staff and visitors with a historical context for their own activities as they relate to engineering and business.