Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Franz Biberstein (1850-1930)

Franz Biberstein was born in Switzerland and began his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, but he rebelled against the rigid curriculum of the German academic painters, preferring to paint from nature rather than paint compositions inspired by Greek and Roman history.  He subsequently studied in Karlsruhe under Pilotti and Dietz.

In 1880 Biberstein began working at a German panorama company in Frankfurt. He worked under Ludwig Braun and with  August Lohr who took the panorama, The Battle of Sedan, to the 1883 Exposition in New Orleans, which began the American craze for panoramas.  Biberstein came to Milwaukee in 1886, specializing in landscape painting for the American Panorama Company. He worked on Storming of Missionary Ridge (Battle of Chattanooga) and the Battle pf Atlanta and then continued to work with Lohr & Heine and the Milwaukee Panorama Co.  In 1889 -1900 he worked with Frederick Wilhelm Heine, George Peter and Franz Rohrbeck on the Battle of Manila in San Francisco. He was also a scenery painter for the Stadt Theater.  He reached the peak of his artistic career in the late 1910s when, as the guest of Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, he traveled and painted the Canadian Rockies and Mt. Sir Donald in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia.

In 1908 Biberstein lost everything in a trust company failure and turned to raising ginseng as a cash crop.  He also began experimenting in color photography and devised a scheme of reproducing portraits on canvas and painting them with transparent colors.  He was a skilled portrait painter, but he preferred painting the mountain scenery that reminded him of his home in the Swiss Alps. He wouldn’t part with any of his sketches of valleys, glaciers, peaks, and mountain vistas.  He considered them his library and his tools.  He felt that if one painted from memory alone, the picture would not be true.  Biberstein was a master colorist who didn’t subscribe to the usually subdued palette of the German school.  Franz Biberstein was a member of the Society of Milwaukee Artists, later known as the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors.

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