Sunday, January 24, 2010

Louis Windmüller

I've written before about Louis Windmüller, one of my great-grandpas.1 As a teenager, he emigrated from Münster to New York, all by himself, with no money and few possessions. After a succession of menial jobs he partnered with another German-American to found an import business and made a success of himself in the best Horatio Alger tradition. After he'd become a prominent city merchant, he energetically pursued liberal causes and supported the arts.2

Eventually his path crossed3 with that of Roland F. Knoedler,4 who had succeeded his father Michel as head of one of New York's most famous galleries, Knoedler and Company. Knoedler's had started out as Goupil's and in that guise it figured my recent post, five-cent den on Pearl St..

Toward the end of his life Windmüller sat for a portrait commissioned by the Reform Club whose treasurer he had long been. When completed, Knoeldler exhibited the work and the Times wrote up the occasion:
Oliver H. Perry, the well-known portrait painter, recently finished a portrait of Mr. Louis Windmüller, which is now on exhibition at the Knoedler Galleries. The portrait is a bust one, and shows Mr. Windmüller in full face, with characteristic kindly expression. The flesh tones are exceedingly good, and it is evident that the artist has painted con amore. The portrait is to be presented to the Reform Club, of which Mr. Perry is a member and Mr. Windmüller is the Treasurer.
December 8, 1900, Wednesday. Section: SATURDAY REVIEW OF BOOKS AND ART, Page BR55, 2227 words
A couple of years later the Reform Club acquired a second portrait of Windmüller, this one by the famous artist William Merritt Chase. When it was exhibited in the spring of 1902, the Times noted the event:
It has often been noticed that artists who have begun life by painting imaginative pictures, genre pictures, historical scenes, or religious subjects, gradually work less and less in these lines, and settle down to portraiture. Whether this be forced on them or not, there are artists devoted to portrait painting who sincerely, or by way of making of necessity a virtue, maintain that the human likeness is the greatest of all the fields of art. ... The South Gallery has the smiling visage of Mr. Louis Windmüller, by William M. Chase, which is one of the ornaments of the Reform Club, a capital likeness.
-- THE AMERICAN ARTISTS.; Some Portraits at the Annual Exhibition of the Society. April 17, 1902, Thursday, Page 8.5
When the Chase portrait was shown a second time, the Times gave a fuller description:
The retrospective exhibition of the works of William M. Chase, which opened last evening at the National Arts Club, contains a number of pictures that will be of great interest to those who remember the early successes achieved by the young painter just home from his Munich studies and equipped with a facility of hand and a directness of vision remarkable enough in any one, and especially remarkable in an American painter at that time. ...

In the portraits are occasionally astonishing accounts of character. Note, for example, the crisp decision in the portrait of Louis Windmüller. In the Philadelphia, and the fine analysis in the portrait of Louis Windmuller. In the latter picture the humor in the eyes and mouth are rendered with as much psychological insight as technical dexterity. It is clear that whatever Mr. Chase sees in his subject he renders with amazing skill. His hand obeys his will with a promptitude and precision rare enough in modern art.
-- CHASE'S WORKS AT NATIONAL CLUB; Artist's Beautiful Picture, "Ready for the Ride," Was Painted at Outset of His Career. January 6, 1910, Thursday, Page 8, 1256 words; Amazing Skill Shown In His Paintings of the Rev. Sparhawk-Jones and Louis Windmuller.
I don't have images of either of these portraits unless one of the following pair of prints was taken from one of the paintings. The prints come from biographic dictionaries of prominent New Yorkers.

A few years later, the Chase portrait was lent yet again, this time to the Met for a special show. Here is the painting's entry in the exhibition catalog:
LOUIS WINDMULLER (1835-1913). Born at Munster, Prussia, he came to the United States in 1853, settled in New York, and became a successful merchant. He was one of the founders of The Reform Club and its treasurer for more than twenty years; active in charitable and civic work. Life-size, seated figure with hands clasped; he is seen to the ankles. Exhibited at the Society of American Artists, 1902; National Arts Club, 1910. Oil on canvas: h. 54; w. 44. Signed at lower right: Wm. M. Chase. Lent by The Reform Club.
-- Loan exhibition of paintings by William M. Chase (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1917)
Again the Times wrote up the event:
The exhibition of pictures by the late William M. Chase at the Metropolitan Museum is a gratifyingly prompt acknowledgment of the importance of that painter in the artistic life of the community. ... In his portraits of people not much is given to us to wonder about. Sometimes the note is that of decorative grace, as in the portrait of "The Sisters," two women against a background of architecture and landscape, an obvious essay in the English eighteenth century style; or it is that of candid objectivity, as in the portrait of Louis Windmuller...
-- The William M. Chase Memorial Exhibition; ART AT HOME AND ABROAD. Exhibitions of Modern Art. The New York Times Magazine, Page SM7.

See also:

Louis Windmuller and Family a family history page I put together.

HONOR LOUIS WINDMULLER Members of the Reform Club Praise His Long Services. NYT, October 11, 1913, Saturday, Page 17

The Reform Club Reorganization by LOUIS WINDMULLER , NYT, September 19, 1906, Wednesday, Page 8. About the club, Windmüller writes: "Our principles [are] to promote honest, efficient, and economical government. Our rules forbid agitation by the club in favor of any candidate for any political office."



1 I've written about him a few times before: 2 There's a succinct biography of him on the City web site for a park that's located where he kept a summer home and where there's now a park named after him: Windmuller Playground.

3 They found themselves together on the platform of a meeting of prominent New Yorkers to promote political reform. (See STRONG AND GOFF SPEAK Monster Anti-Tammany Meeting in Cooper Union-Carl Schurz Talks of New-York's Robber Band -- Mr. Strong Says He Will Be a Non-Partisan Mayor if Elected -- Mr. Goff Pleads for Honest Government -- Speeches by Mr. Tamsen and Others. New York Times, November 1, 1894, Wednesday, Page 1.) And they served together, for example, in a political reform group called GERMANS AGAINST MAYNARD. On Maynard see the wikipedia article: Isaac H. Maynard.

4 Roland Knoedler's obit in the Times says of him:
He was reared in an atmosphere of art and, when 20 years old, entered the firm which his father, Michael, had established in 1846 as an agency of Goupil & Cie. The business first was downtown, at 286 Broadway, and kept pace with the development of New York city in successive moves to 749 Broadway, where it remained until 1865, and to 170 Fifth Avenue, marking the trend to Fifth Avenue as the fashionable area. ... Mr. Knoedler began with his father and uncle in the business and continued with his brothers, Charles and Edmond. ... He gave his support to all important movements to foster art, and aided the development of movements for the assistance of artists in times of need. Mr. Knoedler personally encouraged such talent as Winslow Homer's and many other well known artists, when they experienced difficulties.
-- ROLAND KNOEDLER, ART EXPERT; Dealer, Once With Galleries of His Name Here, Succumbs in Paris in 77th Year. ENCOURAGED YOUNG TALENT Began With His Father in Firm on Lower Broadway Helped Form Famous Collections. New York Times. October 5, 1932, Wednesday, Page 21.
5 Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events also wrote up this event: "New York, 1902: Society of American Artists. ... The twenty-fourth annual exhibition was held in the Fine Arts Society Building from March 28 to May 4. ... The exhibition consisted of 318 numbers, of which 205 were paintings. Among the exhibitors were J. McNeill Whistler, L'Andalousienne; William M. Chase, Portrait of Louis Windmüller; Cecilia Beaux, Portrait; John W. Alexander, A Mother; Winslow Homer, Northeaster; Kenyon Cox. Portrait; Thomas Eakins, Cardinal Martinelli; Augustus St. Gaudens, Medallion Portraits; and Rhoda Holmes Nicholls, My Daughter."



I believe I have more information on one of the portraits of your great grand-father. Please contact me, my email address is


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William Merritt Chase
(American, 1849 - 1916)
Louis Windmuller
Lot 70220 - Heritage Auctions, Dallas (May 10, 2014)
American Art Including Western, California, & Golden Age Illustration Signature Auction (Sale 5174)

Estimate: $ 30,000 - 50,000 USD
Oil on canvas

51.50 in. (130.81 cm.) (height) by 37.75 in. (95.88 cm.) (width)

This work is accompanied by a letter from Mr. Fred Baker, identifying it as the portrait of Louis Windmuller

Bears signature center left: Wm M. Chase

R. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Oil, vol. 2, New Haven, Connecticut, 2006, p. 179, no. OP.348.

The artist; The Reform Club, New York, commissioned from the above, 1902; Private collection.