Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
81.91 cm x 64.13 cm | 32 ¼ in x 25 ¼ in
Framed: 95.88 cm x 78.74 cm | 37 ¾ in x 31 in
Signed and dated lower left, T.C. Steele / 1908
Gift to Athenaeum (Das Deutsche Haus) Indianapolis, Indiana
Friedrich Hermann Lieber (1832-1908) and members of his family made a significant impact on the business and cultural life of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Herman and his younger brother Peter immigrated to the United States from Dusseldorf, Germany in June of 1853, originally settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. After coming to America, he went by his middle name “Hermann” and dropped the second “n” in his middle name and became known in Indianapolis as “Herman”.
The family was involved for several generations with the H. Lieber Company (est. 1854), which specialized in picture frames, framing, mirrors, looking glasses, stationary, bookbinding, and artists’ materials.
- Robert Lieber, a son of Herman was a pioneer in the film industry and was a key leader in building the Circle Theater (now home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra).
- Carl H. Lieber, another son of Herman, was founder of the Art Association of Indianapolis.
City Directory, 1865, courtesy IUPUI Digital Archive.1; Herman Lieber courtesy Indiana Historical Society.2
Herman Lieber was one of the original 16 patrons which included the Fletcher family and others, who made it possible for T.C. Steele, William Forsyth and others to study painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Munich in the 1880’s.
From a modest stationery and bookbinding business he developed a large art-related enterprise which included artists’ materials, pictures, and the manufacture and sale of frames and moldings. It is not known when the two men became friends. Steele probably had purchased art supplies from Lieber’s store long before he settled in the city. Now H. Lieber & Company Art Emporium located on the north side of Washington Street east of Pennsylvania, was less than a block from his studio, and no doubt Steele dropped by frequently for supplies and to chat with Mr. Lieber and his partner, Charles Koehne.
In this letter to Herman Lieber, T.C. Steele states he has not received all of the money that he was owed by his subscription patrons to meet with his expenses while studying in Germany. Steele voiced his concern he would not be able to stay in Munich and study painting the second year of his instruction, as the first year was focused solely on drawing. Steele also discusses his daily routine, drawing from 6-8 hours a day in charcoal, pencil, crayon, and pen and ink.2
The Boatman now hangs in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University. The Boatman is one of Steele’s most widely recognized works, and won a Silver Medal from the Munich Academy.4
Lieber became an important figure in shaping the growing arts movement in Indianapolis in the late 1800’s. Prior to John Herron Art Institute (opened in 1906), Lieber held exhibits in the H. Lieber Company Galleries, or often referred to as H. Lieber Art Emporium, later incorporated as a retailer of paintings.
Herman Lieber was one of the founders of the Das Deutsche Haus (The German House) now referred to as Athenaeum in downtown Indianapolis. The east wing was constructed in 1893-94 and the west wing in 1897-98 and was once used as a German American Turnverein and clubhouse.
The Das Deutsche Haus was the center of German life in Indianapolis in the 1890’s. During World War I, when anti-German sentiment was present, the German House was named Athenaeum in 1918. Built for German societies, the building was designed in German Renaissance Revival Style by the prestigious Indianapolis architectural firm Vonnegut and Bohn, who later designed the John Herron Art Institute.⁴
Herman Lieber was referred to as “Father of German House” and since its founding, he was president of the board of directors until his death.
“The last time Mr. Lieber appeared before any public gathering was on the night of Feb. 22 (1908) when the anniversary of the dedication of the German House was being celebrated. It was at that meeting that a life sized portrait of the ‘father of the German House’ was unveiled. It was painted by T.C. Steele and presented to the German House by a number of Mr. Lieber’s friends who has persuaded him to pose for the picture.”⁵
Herman Lieber died March 22, 1908 on a train near Flagstaff, Arizona while on vacation through the western United State. He was accompanied by his daughter Mrs. Ida Kothe, and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Otis Lieber.
His body lay in state at the main audience room of the German House (now named Athenaeum).
“From 11 until 1 o’clock the body lay in state in the main audience room of the house, in front of the state. At the entrance to this room hung the three-quarter length portrait of Mr. Lieber, recently painted by T.C. Steele, and presented to the German House by friends of Mr. Lieber on February 22, 1908, when he was acclaimed ‘the father of the German House’.Indianapolis News, Saturday, March 28, 1908
The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 24 March 1908, Tuesday, page 3 ⁸; åThe Indianapolis News 28 March 1908, Saturday, Page 2⁹
The members of the committee in charge of the funeral arrangements were Albrecht Kipp, Albert Metzger, Clemens Vonnegut, Jr., Gustav Westing, Charles Krause, August M. Kuhn.
The pallbearers were Harvey Bates, Sr., Andrew Hagen, William Hauelsen, Albrecht Kipp, Charles Koehne, J.A. Lemcke, Emil Martin, W.J. Richards, T.C. Steele, Lucius B. Swift, William Dugdale, and Clemens Vonnegut, Jr.” ⁸
Herman Lieber (1832-1908) and his wife Marianne Metzger Lieber (1834-1904) are buried at Crown Hill Cemetery (sect 5, Lot 70).
Special thanks to The Athenaeum Foundation for accommodating photo-shoot, providing insight and supporting the Friends of T.C. Steele Virtual Gallery.
¹City Directory, 1865, IUPUI Digital Archives & used in public domain by Sharon Butsch Freeland, July 8, 2014, https://historicindianapolis.com
²Courtesy, T.C. Steele and Mary Lakin Steele Papers (1869-1966), Indiana Historical Society.
³Letter from H. Lieber Company, dated: October 16, 1925, re: sale of The Boatman, Indiana Historical Society
⁴The Boatman, Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2020. https://artmuseum.indiana.edu/collections-online/browse/object.php?number=2005.31
⁵Indiana Historical Society – Source: Lieber, Meta “Panzer” (Mrs. Carl H.) Materials, 1894-1932, Source Collection, Number MO183. https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/V0002/id/2616/
⁶Das Deutsche Haus (i.e. German House), Indianapolis, Indiana, c1898, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
⁷The Germans in Indianapolis 1840-1918, George Theodore Probst, Revised & Illustrated Edition by Eberhard Reichmann, German-American Center & Indiana German Heritage Society; Revised edition (June 1, 1989)
⁸The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 24 March 1908, Tuesday, page 3.
⁹The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, 28 March, 1908, Saturday, page 2