Partner Frank Harriot
1812 N 49th St, Milwaukee, WI 53208
Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, USA
Karl John Priebe (July 1, 1914 - July 5, 1976) was an American painter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose studies and paintings of birds, exotic animals, and African-American culture won him international recognition. The faculty of the Layton School included two artists who had strong gay connections: Richard Lippold and Karl Priebe. Priebe, a Milwaukee native who had studied at Layton, returned to the school in 1947 as an instructor. A winner in 1941 of the Prix de Rome, he exhibited his work in New York galleries, which brought him into contact with bisexual Carl Van Vechten and gave him an appreciation of the Harlem arts scene. Priebe had a long relationship with Frank Harriot, an editor at Ebony magazine. Priebe was friends with lifelong partners Charlotte Partridge and Miriam Frink.
Priebe, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Emil Priebe and Catherine Wacker. He went on to study and graduate from the Layton School of Art, under the tutelage of Gerrit V. Sinclair. He also studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduating in 1938. After serving on the anthropology staff of the Milwaukee Public Museum (1938–1942) and as director of the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts (1943–1944), he returned to Layton as an instructor in 1947. The school closed due to financial insolvency in 1974.
In 1947, at the age of 33, Karl Priebe was featured in “Life” Magazine as a leading member in the fantasy school of painting, often known as Surrealism. Six years earlier he won the 1941 Prix de Rome for his “Madonna and Child”, which is now in the Patrick & Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art Collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He was the only Milwaukeean ever to receive the Prix de Rome, an honor accorded to him in 1941. Because of wartime condition he was unable to use the grant to study in Europe.
by Carl Van Vechten
Karl Priebe (American, 1914-1976) "Frank Roy Harriott," 1950, mixed media on paper, 13.25" x 11.5", signed and dated lower right, titled on verso, exhibition label on verso, framed
Karl Priebe, (Wisconsin, 1914-1976), Portrait of Georgette Heyner, 1948
Artist: Karl Priebe (American, 1914–1976) Title: Portrait of Billie Holiday , 1942–1942 Medium: Watercolor on Board Size: 19 x 14 in. (48.3 x 35.6 cm.)
Priebe was one of the few Wisconsin artists of his generation to escape the regionalist label and win showings in prestigious galleries, like those in New York City. His paintings were shown at major public and private galleries, among them the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He drew the inspiration for his works from numerous locations. His paintings of exotic animals can be attributed to his numerous trips to the Milwaukee County Zoo while attending the Layton School of Art. He first became interested in African American culture when, as an art student in Chicago, he taught a class in a settlement house largely attended by African Americans. His black figures, he recalled later, were not intended as portraits, but were taken from his memories of people he saw in the settlement house.
Outside the studio, Priebe pursued interests in birdwatching, black people and their culture, and jazz music. Throughout his creative life Priebe was known for his love of black culture. His wide circle of friends included artists Gertrude Abercrombie, Carol Blanchard, and John Wilde; novelist, critic, and portrait photographer Carl Van Vechten (an early promoter of his work); jazz artists Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey and Dizzy Gillespie; and authors Gwendolyn Brooks, Owen Dodson, Edward Harris Heth, and Langston Hughes.
In his later years Priebe suffered from a number of ailments. In November 1975 he had one of his eyes surgically removed. After that his health began to decline. He died at his home in Milwaukee after a long struggle with cancer on July 5, 1976, he was 62 years old.
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