An American paintings
conservator trained in Berlin, William Suhr worked under Wilhelm Reinhold
Valentiner at the Detroit Institute of Arts beginning in 1927, and was the conservator of the Frick Collection from 1935
to 1977. He also maintained private clients including individuals and major American museums in Cleveland,
New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis. After World War II he
worked closely with clients active in the New York art market, particularly the
dealer Rosenberg and Stiebel. The bulk of the collection is comprised of
photographs of paintings treated by Suhr, along with his treatment notes. The
collection also contains business papers, including correspondence, articles
about Suhr, personal papers, and documentation of Suhr's own artwork.
William Suhr was born in Kreutzberg, Germany on March 31, 1896. His parents were U.S. citizens; his paternal grandfather
had emmigrated to the
United States from Germany in 1850. During his twenties Suhr's father went to
Vienna seeking treatment for incipient deafness and to pursue his acting
career. When he became completely deaf he gave up acting and stayed on in
Germany. As a youth, Suhr acted in the same theatrical company as his mother.
When he showed artistic promise as a teenager, he was apprenticed to a stonemason for
three years. He then studied painting at the Royal Art Academy in Berlin. It
was in Berlin, at the age of 20, that he met the art historian Max Deri, who
introduced him to the restoration of painting. At that time there were no
schools for restoration; it was a family business and methods were kept secret.
Deri gave Suhr a panel to restore along with some advice on how to do it. Soon
Suhr was very active as a restorer in Berlin, where the art historian Wilhelm
Reinhold Valentiner noticed him in the early 1920’s. Valentiner became Director
of the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1924. In 1927 Suhr accepted his offer of the job of restorer
of paintings. The letter with this offer is in the archive.
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