Joseph Friebert (1908 - 2002)

Birth date: 1908 Death date: 2002  
Birth location: Buffalo, New York Death location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin  
Media: Graphic Art , Painting Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.

Biographical Brief

Wife: Wisconsin artist Betsy Ritz Friebert (1910-1963)
Daughter: Wisconsin artist Judith M. Friebert (born 1945)
Brother: Wisconsin self-taught artist Edward Friebert Jr. (1905-1998)
Art Institute of Chicago, Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Columbus Museum of Art, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University, Detroit Institute of Arts, Flint Institute of Arts, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, Haggerty Museum at Marquette University, Indiana University Art Museum, J. B. Speed Museum, Joslyn Museum, Mariana Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University, Milwaukee Art Museum, Mint Museum, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Northern Michigan University, Peabody-Essex Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Sheldon Museum of the University Nebraska, Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, Smith College Museum of Art, University of Georgia Art Museum, University of Michigan Art Museum, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Art Gallery, Wriston Art Center at Lawrence University, and most other public and university/college museums/galleries in Wisconsin.
1941, 1948: awards at Artists of Chicago and Vicinity exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago

1952: Frank Logan Award (1st prize), Artists of Chicago and Vicinity exhibition, Art Institute of  Chicago

1952-53: Ford Foundation Fellowship at Columbia University

1990: Richard Florsheim Foundation grant

2009: Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award


Joseph Friebert
Born 1908 in Buffalo, New York
Died 2002 in Milwaukee
Joseph Friebert grew up in Milwaukee in a Jewish working-class family. He was profoundly influenced by the Socialist ideas of his father, a tailor and a union organizer. Friebert’s belief in social activism is reflected in his entire oeuvre, in figural compositions, landscapes, and urban views that express  empathy and sorrow without anger. Social concerns—the human universals of loss; the brutality, vulnerability, and displacement of war; the stark realities of the Great Depression; and the political havoc of the Cold War give Friebert’s art a narrative character even at its most abstract. The protagonists in his figural compositions often seem isolated one from the other. Sometimes foreboding, his landscapes can also be lyrical and joyous.

Friebert’s artistic career was unconventional. He earned a degree from Marquette University’s pharmacy school and went on to become a registered pharmacist, working at the Oriental Pharmacy, among others. Because Friebert could support himself as a druggist, he was not eligible for the W.P.A. program during the Depression. But he loved to draw and joined the Businessman’s Art Club, as well as an evening artists’ life-drawing group, where he met the artist Betsy Ritz, whom he married in 1937. He began actively to paint and exhibit his work in 1935. Ritz and others encouraged Friebert to enroll at Milwaukee State Teachers College (MSTC; now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), where his teachers included Robert von Neumann and Elsa Ulbrecht. He also studied with Gerrit V. Sinclair at the Layton School of Art. After earning a degree in art education in 1945, Friebert taught briefly at Layton and in 1946 joined the MSTC art faculty. He earned his M.A. at UW-Madison in 1951 and became a full professor at UWM in 1957. Friebert continued to teach at UWM until his retirement in 1976. He taught painting but preferred to lead classes in life drawing, because he believed drawing to be the basis of all visual art. Friebert’s interest in learning Old Master painting techniques resulted in his skill at underpainting, using a sonorous palette and layers of glazes to create luminosity and a sense of depth. He also executed lithographs and monotypes, often overlaid with pastels. Friebert served on the board of the Milwaukee Artist’s Guild and was a member of the Walrus Club and the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

Friebert was represented by several Milwaukee galleries: the Dorothy Bradley Gallery in the 1970s and 1980s, the Conti Gallery in the early 1990s, and the Elaine Erickson Gallery until 2015. All gave him multiple one-person exhibitions and included his work in group exhibitions.

A website dedicated to Friebert will be operational by August 2018.

Selected One-Person Exhibitions

Joseph Friebert: Selected Works, Milwaukee Art Museum (exhibition catalog by Dean Sobel)
1998  Joseph Friebert at Ninety, Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee (exhibition catalog by Curtis L. Carter)


“Joseph Friebert, Fred Berman, and the Milwaukee Scene, 1935–1965,” exhibition at Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery, Chicago.


Exhibitions celebrating Friebert’s centenary at the Museum of Wisconsin Art; INOVA gallery at UWM; and Northwestern Mutual Art Gallery at Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee.

Selected Group Exhibitions

Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago
1938, 1939  Great Lakes Exhibition, museums in Buffalo, Rochester, N.Y., Toronto, Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee
1938  American Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of  Chicago (also 1954 and 1957)
Layton Art Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee State Teacher's College/ UW-Milwaukee
1947 Annual Exhibition of American Painting, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (also 1951, 1955, 1957, 1960)
1950 American Painting Today, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
1951, 1954  Annual Exhibition of American Painting, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
1956  28th Biennale: American Artists Paint the City,  Venice, Italy
1957 Annual Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art
133rd Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York
1960 Milwaukee Art Center
1965 Fifty Years Of Wisconsin Art, Milwaukee Art Center
1969 UW-Milwaukee
1972 Bradley Galleries, Milwaukee
1977 UW-Milwaukee. Two Retrospective Exhibitions: George Goundie Sculpture, Joseph Friebert Paintings. UW-Milwaukee Fine Arts Galleries
1979 Bradley Galleries, Milwaukee
1981 Bradley Galleries, Milwaukee
1984 Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee
1985 Bradley Galleries, Milwaukee
100 Years Of Wisconsin Art, Milwaukee Art Museum
1993 The Jewish contribution In Twentieth-Century Art, Milwaukee Art Museum (catalogue)
1993-1997 Galleria del Conte, Milwaukee
1994 Wisconsin Artists: A Celebration Of Jewish Presence, Haggerty Museum Of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee (catalogue by Curtis L Carter and Johann J.K. Reusch)
Painters Of The Great Lakes Scene, Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts: Flint Institute of Arts (catalogue by Michael Hall)
Self-Portraits: Wisconsin Artists, Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee (catalogue by Fred Berman)
1997 Monotypes by Joseph Friebert: Sculpture by Adolph Rosenblatt, Temple Emanu-El, Milwaukee


1989, Nov. 12:

Friebert Show Displays Vibrant Depth, by James Auer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

1991, Jan. 15 – March 15:

Seven Artists: A History, by John Gruenwald, Art Muscle


Joseph Friebert: the UWM Bookstore Calendar For 1992, featuring 16 reproductions of his work. By Joy Gross Berman

1995, Dec. 21:

Friebert Paints Life’s Similies, by Nathan Guequierre, Shepherd Express


Joseph Friebert Talks With Xavier Baron, videotape by Xavier Baron



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