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.