Carl Rau’s Grandad Bluff painting

Emily Patwell

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Every La Crosse native knows famous Grandad Bluff, which overlooks the eastern side of the city.

A popular tourist attraction, the bluff provides excellent hiking trails and a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River Valley. It has been the inspiration of many artists.

One local artist, Carl Rau, painted this landscape of Grandad Bluff. Specializing in biblical scenes, figure painting and landscapes, Rau presented this painting as a Christmas gift to a friend, Judge Edward Higbee, in 1920.

Carl Rau was born in Germany Nov. 3, 1858. His father, Gottfried Rau, died when Carl was a boy, and he was raised by his widowed mother. As a child, Carl had a strong love for art, and, along with manual work training, he studied art and mechanical drawing while in Germany.

At age 13, he and his mother migrated to the United States, settling in Dubuque, Iowa.

There he found work in a shop, where he continued to receive art and drawing lessons.

A diligent worker, Rau opened the shop every morning and close it every night. Unfortunately for Rau, the proprietor of the shop couldn’t keep allowing him the privilege of taking lessons instead of working, and so Rau halted his lessons.

Later, as a young man, Rau continued to pursue his education in art and eventually received formal training.

He took an interest in art literature, and in his free time befriended local artists and found opportunities to enjoy the art of others.

After he and his mother moved to La Crosse in the fall of 1878, Rau sought local art teachers for lessons. While he specialized in painting, he soon found another artistic passion: pictorial photography.

When he moved to La Crosse, Rau took up employment at R.G. Dun & Co. He continued to work for R. G. Dun & Co. after he found employment at John Gund’s Empire Brewery as a bookkeeper in May 1880.

He eventually left R.G. Dun & Co. and later Empire Brewery. He joined the John A. Salzer Seed Co. in 1886, becoming the company’s secretary and treasurer.

Rau and Salzer became quite close, likely bonding over their German heritage. While working for Salzer, Rau met and began courting his daughter, Anna Amalia. The two married in 1887, and had a son they named Wilbert Carl.

Rau also joined Salzer’s church, the Salzer Memorial Methodist Church, and taught Sunday school there for more than 30 years. Trusted by his father-in-law, Rau eventually took over the John A. Salzer Seed Co. as president, serving until his retirement on July 1, 1932.

Rau was not only a talented artist in the La Crosse area but a patron to the arts. He was known for his generosity toward young men who showed artistic talent but struggled to find work. Until his death Dec. 29, 1940, he continued to give his works to friends and support local artists in La Crosse.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 22, 2018.


This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.