Wagner's "The Mariner's Return"

Amy Vach

Catalog Numbers: 2011.014.111 & 2011.014.124

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

For more than 70 years, La Crosse’s Heileman Brewing Co. incorporated the painting “The Mariner’s Return” into advertising for its product, Old Style Lager, after acquiring the original painting.

The German artist Fritz Wagner (1896-1939) was known for his paintings of European tavern scenes depicting merry drinkers. “The Mariner’s Return” features three gentlemen in a tavern listening to a seafarer share his adventurous tales.

Over the years, Heileman Brewery used “The Mariner’s Return” on numerous advertising and promotional items.

As late as 1991, the company featured the modified print on Old Style Lager steins. The La Crosse County Historical Society artifact collection contains a few examples of Heileman Brewing Co. advertising using Wagner’s painting.

The first of the two shown here is a simple composite wooden tray with a print adhered to the surface from the 1940s. The second example is a calendar produced from 1942. If you look closely at the image on this calendar, you can see that the image has been modified to advertise Old Style Lager.

The stained-glass window in the top left corner has the Heileman Grenadier in the center. It also has a yellow shield-shaped Heileman’s Old Style Lager sign outside the tavern above the door. A ribbon below the print reads: “‘The Mariner’s Return’ painted by Fritz Wagner depicts a tavern of the 17th century. Relaxed and with rapt admiration, fellow townsmen listen to the tales of the daring voyager. Today America relaxes and finds companionship in a brew far more delicious than the most noted of that day.”

The brewery was inspired by Wagner’s artwork to create a hospitality room for distributors visiting the plant. The hospitality room was designed to embody the scene in the painting. They called this room the “Bier Stube,” or beer room. In addition to inspiring the Bier Stube, a large reproduction of Wagner’s painting was included in the room. The room was built and decorated by several local companies. According to the La Crosse Tribune, the brewery reproduced the scene to carry out “the traditional flavor of Heileman’s famous product known as the only beer with an old-world flavor made in America.”

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on December 29, 2018.

These objects can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.