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Artifact of the Month – Painting of SS Kaiser Wilhelm II

Today’s object of the month is an oil painting featuring the steamship Kaiser Wilhelm II in front of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. I remember when I first came across it as I thought it was such a strange image with the ship completely out of water, but of course that’s how an allegorical painting is supposed to look. With my interest piqued, I went to check out the file folder to see what the background of this painting was. To my dismay, there was next to no information in the file and the wrong artist had even been attributed to the painting, despite the fact that there is a clear signature in the bottom left hand corner.

I am a rather curious person by nature, and so not knowing anything about this painting was rather painful. Taking what little I knew about it, which was basically just the artist, I turned to my best friend for answers, Google. I soon found out that the artist, Otto Bollhagen, was a well-known painter in Bremen, Germany. This is where he set up his ‘atelier’, meaning studio. Underneath ‘Atelier Bollhagen’ on the signature is ‘Bremen’. The business Otto started in 1892 continues today under the leadership of a great-grandson.

I began digging deeper hoping to discover the history behind the painting, where it was used. Unfortunately, I still have been unable to discover how exactly it came to us, but we think that this painting was probably somewhere on the ship. Why? Well, around this time, Bollhagen frequently made paintings for the North German Lloyd Line’s ship and is noted in a number of sources as having made paintings for Kaiser Wilhelm II. I have yet to find my proof though, but I will not stop looking.

As for the imagery of the ship in front of the pyramids, that is much easier to explain. Kaiser Wilhelm II (in this case the person, not the ship), was intent on having a strong military presence on land and sea. He was quoted as saying “Our future lies on the sea” (or some variation of this), which is actually on another of our paintings from the North German Lloyd Line. The image is meant to compare the ship to the pyramids as a wonder of the world and a feat of German engineering. At the time, Kaiser Wilhelm II and her sister ships were considered to be marvels.

SS Kaiser Wilhelm II – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As for the ship, I found her to be just as interesting and wonderful as our painting. Kaiser Wilhelm II was by AG Vulcan in Stettin, German and launched in 1902. She had her maiden voyage on April 14, 1903 and was a truly luxurious transatlantic liner, if you weren’t in steerage that is. In 1904 she won the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic voyage, a record she kept until Lusitania took it in 1907. Kaiser Wilhelm was seized by the U.S. Government in 1917 when they entered WWII, as the ship was at an U.S. port. Her name was changed to USS Agamemnon and she began her war work, which didn’t last long as she had a collision with USS Von Steuben (formerly SS Kronprinz Wilhelm). This is pretty ironic considering the two were North Germany Lloyd Line sister ships.

USS Agamemnon – Courtesy of Wikipedia

Agamemnon was repaired and returned to action. Her named was changed to Monticello in 1927, but saw no further action. In the late twenties she ended up in Norfolk where it was intended that she would be rebuilt as a motor ship by Gibbs & Cox, but I don’t believe these plans were ever completed. She was deemed unfit for action in WWII and therefore sold for scrap in 1940. And thus ended the career of this once magnificent ship. Below I have included some postcards showing the interior of the ship.

Children’s dining room
First Class Drawing Room
The parlor
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