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No. 2 Adam Emory Albright


In 1899 Adam Emory Albright gave up all other subjects to paint country children. “For thirty-five years,” he says, “I have devoted my art to the sunny side of life, to the American boys and girls, and consider them the most beautiful models on earth.”


Mr. Albright believes himself the sole surviving member of the old Chicago Academy of Design, out of which grew the Art Institute of Chicago. He entered the academy’s classes in 1881, a country boy from Wisconsin who had already, however, been himself a “teacher of art” to farmer lads in his native west.


The academy’s school was then situated on the fifth floor of a building at the corner of Monroe and State Streets. The whole visual equipment of the school was a set of plaster casts from antique sculpture. There was not a solitary canvas to be seen.


Henry F. Spread, an English aristocrat, head instructor, however, posed models, and John Vanderpoel, his chief assistant, arranged still-life compositions.


There were six young men and about a hundred girls in the day classes. At night the student body was made up of about fifty men and no women. George Grey Barnard, sculptor, was a fellow pupil of Albright’s, and so was Irving Couse, painter of the American Indian.

The youthful Albright had already earned enough money with his untutored art to pay his tuition—and through all his subsequent school in Chicago and at the Pennsylvania academy, and in Munich and Paris he made his way with his brushes.


Photography had not yet spread, and there was plenty of work for a young man who could paint a likeness. People of Chicago, Philadelphia, Munich and Paris paid Albright from $5 to $50 for portraits. Besides that, Albright, in his native Wisconsin, where he was born on a farm in 1862, and later in Missouri, found farmers willing to pay him for crude sketches of their houses.


“Art” was in Albright’s blood from birth. He doesn’t remember when he didn’t draw. The first “oil painting” he ever saw excited him greatly. He was 14. He walked thirty miles to find the painter, who turned out to be a driver of a milk wagon—“a businessman artist,” says Mr. Albright now with a grin. This genius introduced him to the mystery of brushes from hog bristles and to colors squeezed out of tubes onto thin boards.


He also told the boy that, strange as it might sound, art was taught in this country, not exclusively in Europe. There was a school in Chicago. It was ultimately to this school, of which he dreamed while he was teaching other boys and girls what he had learned by his own efforts, that he came.


After Spread and Vanderpoel in Chicago, Albright studied under Thomas Eakins for three years in Philadelphia. He has some amusing anecdotes of Eakins, the shaggy, uncouth master who was always shocking the more fastidious students. Eakins was as thorough an anatomist as were the professors in the medical schools. One day he brought a hind leg of a dissected horse to class.


After Philadelphia, Albright went to Munich, where Carl Marr agreed to teach him provided he could organize a class to make it worth his while. Albright rounded up several American students and Marr’s career as an instructor began. A fellow student here was Joseph Henry Sharp, later to become famed, also, as an Indian painter, with a studio on Custer’s battlefield.


Albright’s next move was to Paris and the atelier of Benjamin Constant.


“Then I got married, came back to Chicago and nearly starved.” That was in 1888. The bride was Clara Amelia Wilson, daughter of a St. Louis physician.


Gradually prospects improved, despite the fact Mrs. Albright held her young husband steadily to “ethical” art, instead of letting him succumb to the temptation of doing “commercial” things. In the World’s Fair show of 1893 he had a canvas, “Morning Glories.” Flower pictures, portraits and landscapes found more and more frequent buyers, and then in 1899 came the “American children” that eventually made the Albrights comparatively wealthy.


Early in the new century Mr. Albright became a prize winner in various shows. Museums as well as private collectors bought his work.


For several years now he has been established at Warrenville, Ill., his studio an old church, shared with him by his twin sons, Ivan Le Lorraine Albright and Malvin Marr Albright.

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