Elbridge Ayer Burbank (1858-1949)
By Melissa Wolfe, Ph.D. © Illinois Historical Art Project
Born August 10, 1858, in Harvard, Illinois, Elbridge Ayer Burbank created one of the most comprehensive and articulate productions of Native American portraiture ever made. He was the firstborn of Abner Jewett Burbank, a station agent for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company and Annie Ayer Burbank, both originally of Massachusetts.1 Burbank was educated in Harvard, but in 1874, at the age of sixteen, he began studies in Chicago at the Academy of Design (later to become the Chicago Art Institute). His teachers included Emil Carlson and later Felix Regamey and James Farrington Gookins.2 Burbank lived in Chicago in the 1870s for four years from 1874 to 1878.3 On August 10, 1880, he married seventeen year old Alice Blanche Wheeler, the daughter of Homer E. Wheeler and Mary A. David of Rockford, Illinois. By 1880, the artist was living in Auburn, New York painting portraits. He then moved to a small portrait studio in the Manheimer Building, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1883.4
The Northern Pacific Railway began at Ashland, Wisconsin and was completed to Portland, Oregon, opening on September 8, 1883. Eugene V. Smalley hired Burbank in 1885 to travel with him along the new route and draw scenery, settlements and activities for his publication, The Northwest Illustrated Monthly, which was sent to possible immigrants, settlers, and investors.5 Burbank received $100 for every sketch used in the publication. The two repeated their trip in 1886. Burbank had several experiences during these trips: he met famous Indians such as Chief Moses; he was overwhelmed by the roaring water of Spokane Falls at the Echo Four Mill; he traveled through the Dakota Territory during the notorious 1886-87 drought and he witnessed a rather ominous scene of coal barges unloading for the winter at Duluth, Minnesota.6
After returning in 1886 to St. Paul, Burbank used the income from his sketching to finance the first of two trips to Munich for further art instruction. While it is not known exactly when Burbank left or what instruction he received, one of his sketchbooks includes Munich scenes and objects in his studio, dating from September 22 to November 12, 1887.7 It seems likely the artist was called back unexpectedly to Harvard upon news of his grandfather Elbridge Gerry Ayer’s death. Burbank was quite close to the man. After two years, probably spent in St. Paul, Burbank and his wife left again for Munich on September 1, 1889.8
This stay seems to have been much more profitable than the first. On September 16th, Burbank noted in his diary he had begun work in Paul Nauen’s school. Though he never mentions studying under Toby Rosenthal, at some point, either on his first trip or after the last entry in his diary, it is probable Burbank was also a student of Rosenthal.9 Burbank spent his time in Munich sketching in museums and visiting established artists’ studios.10 He also attended the opening of the American Artists’ Club and later was elected to membership on November 9, 1889. Burbank visited the club as often as three or four nights a week and served on several committees. He became close friends with other American art students including Joseph Greenbaum, Isadore Lando, Toby Rosenthal, William R. Leigh, Joseph H. Sharp and George “Val” Millet. Burbank also did quite a bit of sightseeing and traveling. He visited the Kalvarienberg at Tölz and the passion play at Oberammergau. He saw a panorama of the West and visited Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show twice while it was in Munich. It appears Burbank financed his studies and his travels by taking photographs of local sites to sell for lantern slides. He also sold a number of his works, both oil and pastel, to Americans visiting Munich and to patrons back home.11
Burbank’s work showed some inclination for the painterly style then popular in Munich.12 His portraits of this period exhibit a loose, somewhat small brushwork with distinct attention, and facility to surface texture. His color often has warm tonalities in the figure mixed with high delicate coloring in the rest of the composition.13 However, Burbank’s sketchbook also shows his attachment to highly linear compositions. His street scenes with their attention to precise detail of everyday objects and “happenstance” composition are deeply indebted to the Dutch genre he studied in the Munich museums.14
Burbank did not return to the United States immediately after leaving Munich. In October, 1890, the artist and his wife arrived in Cardiff, Wales, to stay at Lord Pontyprydds, first cousin of Blanche’s mother, where Burbank completed portraits of a number of Blanche’s family members. Burbank then opened a small portrait studio and the couple lived for a year in London.15
In the spring of 1892, the couple returned to Harvard, Illinois, and by the end of July, after visits to family, settled in Chicago.16 Burbank immediately opened shop in the Athenaeum Building where he worked for the next five years. As he had in Munich, Burbank fully engaged in the artistic milieu of Chicago during these five years. As one interviewer reported upon the artist’s return from Munich, “It is his intention to identify himself with Chicago art.”17 By locating his studio in the Athenaeum Building, Burbank did indeed place himself in the heart of the Chicago art world. The most influential art group in the city, the Chicago Society of Artists (CSA), located their clubrooms and galleries in the same building the year before with a large number of members. Burbank was participating fully in their activities only three months after his arrival. He attended the sketch sale exhibition and “raucher” (smoke evening for the society and their friends) held in November and exhibited two of his genre works in the CSA galleries in December.18 He was a full member of the CSA by the annual exhibition held in the Spring of 1893.
He specialized in portraiture and soon developed a talent and reputation for African-American figure and genre scenes. These images were inspired by a trip Burbank took to the South, especially Fort McHenry, Vicksburg, Tennessee, immediately after his return.19 It was common for artists to venture out of the city in the summer to areas which provided varied sketching possibilities. Burbank was drawn several times to the South to gather sketches of his chosen subject matter.20 Burbank also became well-known for his use of several local bootblacks as models for his work.
The style of Burbank’s African-American genre is characteristic of his Munich training that was also the accepted genre stereotype of the time. The works are warm in tone, highly detailed and quite small in size.21 While the narrative was not always explicit, the image was clearly in the accepted humor of the day. A reviewer described, “a quaint and fascinating picture of a little girl, with her hair done up in white rags,” or “the heads of ‘Uncle Ned’ and ‘Uncle Brunt’ are touched by the frost of years, and in their faces is found that happy, contented, hopeful expression which is peculiar to the American colored race.”22
Burbank became quite successful with such images. In 1893, he won the most prestigious award in Chicago, the Charles T. Yerkes Prize, at the annual exhibition of the Chicago Society of Artists for His Favorite Pastime, depicting an African-American boy playing a banjo.23 This award required that the artist show no indication of “the style of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and their followers and works in which a summary treatment and eccentricities in drawing and color take the place of intelligent selection or arrangement and conscientious study.”24 Burbank’s Munich training had served him well. He exhibited consistently in Chicago area shows and caused a little jealousy among the artists for his success in selling work.25 He exhibited genre images and German style still-life in a number of regional and national venues including the annuals of the National Academy of Design, Society of Western Artists, Boston Art Club, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and large expositions that included the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, and Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition in Nashville.
Burbank was also active with the Chicago based Cosmopolitan Art Club (CAC). While there was a fair degree of animosity between the CAC and the CSA, Burbank was able to smooth over such differences in his exhibition activities. Burbank showed in the CAC annual in 1893, the same year he showed in the CSA annual and won the Yerkes Award.26 Though Burbank showed only in the CSA exhibit the next year, he became more and more aligned with CAC members, particularly Charles Francis Browne, Hardesty Gilmore Maratta and writer Hamlin Garland. By 1895, he broke with the CSA and became a member of the CAC. This move seems to have initiated a watershed in Burbank’s influence and activities in Chicago. Probably because of his close association with Charles Francis Browne, in 1895, Burbank was selected to serve on the jury for the United Annual Exhibition of the Palette Club and the Cosmopolitan Art Club held at the Art Institute of Chicago.27 This exhibition was highly publicized and combined two of Chicago’s three most influential art organizations into one exhibition. He also exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in the Young-Fortnightly competition, which was considered a local honor. An eight by eleven inch color print of Burbank’s work, American Beauty, was included in the Chicago Chronicle Sunday supplement on August 11th of that year and Burbank, as well as Willie Trimble, the local bootblack who served as the model, posed in the window of the Leader Building.28 That same year he won a bronze medal and honorable mention for his entry The Old Musician in the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta and was accepted in the National Academy of Design annual.29 Revamping his studio was probably the most telling sign of his own assessment of his achievement into the ranks of established artists. He decorated it with German objects and heirlooms brought from his family’s Harvard home.
In 1897, Burbank planned to travel West. His uncle, Edward E. Ayer, was an avid collector of Native American artifacts. Ayer had been the first president of the Field Museum of Natural History and had given his artifact collection to the museum and endowed Ayer Hall for its display. Ayer offered Burbank a commission for a portrait of the famous Apache leader, Geronimo.30 A return trip to the area he had found so invigorating in 1885 was certainly tempting and quite in line with the artist’s interests. It was a popular idea among many other Chicago artists and patrons as well.
The art community lumped together a number of different subjects: The Native American “primitive,” the African-American “darkey” and the European or American rural “folk,” all viewed as “picturesque.” Their “primitive” activities and characteristics were received with a similar humorous treatment. An article of 1894 noted Burbank had spent his summer in Rockford painting “rural types” and includes a reproduction of his sketch of a washerwoman.31 It
also reported the return of Miss Pauline A. Dohn (1866-1934) from Holland and included her account of the “primitive conditions” of the rural peasants and the “unsophisticated character of the Dutch peasantry, who have not changed their style of dress nor their manners for a century.”32 The American Indian was viewed equally “primitive.” The article continues that, “Mr. [Charles F.] Browne, Mr. [Herman A.] MacNeil, and also Mr. [Edward] Kemeys, the sculptor, went into Wisconsin among the Chippewas and made studies of the red men and their wives and sons and daughters” and continues on to give an account of their superstitions and uncivilized conditions.33
Burbank himself opined that to him such “primitive” subjects were similar. The American Indian was similar to the African-American in that, “one can’t do a good natural job on the average white person. They always want ‘this put in,’ or ‘that taken out.’ The darkies are not that way. If a tooth is out they want it out, and I want to leave it out.... And the Indians I discovered were about the same.”34
The Chicago press usually noted the sojourns of area artists and reported that Burbank had traveled West.35 Arriving at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, on March 12, 1897, Burbank quickly received permission to paint Geronimo’s portrait from the fort commander, Captain Hugh L. Scott.36 That evening, after settling with Geronimo on a sitting fee of $5.00 per portrait, Burbank commenced work on the portrait. The artist continued making portraits in the West for nearly four more months, dropping his previous plans to continue on to Somerville, Texas, to sketch African-Americans and explaining his enthusiasm to his uncle that he had “never [been] so taken with a subject as I am with these Indians. I have made arrangements to stay here all Summer. [I] am not going back to Chicago until next Fall.”37
The artist returned briefly to Chicago on June 2nd. Within that week he opened his first of four Native American portraiture exhibitions at the W. Scott Thurber Gallery. This exhibition included nineteen portraits of Apache, Kiowa and Comanche. Burbank was encouraged by the success of the exhibition. A reviewer noted, “these portraits have attracted even more attention than his popular darkies; for one reason they are better painted; much of his former hardness of technic [sic] is absent in these while they are no less accurate. Burbank says he could not paint these as he did in his city studio; he entered more into the broad spirit of the life and surroundings.” The article prophetically continued, “he has become so infatuated with the Indians that he expects to spend most of the coming year among them, and will undoubtedly be known as our great Indian painter.”38
Spurred on by his sales, the thrill of his last excursion and the added promise of a steady patron in his uncle Ayer, Burbank returned to the Indians, arriving at Fort Yates on June 19, 1897. Burbank was consumed with the work on his portraits. He spent time at Rock Creek, South Dakota, arrived at the Crow Agency in Montana for a War Dance to celebrate the 4th of July, visited the Custer battlefield and traveled across difficult terrain to paint Chief Joseph at Nez Pilem, Washington Territory. By September 21st he had completed twenty-three portraits and planned to have thirty-two for his next exhibition.39 Burbank had now formulated his new goal which would drive him incessantly for the remainder of his career. He asserted to his uncle, “I intend to paint every single Indian tribe in America.”40
Burbank had a second exhibition at Thurber’s the last two weeks of October, 1897. Included were portraits of Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Nez Perce Indians. Though he wrote his uncle about seventeen paintings that sold, it seems Ayer himself purchased the bulk of Burbank’s output. Burbank continued his annual October exhibitions of Native American portraits for another two years. He would always return to Chicago for the exhibitions and then return West in November to complete more portraits. The new endeavor was profitable for Burbank. He spent only $100 per month on living expenses and payment of his sitters.41
The Indian portraits he created share specific stylistic features. Like his African-American genre works, the images are small, nearly all nine by fourteen inches, with the subject in close proximity to the picture plane. The shallow space is loosely brushed in either a bluish-white or a dark green color and discloses no specific environment other than the subject’s cast shadow. The figures all stand or sit in static poses, are clearly and evenly lit and though they often hold tools, weapons or ceremonial items,, there is no indication of a narrative action. Nearly every object is given meticulous attention and surface textures are convincingly depicted. Often the face is more intensely scrutinized and the rest of the figure somewhat flattened out in design.42 Each portrait is carefully identified with the sitter’s name and tribe, geographic location, date and Burbank’s signature, all methodically printed in various corners of the canvas.
Burbank met A. J. Hubbell, owner of the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona, after his return West in November, 1897. Hubbell allowed Burbank, as well as most of the other artists, anthropologists and surveyors working in the area, to stay gratis. Hubbell even allowed Burbank to use one of the buildings on the post as a private studio. From 1897 until 1907, Burbank used the trading post as a sort of home base from which he traveled throughout the West.43 In 1898, the artist sold all the curios and knickknacks in his Chicago studio, explaining, “Chances are I never will have a studio again as [I] will have no use for it as when I want to paint darkeys I will go South and for Indians go West and as I will be painting one or the other[,] concluded to sell all the Indian curios I have got.”44 After his last show at Thurber’s in 1899, he relied upon individual patrons and others interested in the ethnographic value of his portraits. This especially included his uncle Ayer. His portraits during this period rarely deviate from the composition he settled on by his second trip in 1897.
His patronage through the following years supported his decision to remain West painting portraits. The Boston Museum of Natural History bought a set of hand-colored photo reproductions of his paintings and a similar set was purchased for the Peabody Museum of Ethnology at Harvard University.45 The University of Pennsylvania Free Museum of Science and Art in Philadelphia and the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, both held large exhibitions of his work in 1901. Burbank was asked to exhibit his portraits in the anthropological section of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.46 The public schools in Chicago ordered 10,000 copies of a color reproduction of the painting of Zuin-cha-ke-cha.47 The Field Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Philadelphia Museum and the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science, as well as two private collectors of Indian curios and paintings, John Wanamaker, the department store magnate, and Joseph Butler, founder of The Butler Institute of American Art, all expressed interest in purchasing the bulk of Burbank’s paintings.48 In 1902, Joseph Butler purchased 104 of the oil portraits which had been on exhibit in Philadelphia.49
Even though his wife Blanche had always assumed most of the financial responsibility for the Chicago studio, Burbank was never able to deal well with the increased pressures of “society life” brought on by his success. Burbank was eventually diagnosed as manic-depressive and experienced recurrent deterioration. He seemed to have a nervous demeanor early in his career. Later, he was clearly suffering from mental illness.50 The West was very attractive to Burbank and his delicate disposition. The West became even more of a refuge for Burbank after 1901. At some point in late June of 1901, Burbank’s wife had an abortion.51
Burbank wanted children badly and was nearly debilitated by her act. By that summer he was able to reconcile with her.52 Burbank tried to maintain a studio again in Chicago following this tumultuous year of emotional instability.53 Around October of 1902, Blanche had a second abortion and completely alienated Burbank. Fleeing immediately to the West, he wrote Ayer that he was “out West where I belong.”54 Burbank ended communication with Blanche in 1903. In 1908, Blanche divorced him on grounds of desertion. He referred often to the necessity of remaining in the West due to his personal troubles.55 His situation out West was ideal. Hubbell didn’t care when Burbank came and went. He had no expectations of Burbank and continued to offer an environment free of the pressures that had more and more frequently affected Burbank’s stability. Burbank wrote his uncle, “Am so glad I am not cooped up in a studio in Chicago, half my time teaching. I believe I’d rather be with Indians than white people as have more fun with them and get along so nice [sic] with them.”56
Even though Burbank seldom returned to the Chicago area, he maintained strong ties with its art community. Throughout his time in the West he corresponded with Illinois artist Hardesty Gilmore Maratta (1864-1924) and maintained a close friendship with writer Hamlin Garland.57 In the more than 1,700 pages of correspondence between Burbank and his uncle Ayer, the two often discussed Chicago lecture series and artist activities and their opinions about them.58 Through his Uncle Ayer’s connections, Burbank supplied collectors in Chicago with Native American portraits at regular intervals.
His role as a “gatherer” of sorts for his uncle’s artifact collection was established in his very first letter home when he suggested to Ayer the teepees at Fort Sill would be good to add to the display in the Ayer Hall.59 Ayer sought such items from Burbank as actively as he sought portraits of famous Indians. Burbank dutifully collected for him over the years.60 Burbank reveled in the role of “expert”; his greatest moment in this role came when he could correct inaccuracies he found in the Ayer Hall.61 Burbank often exchanged information with W. H. Holmes, W. J. McGee and Jesse Fewkes, members of the Bureau of American Ethnography, and George Dorsey at the Field Museum.62
By 1904, he was able to report that he had painted 852 portraits.63 It was at this time Burbank became more active in making red crayon drawings of his Native American subjects. His subject was losing popularity, his patronage dwindling with the deaths of most of the more famous Indians and the Indian wars were fast fading in public memory. He could produce the crayon works with a smaller investment of time and money. By 1906, he was working mostly in red crayon. Institutions such as the Bureau of American Ethnography and the Field Museum and individuals such as Butler, Hubbell and Ayer were as interested in the physiognomy studies as they were in the paintings.64 These five patrons received over 4,000 crayon portraits.
By 1907, Burbank made connections in Los Angeles. The Graphic in that city was reporting on his travels and in April he had the first of several exhibitions at the Kanst Galleries.65 Burbank was still traveling as much as ever reporting to The Graphic he had visited fifty-six of the California Indian tribes over the Winter of 1907.66 Burbank now turned some of his attention to large paintings, in a thirty by forty inch format, of Native American genre scenes. While his most well-known of these scenes is a Hopi Snake Dance, these images are nearly all of contemporary Indian life taken from locations around the Hubbell Trading Post.67 His exhibition at the Kanst Galleries in September, 1907, was of genre images with no portraits included.68 Burbank was deeply conscientious about always painting his Native American portraits from life. However, around 1909, under financial and emotional stress, he began making copies in both crayon and oil of his earlier portraits.69 He also copied the labeling of the original image, giving the later image the earlier date as well. The later oil copies are distinguishable from the earlier ones because they usually consist of a harsher palette and exaggeration of facial expression and features.70
Burbank settled in Los Angeles and on June 10, 1909, he married twenty-two year old Nettie B. Taber who was also on her second marriage.71 His stationary life was short-lived. July, 1910, he and his new wife had moved back to Harvard, Illinois. Burbank had earlier acted as something of a middleman for Hubbell’s trading business. Burbank had also made small paintings of traditional Navajo blanket designs for Hubbell. Navaho traditional patterns and colors had nearly died out and Hubbell was actively encouraging the Navajo to work again in the art. Hubbell would describe to Burbank the pattern from an old blanket, and then Burbank would replicate the pattern in a painting which Hubbell would then show the weavers.72 His earlier letters were filled with notations about small transactions of Native American work in silver, blankets and pottery. During residence in Harvard, he attempted to establish himself as an agent for Hubbell to such buyers as Marshall Field and Company and other smaller merchants.73 As he and his wife sold Indian curios and blankets, Burbank attempted to reestablish himself in the Chicago art community. Marshall Field and Company held a special exhibition of his oil paintings and drawings in October, 1910. Sales were not what the artist hoped and by August, 1911, he was back traveling in the Southwest.
Financially strapped in 1912, he placed a group of works on consignment at the Field Museum hoping the museum would purchase them. They did not. By December of 1912, he and Nettie were back in Los Angeles and he opened a studio where he worked for the next three years.74 As Burbank’s financial status worsened, so did his mental condition. By 1916, Nettie had left Burbank, he had suffered another nervous breakdown and he had moved to San Francisco.
On January 4, 1917, Nettie was granted a divorce from Burbank and on May 24, the artist was admitted as an open status patient in the Napa State Hospital. His address in late 1917 or early 1918 was Rockford, Illinois, but for the most part he remained in the hospital some seventeen years until April 19, 1934. He then moved into the Manx Hotel.75 During this time and until his death, Burbank contributed a number of illustrations to the San Francisco Chronicle, drawing in graphite and colored pencils. He favored area landscapes ranging from the Napa Valley, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. St. Helen to the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco, the Mandarin Theatre and Fisherman’s Wharf. This work led to his centerfold illustration in a book by Wobbers, Inc., entitled Views of San Francisco, published in 1930. He also began sending pen and ink sketches and prints to those famous people he thought might enjoy them such as Cesar Romero, Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and Sonja Henie.76 Burbank began working on his biography in the early 1940s. Burbank Among the Indians was written with the assistance of Dr. Ernest Royce, a pharmacologist at the state hospital. The book was published in 1944 and recounts in nostalgic and anecdotal fashion the artist’s time in the West.
On January 27, 1949, Burbank was struck by a cable car while waving to a friend in a window of the Manx Hotel. After one month at the San Francisco General Hospital, he was moved to the Laguna Honda Home where he died on March 21, 1949. He was cremated and interred at Mt. Olivet Memorial Park. His first wife had his remains moved to the Forest View Abbey Mausoleum in Rockford, Illinois, in July of 1949. When the cemetery deteriorated, Burbank was re-interred October 19, 1984, in the Ayer family crypt, next to his uncle Ayer, at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Harvard, Illinois.77 During his active career he completed nearly 1,000 portraits from over 125 tribes. Among these images are some of the most renowned Native Americans of the time including Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Chief Red Cloud, Chief Naiche, Manualito, Many Horses, American Horse, Curley, and Rain-in-the-Face. His body of work represents one of the most consistent and striking accounts of the American Indian ever conceived.
1 Elbridge had two siblings: Henry C., born in 1860 and Lillian M., born in 1865. Both of Burbank’s grandparents, Abner Burbank and Elbridge Gerry Ayer helped to organize the Wisconsin Territory, arriving at what was to be Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1836. In the spring of 1856, Ayer laid out the town of Harvard (Junction). The families are twice related, Ayer’s daughter, Annie, married Burbank’s son, Abner J. (the artist’s parents) and Ayer’s son, Edward E., married Burbank’s daughter, Emma.
2 “Art and Artists,” The Graphic 7/8/1893, p.32.
3 “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 8/7/1892, p.36.
4 The Harvard-Diggins Library in Harvard, Illinois has compiled a great deal of information on his residences from various city registers and newspaper clippings.
5 Smalley started the publication in 1883 in Minneapolis under the title Northwest Review. In 1885, he moved it to St. Paul and changed the name to Northwest Illustrated Monthly.
6 Herb Hamlin, “Burbank the Great Contributor,” Pony Express Courier, Vol. 9, No. 7, December 1942, pp. 3-4 and John R. Kiser, Many Brushes, Unpublished manuscript, Red and Susan Scarff Archive, Phoenix, AZ, pp. 24-25.
7 Burbank sketchbook, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, Illinois. The earlier sketches include such images as “Traven Pl. Munich,” “Entrance to Old Pinathothek,” “Protestant Church, Munich,” and “Bed Lounge in my Studio, Munich.”
8 Burbank diary, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, Illinois. [referred to hereafter as “Burbank diary”]. The diary begins on 7/2/1889, when both he and his wife left St. Paul to visit their respective families. They then visited Washington, DC, and New York before leaving New York Harbor aboard the German steamer Fulda.
9 While Burbank mentions Rosenthal a number of times in his diary, it is usually as that of a colleague rather than as a teacher. The last date of Burbank’s diary is 7/18/1890.
10 Burbank’s diary notes he made copies of Rubens, Angelica Kauffman and Teniers at the Alte Pinakothek, visited the Neue Pinakothek and saw the Annual Exhibition of Fine Arts at the Glass Palace. He visited the studios of Wimmer, Franz Lenbach, F. Fehrs, Emil Meyer, Neuman, Fleishman, Hauser, Franz Defffreger and the Ludwig von Löfftz academy.
11 Burbank’s diary lists some of these patrons: Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Sampson of New York and Mr. Mould of St. Paul.
12 For a discussion of American artists in Munich see: The Triumph of Realism, (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1978) and Munich and American Realism in the 19th Century, (Sacramento: E. B. Crocker Gallery, 1987).
13 Very little is known about his early portrait work. Burbank had carte d’visites made of his studio in London which show on the walls a series of his portraits that conform to this characterization. There is also a portrait from this period, Portrait of a Woman, Munich, which was highly praised by audiences when shown in Chicago upon his return. See: “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune 8/7/1892, p.36 and 1/8/1893, p.30. The reviewer notes the work is on exhibit at A. H. Abbott & Co., and is “a strong portrait of a young woman.... in white, seated in a white chair, and posed against a background of white drapery. The rending of the different qualities of white in a symphony of this kind is a most difficult feat of painting, and in this Mr. Burbank has been most successful.” Both the portrait and the carte d’visites are in the collection of the Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, Illinois.
14 See: “Farmer House near Tölz,” “Street in Tölz,” and “Street in Oberau near Oberammergau.” Burbank sketchbook.
15 The walls of this studio are pictured in two carte d’visites, Rockford Art Museum.
16 “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 7/31/1892, p.36 states he was a student in Munich and Paris. It is unlikely he ever studied in Paris. Perhaps he visited there. Blanche wrote home in March of 1890 stating they were quite hard up for money having sold a piano and asked for loans from family members. See: op. cit., Kiser, p.46.
17 Op. cit., Chicago Tribune, 7/31/1892.
18 “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 11/6/1892, p.27; 11/8/1892, p.1 and “Art Notes,” Chicago Tribune, 12/11/1892, p.29.
19 Op. cit., Herb Hamlin, pp. 5ff. See also “In the Studio,” Chicago Tribune, 9/29/1895, p.38. “He spent some time at Vicksburg and was overwhelmed with attractive motives.”
20 “Mr. Burbank spent his summer among the colored people of Mississippi and Virginia, and his portraits are authentic,” The Arts, Vol. 4, No. 5, November 1895, p.141. Charles F. Browne mentions Burbank had spent a winter near Nashville gathering sketches in “Elbridge Ayer Burbank,” Brush and Pencil, Vol. 3, 1898, p.16.
21 As Everett Maxwell described in the language of the time, “no exhibition was complete without at least a half dozen of those serio-comic darky studies. They were always small things, seldom larger than six by nine inches, but they were masterfully rendered.... The secret of Mr. Burbank’s success was not hard to discover.... A diminutive pickaninny caressing an exquisite American Beauty rose, or a kinky-haired lad overcome with mince pie or watermelon is sure to provoke a smile from the most stoical.” “The Art of Elbridge A. Burbank,” Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, January 1910, pp. 3-4. It seems that it was Burbank’s ability to convey such expression which was in large part responsible for his success as his reviewers consistently noted problems he had with anatomy. Typical is the comment in “The Fine Arts,” which noted his figures were “not altogether satisfactory in drawing, but good in character.” Chicago Tribune, 4/9/1893, p.44.
22 Op. cit., The Art, November 1895.
23 Illustrated in op. cit., The Graphic, 7/8/1893. There is some slight controversy over the exact prizing winning painting. An article one day after the prize was awarded claimed it went to Art Versus Nature (location unknown) depicting a finely dressed woman in a richly appointed salon. The article is otherwise exacting and correct in the details of other facts related to the prize and the exhibition. The painting was diminutive in stature along side “its large neighbors.” It was a surprise to all due to its size and was chosen by a jury of three foreign artists to avoid favoritism among local jurors. “Prize For Artists,” Sunday Inter Ocean, Vol. XXII, No. 79, 6/11/1893, Part 1, p.5. My thanks to Joel Dryer of the Illinois Historical Art Project for this information.
24 “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 3/27/1892, p.40. A widely-touted exhibition of works by Manet and Monet was in Chicago in 1894, but doesn’t seem to have affected his work. The following year his contributions to the American Annual Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago were “fourteen darkies in still darker frames... interesting in character and expression.” Op. cit., The Arts, November 1895.
25 Op. cit., The Arts, November 1895, notes one such image by Burbank was the first picture to sell in the American Annual Exhibition. Charles Francis Browne noted, “no exhibition was complete without at least a half-dozen darkies in black frames casting a decided shadow on the wall. They were very carefully painted, awakened much interest among art lovers and fortunately also art patrons, but they did puzzle the hanging committees! It was not a question of too much Burbank, but too much Negro and black frame - possibly the ‘sold’ tag made a black-and-white exhibition that created some jealousies.” Brush and Pencil, Vol. 3, October 1898, p.20.
26 Op. cit., Chicago Tribune, 4/9/1893.
27 Browne was a particularly influential associate. He was past-president of the CSA, president and founder of the CAC, founder of the Central Art Association, president of the Society of Western Artists, founder and editor of the Brush and Pencil, taught at the Art Institute and was art critic for the Chicago Sunday Tribune.
28 Everett Maxwell, “The Art of Elbridge A. Burbank,” Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, January 1910, p.3.
29 “Art Notes,” Sunday Inter Ocean, 8/2/1896, p.31. “Burbank, E. A. Chicago,” The Second Annual Exhibition Held At the Carnegie Institute, (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute, 1897).
30 Browne described Burbank’s situation: “To be well equipped and ready is one thing, to have a rich uncle who is not only willing, but eager to purchase any portrait of a well-known or important Indian chief, is quite another. So with colors in one pocket, so to speak, and commissions in the other, Burbank started out to hunt up Geronimo.” Brush and Pencil, October 1898, p.20. Ayer was also on the organizing committee for the Anthropological Congress held at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. For information on Ayer and his collection see: Christian J. Bay, Edward E. Ayer, (Chicago: n.p., c. 1924) and Frank C. Lockwood, The Life of Edward E. Ayer, (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Company, 1929).
31 “Back to the Studios,” Chicago Tribune, 11/4/1894, p.25. Others were interested in the charm of the rural type as well. “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 12/17/1893, p.37, applauds the “cleverness” of Charles F. Boutwood’s watercolor, The Trysting Place, in which “near the gate stands a little country girl in white cap and apron holding a big market basket and looking as if she were on the point of running away frightened by her own temerity.”
32 Op. cit., Chicago Tribune, 11/4/1894.
33 Op. cit., Chicago Tribune, 11/4/1894. As early as 1889, the W. Scott Thurber Gallery advertised in the CSA annual catalogue for a “Wild West Curiosity Bazaar” in which artists could purchase studio decoration of Indian “Picturesque Objects.” Annual Exhibition of the Chicago Society of Artists, (Chicago: Chicago Society of Artists, 1889).
34 Op. cit., Herb Hamlin, p.6.
35 Arts for America, Vol. 6, No. 10, June 1897, p.320, and “Art,” Chicago Tribune, 12/5/1897, p.43.
36 Burbank required permission to paint Geronimo. Although Geronimo lived with his family, moving about freely, he was technically a prisoner.
37 Letter to Edward E. Ayer from Burbank, 3/21/1897 and 3/25/1897, Edward E. Ayer Collection, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. All correspondence between Ayer and Burbank is held in this collection.
38 Op. cit., Arts for America, June 1897.
39 Burbank to Ayer, 9/21/1897.
40 Op. cit., Burbank to Ayer, 9/21/1897.
41 Op. cit., Kiser, pp. 105-117, 178, 193-194 and Burbank to Ayer, 11/8/1897. Late in 1897, he wrote his wife asking if she received $6,200 from Ayer. His paintings sold for $150 to $300 each and this would have been an appropriate sum for twenty-five to thirty paintings. Portraits in the Ayer collection which were also shown at Thurber’s include those of American Horse, Curley, White Swan and Chief Joseph. Burbank’s third exhibition opened 10/17/1898 and remained for two weeks. Twenty-one Indian portraits included Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo tribes. The fourth and last Thurber’s exhibition was October, 1899. Sixty-six portraits of Southern Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Apache tribes were shown. Beginning in 1900, Burbank followed the advice of Ayer and sold directly to patrons thereby avoiding the expense of the gallery. He kept his unsold stock in Ayer’s vault.
42 It is possible this was Burbank’s response to the prevalent North American Indian artistic style and that his subjects found the overall effect more pleasing which may have continued encouraging others to sit.
43 Burbank’s travels during this period are difficult, and at times, impossible to follow.
44 Burbank to Ayer, 12/21/1898. Burbank painted his African-American subjects less frequently. He never completely abandoned the subject. In 1898, he submitted two African-American subjects to the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, but three Indian subjects to the annual exhibition of the Society of Western Artists. After 1899, his exhibition entries are all Indian subjects, though periodically he would note in his correspondence that he had sold a “darkey” picture or that he was working on one.
45 Burbank to Ayer, 11/20/1900. Burbank to Ayer, 12/10/1898. Burbank photographed all of the paintings he sent back to Chicago. Thurber hired another artist, a Mr. Dyer, to copy the color from the originals, all of which but a few were in Ayer’s collection. Op. cit., Burbank to Ayer, 12/10/1898. A Mr. Delano, who had purchased two paintings from Thurber’s, presented a set of forty prints to the Peabody. Burbank to Ayer, 1/16/1899. These particular images were colored by Louis Betts.
46 Clara Ayer, daughter of Edward, to Burbank, 4/25/1901, and Burbank to Clara Ayer, 4/27/1901. At Buffalo he decided to exhibit five of his works in the art section because they would insure the works and the anthropological section would not.
47 Op. cit., Burbank to Ayer, 12/21/1898.
48 Burbank to Ayer, 6/20/1901. Burbank to Ayer, 12/10/1901. The Field Museum considered purchasing a group they exhibited. Burbank wrote to Ayer from Philadelphia on December 7, 1901, “My Indian pictures are attracting a good deal of attention. Mr. Culin who is manager of the Museum here is much interested in them and wants them all for the Museum.... Mr. Wanamaker is interested in Indians and Indian curios. He wants to see all the Indian pictures I have on hand so I have sent to Chicago to have them all sent.... Mr. Holmes has written to have me send the pictures to Washington.... Mr. Moran the artist... comes to see my pictures often and likes them and is trying to have them all go to the museum.” The Philadelphia Museum had all of Burbank’s other portraits, around 120, shipped to them and had a grand opening for their exhibition. The curator of ethnography at the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science, now the Brooklyn Museum, expressed strong interest in purchasing the works.
49 Burbank to Ayer, 2/4/1902. Burbank to Ayer, 2/22/1902. Burbank received $10,600 for the paintings. The Butler collection numbers 118 oils, as he had purchased 14 works earlier. Burbank to Ayer, 1/12/1902. While at Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins painted a portrait of Burbank. Burbank promised to give it to Butler, though the portrait has never been located. “Eakins has finished my portrait[.] He painted one of my Indian portraits on the background in the picture[.] Every one likes the picture[.] It hangs now in the University Club, he made me a present of the portrait but he said he wished at my death the portrait would go to some Museum that had a collection of my Indian portraits.” In a letter to Butler, Burbank stated, “Since I have been here Mr. Eakins a well known portrait painter has painted a portrait of me, he gave the portrait to me but said that whatever Museum bought my Indian picture he would like to have my portrait. So I guess I will have to give the portrait to you. I will bring it along with me.” Burbank to Butler, 2/10/1902, Permanent Collection Archives, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio.
50 Op. cit., Kiser, p.46. There is not much indication of Burbank’s mental problems until later in his career. Blanche had written home from Munich as early as March of 1890 that the artist “worried so much he couldn’t work. When he had so much on his mind and because he was a worrier, his head troubled him and he felt perfectly wretched.” Burbank to his wife, Blanche, 1/12/1898, Scarff Archive. Burbank later complained to his wife from the Hopi reservation that the heat “made him nervous and cranky just like St. Paul.”
51 Interview, Mrs. A. E. Kiser, wife of Burbank’s psychiatrist at Napa State Hospital and personal friend, by her son, Dr. John Kiser, 3/8/1972, Scarff Archive.
52 Burbank to Ayer, 7/18/1901. As Burbank expressed, “I feel awfully bad at what has happened in the past year but I was anything but a well man and made a mountain out of a mole hill and my wife and I have suffered more than I can tell.”
53 J. L. Hubbell Papers, Special Collections, Arizona State University, Tucson, 9/19/1902. [hereinafter referred to Hubbell Papers]. Hardesty Gilmore Maratta, a fellow Chicago artist, wrote Hubbell, “Mr. Burbank has taken a studio in the same building with me, he is feeling very well but is nervous and restless, I think.”
54 Burbank to Ayer, 11/5/1902.
55 Burbank to Ayer, 9/28/1903. For instance, “My trouble does not interfere with my work[.] I will not allow it to.... I came West as I thought it best to... I want to remain West until matters are settled in the East. I have had enough sorrow to last me the remainder of my life.” and Burbank to Ayer, 1/15/1903, “I would not think of going home for any length of time, the rest of my life will be devoted among the Indians and I have a life’s work ahead of me.” See: San Francisco Chronicle, 6/5/1908, for notice of their divorce on June 4, 1908.
56 Burbank to Ayer, 12/26/1898. After his breakdowns began to occur several times a year, he always expressed his desire for the better life and greater freedom of the West. On April 10, 1902, Burbank wrote Hubbell from the Pennoyer Sanitarium in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “I want to get out West soon as I can[.] I love the life[.] I can not stand civilization and I would rather live on a ranch like yours than to live in New York City. Where you are you are living like a King. You don’t know your good luck.” Hubbell Papers.
57 As often as Burbank mentioned his interactions with Maratta, Maratta mentioned his with Burbank in letters to their mutual friend Hubbell. Burbank also mentioned a number of times receiving letters from Garland and while at the Crow Agency wrote to his uncle on July 29, 1897, Garland had been there. Garland also visited Burbank at Darlington, Oklahoma Territory, in May of 1901.
58 For instance, in response to hearing that sculptor Herman MacNeill had gone to Europe, Burbank wrote to his uncle on 5/15/1899, “I have no patience with American artists who go to Europe for natives to paint when in our own country we have natives that cannot be equaled.”
59 Op. cit., Burbank to Ayer, 3/21/1897. Also see: M. Melissa Wolfe, “The Influence on Ethnography of the Native American Portraits of Elbridge Ayer Burbank” (Master’s Thesis, The Ohio State University, 1997), for a more complete discussion of Burbank’s work in the West.
60 Such items included Chief Red Cloud’s pipe and tobacco bag, a plaster cast of Geronimo’s hands and a transcription of his reminiscences, descriptions, both visual and written, of Indian ceremonies, as well as pottery, baskets, beadwork and Indian painting and account sheets which were particularly prized at the time by collectors.
61 Burbank to Ayer, 9/21/1898.
62 Burbank and the BAE kept each other informally aware of their respective activities. Holmes attended the 1898 Burbank exhibition at Thurber’s and requested catalogues of Burbank’s other exhibition. Holmes also forwarded to McGee, then the acting director of the BAE, a request by Burbank for an annual report. Holmes attached a note specifying that “He is E. E. Ayers nephew and the natural successor to [George] Catlin as an Indian painter. He ought to have everything he asks for from the Bureau and I hope you will send him the 10th annual at once.” Holmes to McGee, undated memo, Holmes correspondence, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. [Hereinafter referred to as Holmes correspondence]
63 Burbank to W. H. Holmes, 12/8/1905, Holmes correspondence.
64 Op. cit., Kiser, 44. Most of these patrons bought the drawings as soon as Burbank turned them out, constituting a “standing order.” In 1908, Burbank received a commission from the Field Museum for 270 red chalk drawings. Burbank also copied an entire set of drawings for C. P. Huntington, now in the Huntington Library.
65 John Kiser provides most thorough account of Burbank’s activities during this time (1907-1917). For reviews of his various exhibitions at Kanst, see Graphic, 12/28/1907, p.18, and 4/4/1908, p.20; Los Angeles Times, 9/13/1908, n.p.; 5/9/1909, n.p. and 10/3/1909, n.p. Burbank also exhibited at the Steckel Galleries, reviewed in the Graphic, 4/25/1908, p.19; Los Angeles Times, 4/19/1908, n.p. and 4/26/1908, n.p. Burbank’s exhibitions included chalk drawings, oil portraits, African-American genre scenes and landscapes.
66 Graphic, 1/12/1907, n.p.
67 Burbank described life among the Indians in a thorough article “Studies Of Art in American Life – III: In Indian Tepees,” Brush and Pencil, Vol. VII, No. 2, November 1900, pp.75-91.
68 Los Angeles Times, 9/13/1907, n.p.
69 During the course of his career, Burbank made trips to see Geronimo for at least thirteen portraits from life and made the extremely arduous trip to Nez Pilem, Washington, a number of times to complete portraits of Chief Joseph. In 1906, Burbank was still adamant about working from life. In a letter to W. H. Holmes, the artist refused to agree to Holme’s request for copies of his previous works, see Burbank to Holmes, 3/23/1906, National Anthropological Archives. Three years later Burbank had given in to pressures. He assured Hubbell that, “I am sending you four red drawings taken from studies from life that I made. The red drawings... are just exactly as good and the same as though taken direct from life, as the studies I make them from were made by myself from life... If you have a chance to sell them charge $20.00 each and I will make some more for you.” 5/3/1909, Hubbell Papers.
70 Because Burbank sold his early images in groups to a few patrons, the great majority of his original works are held in public collections.
71 Nettie was a stenographer. Her father was Mr. J. S. Rablinger of Pennsylvania and her mother was Sarah Jane Maple of Iowa.
72 Frank McNitt, The Indian Traders, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962), has an extended discussion of this.
73 Hubbell letters, 1910. Almost all of these letters deal with business matters.
74 Los Angeles Times, 12/22/1912 and Graphic, 2/22/1913.
75 Burbank was officially discharged from the hospital on February 26, 1936.
76 Op. cit., Kiser, pp. 270-272.
77 See “Burbank to be Interred Thursday,” and Steve Newton, “Artist’s Remains Moved to Final Resting Place,” Rockford Register Star, artist file, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL, no dates.