Frank Charles Peyraud (1858 - 1948) © Illinois Historical Art Project
By: Nancy Peyraud
Early in his career, François Charles Peyraud gave the public a window into his psyche describing:
“While I paint, I feel the emotions which I try to impress upon my work. My view of art is that we should paint what we feel. I believe in the subjective nature. We… wish to look and see the happiness in the deep blue sky and the rosy clouds of summer, the trees and the flowers of the sunshine. We may paint both happiness and sadness; the glory of the sunset; the hope and exhilaration of the dawn; the melancholy and peacefulness of the twilight, and the dreamy calmness of the night. All the tumult of nature and beauty comes close to the human heart. My pictures may be found in the range of nature changes. They picture the dawn, mornings, summers, autumns, the twilights, sunsets and night, usually expressing a mood and an evanescent effect of light.”
François Charles Peyraud was born June 1 1858 in the small market town of Bulle in the valley of Gruyère, Switzerland. He was the eldest child of Henri and Romaine (Pilloud) Peyraud. Peyraud’s paternal ancestors were French émigrés who arrived quite precipitously in Switzerland in 1792 from their home in Sallanches, Savoy. His mother’s family, the Pillouds of nearby Châtel-Saint-Denis had several artistic members in their extended family.
In later years Peyraud would date his early interest in art to the age of four when he received a set of watercolors from his father. He received his earliest schooling in his native town. He recounted that as a schoolboy crossing the town square, he would shout out “Vive l’Empereur” in order to see the elderly Napoleonic veterans stagger to their feet and salute. He retained life long memories of happy days hiking in the countryside, absorbing the great natural beauty that surrounded him.
As was the custom after primary school, he was sent to a school in German-speaking Switzerland to learn the language. He continued to draw and paint but was encouraged by his more practical father to follow an academic course of study, specializing in architecture and engineering. In 1875-76 he attended and graduated from the Collège de St. Michel in the Canton capitol of Fribourg. He was encouraged in his artistic leanings by Professor François Bonnet whom Peyraud was to remember with great fondness and gratitude all his life. He finished up a rather peripatetic undergraduate career at the Polytechnicum in Zurich, taking time out for the annual weeks of compulsory military service.
The young Peyraud had ambitions and a desire to see new places. Paris seemed an obvious destination. He had school friends there who urged him to join them in “la grande Babylone moderne.” In September l877, he was granted a congé militaire to leave for Paris and by mid-October, Peyraud was installed in lodgings with a letter of introduction and the firm intention of matriculating at the École des Beaux Arts in the architecture division. He remained in Paris for two years. The impression made by the great city upon a receptive young mind can only be imagined, for we have no written account of his time there.
There is no certainty about whom or what sparked Peyraud’s interest in America. He said later that it was a student friend from Baltimore whom he became acquainted with in Fribourg. There is reference to a letter from Baltimore being forwarded to Peyraud by his father in October 1875 which would indicate that the idea of America may have been in his mind from quite an early date. He was impressed by the tales of the American students he knew in Paris. Chicago - famous for its devastating fire - in particular, seemed a likely place for a young architect. He received a one-year congé militaire (“pour l’Amérique”) in early November 1880.
In later years Peyraud would say that when he left Switzerland he had no intention of a permanent relocation; he was embarking on a young man’s dream adventure. Peyraud and his younger brother, Paul, left Switzerland for America in early 1881. He would not return for forty years.
While we do not know their itinerary they certainly traveled to New York and Baltimore. Paul returned home after a few months. Peyraud eventually arrived in Chicago and unwittingly met his destiny. He said he “could never forget the shock of disappointment and hopelessness that appalled him when he reached Chicago that Sunday morning. The utter ugliness and flatness and the entire lack of any semblance of harmonious planning of streets and buildings was most discouraging.”
When he had sufficiently recovered from his shock, the young Peyraud presented his letters of introduction to the architect William LeBaron Jenney. He may have worked for Jenney for a short time but was advised to improve his English as the workmen couldn’t understand him. He was, in any event, becoming more interested in painting and design, although he always maintained an interest in architecture; some of his later work certainly had an architectural quality, featuring Chicago buildings in various perspectives.
Peyraud made friends among members of the Swiss community in Chicago. In 1885 he married Angela Morand, whose family had also come from the Gruyère valley. Their first son, Henry, was born in 1887, to be followed by Albert (l890-92), Albert Paul (b. 1893) and Estelle (b. 1895).
In the mid 1880s Peyraud became caught up in the peculiar vogue for cycloramas. Although the idea of the cyclorama, or “picture without boundaries,” was conceived in the late eighteenth century by the Irishman Robert Barker, it enjoyed its heyday in the latter decades of the nineteenth-century. In its most evolved form, the cyclorama was a massive long canvas painting that could be displayed along a circular wall, with the spectator at the center enjoying a 360 degree view and the sensation of being a part of all he surveyed. Cycloramas were designed to be transported and could be disassembled and rolled. They often required a special circular building.
The Frenchman Paul Philippoteaux hit upon the idea for a cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg to be made specifically for the American market. Philippoteaux did extensive on-site research at the battlefield and interviewed war veterans who had fought the battle. The first version of the Battle of Gettysburg was produced by a team of artists in Paris under Philippoteaux’ direction and was sent on its American tour in 1883. It met with such resounding success that replicas were called for to fill the demand. Peyraud was among a group of Chicago artists who worked on a version of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1886. Peyraud later traveled with the cyclorama on its tour.
Peyraud may well have worked on cycloramas and panoramas about which we have no documentation today. There exists, among his papers, a paint-splattered set of engravings on cardboard with a superimposed grid work that can only be preparation work for a version of Bruno Piglheim’s cyclorama depicting The City of Jersusalem. The original, one of the few surviving cycloramas, is now on display in Ste. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec.
Although cycloramas and theater decoration provided steady employment, no small consideration for a young man with a growing family, Peyraud never considered it his serious work and later referred to his cyclorama and panorama work of the period as his “potboiling.”
In the late 1880s Peyraud was one of the artists working for Milton Lowell in his “buckeye” studio on Madison Street. “Buckeye” was the term given to finished oil paintings produced with extraordinary dispatch: “...the ‘buckeye’ was a picture done in oil, finished and framed in the brief space of fifteen minutes, and often containing a [good] deal more art than fifteen months of the best efforts of some painters could have yielded.” As astonishing as the rapidity of the execution, the caliber of the artists who lent themselves to this somewhat dubious endeavor was equal to the task. Among the young painters who spent time in the “buckeye factory” and later went on to find fame were such men as William Wendt (1865-1946), George Gardner Symons (1863-1930), and Svend Svendsen (1864-1945).
In the last two decades of the nineteenth century Chicago became a center for artistic activity, drawing people not only from the Midwest and East Coast, but from Europe as well. Clubs and societies of artists were formed, merged, and in some cases thrived and survived. Peyraud became quite active in the Chicago art scene of the late 1880s. He became a charter member of the Chicago Society of Artists in 1888 and contributed four paintings to its first annual exhibition in May 1889.
The very nature of landscape work made necessary Peyraud’s leaving the city regularly for the countryside for open air sketching; setting a pattern he would maintain for the rest of his life. He traveled frequently and extensively, but with the exception of his 1921-23 sojourn in Europe, and a few years in New York, he always returned rather quickly to his siren, Chicago.
In 1891 Peyraud, accompanied by C. D. Neeley, established himself briefly in Rockford, Illinois to paint, lecture and give lessons. In this year he took a studio with Arthur Feudel (1857-after 1926) on Wabash Avenue and participated in the Art Institute American Annual, the first of many. The following year saw the establishment of the influential if short-lived Cosmopolitan Club of which Peyraud was a founding member.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 upon the American art scene. For almost the first time, American painters who had not been to Europe, and the public at large, were exposed to a broad spectrum of paintings. The effect was electric. The exposition was also a showcase for the mural art and wall decoration that were just coming into vogue. Edwin H. Blashfield called the Chicago Fair “the first big general experiment in American decoration, when twenty mural painters at least tried their prentice hands.” The mural painters worked under less than optimal conditions. “In Chicago, at the World’s Fair, we mural painters wore sweaters, the wind blew the turpentine out of our cups and stiffened our fingers.”
Mary Cassatt, at the behest of the formidable Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer, painted a mural “Modern Woman” for the Fair’s Woman’s Building. It was her first work along these lines. Cassatt commented, “I began to think it would be great fun to do something I had never done before. The bare idea ...put Degas into a rage... Now one only has to mention Chicago to set him off.”
Peyraud did not, as far as we know, do any mural work at the exposition, but he was successful in having two paintings, Autumn and Evening (locations unknown) accepted by the rather fractious jury. However, the murals he saw had a great effect upon him. The transition from cyclorama painter to mural painter was not so very great. He enjoyed mural painting and would be drawn back to it throughout his career.
He returned to “pot-boiling” with his work on playwright and impresario Steele Mackaye’s ill-fated Spectatorium that was never completed. It was to be an immense representation of the discovery of America in six acts. The Spectatorium was not officially part of the World’s Fair itself, but located just outside the fairgrounds. Mechanical contrivances on a vast scale were to be the outstanding feature of the spectacle with tanks of water for Columbus’ ships, machinery to create tropical storms at sea, a 150,000 candle power sun that could rise and set, moving stages, and carloads of tropical plants; all moved about by six miles of concealed railroad tracks.
The whole endeavor, a hundred years hence seems almost unbelievable. In spite of the mechanistic bravado and absurdity of the project, Steele Mackaye had something that attracted people of talent and even of genius to his spectacle. Surprisingly, Antonin Dvorák was engaged to compose a symphony for the Spectatorium that evolved into his now famous New World Symphony, and had its first performance in New York in December 1893. Then Childe Hassam (1859-1935) did a watercolor of the projected Spectatorium building based upon the architectural plans. Jules Guérin (1866-1946) and other artists resident in Chicago at that time worked on the project in various capacities. Peyraud was an assistant to Mackaye and must have enjoyed employing his architectural and engineering training on some of the stage effects. However the Spectatorium plans were too large and extravagant. Money became tight and it soon became apparent the building for the Spectatorium could not be completed before the Fair closed. The project went into receivership and all work ceased. Mackaye salvaged his mechanical contrivances, but was seriously broken in health. He then devised a much smaller version called his Scenatorium on Michigan Avenue. Peyraud and then Art Institute of Chicago professor Oliver Dennett Grover (1860-1927) were among the artists who worked on the Scenatorium.
After the close of the fair, the Art Institute resumed its annual exhibitions of American Paintings. Peyraud’s work in the 1894 show was commented upon favorably by Hamlin Garland in the seminal text, Impressions on Impressionism where reference is made to “...a fine study by Peyraud… A young Swiss who has exhibited some very clever work in the last few years.” Garland wrote to Peyraud a year later requesting paintings for a Central Art Association exhibition:
“We like to send your paintings out for they teach excellently along the lines of buoyancy and clarity of color and also instruct in freedom and largeness of brushwork. Mr. Taft joins me in reckoning you among our most powerful and lucid painters of sun lit landscape. We are glad to hear also that you are to teach in our interior cities. Your influence should be most desirable to any young painter because of your admirable freedom of handling and crispness and lucidity of coloring.”
The author and artist would later become close friends.
In early 1896, Peyraud was one of three Chicago delegates to a convention called by the Cosmopolitan Club for the purpose of forming the Society of Western Artists. The delegates acted upon a proposal of the Cosmopolitan Club for the “...formation of an ‘Inter-City Amalgamation of Art Interests,’ an organization of Western painters and sculptors, which should arrange for and manage an annual joint exhibition of the works of its members and other accredited artists, to be held in the various Western cities in rotation.” The group of artists elected venerable Cincinnati artist Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) their first president and set out for an annual exhibition that would travel to several Midwestern cities. Peyraud sat on the jury for the inaugural show, an honor which shows the respect his fellow artists accorded him.
As enthusiasm for mural painting and large-scale municipal decoration began to sweep the country, Peyraud and Hardesty Gilmore Maratta (1864-1924) traveled to Peoria and submitted proposals for the mural decoration of the newly completed library. They had spent time in Peoria the previous year and the thought of the library’s empty wall space was one they could not resist. Their proposals were accepted and the two started work in April 1896 on an immense project which would ultimately comprise fourteen large canvas panels, fitted onto the walls, staircase and ceiling. The main panel would represent Truth Leading the World. The panels depicted classical figures set in an Illinois river-landscape background of inspirational scenes representing
poetry, music, agriculture, industry, science, etc. Maratta and Peyraud expressed their desire to have an effect in execution similar to the famous French muralist Puvis de Chavannes. The two artists bantered back and forth as they discussed their works and the execution was given in great detail in the newspaper. Peyraud would have been familiar with Puvis’ wall panels of the life of St Généviève which were installed in the Pantheon, Paris, 1877, although the Peoria panels seem more influenced by Puvis’ later work. The plans and sketches for the murals were widely discussed in the local Peoria and Chicago papers as well as in periodicals with a national readership. Critic Lucie Monroe stated “The work is done in flat tones, with the true architectural feeling, and there is something exquisite and lovely in the color. It will make the Peoria Library a restful and beautiful place.”
The mural decorations were finished in November 1896, after a mere eight months. The lessons of the “buckeye” studio were apparently not in vain. Peyraud and Maratta returned to their homes in Chicago although Peyraud made plans to return to Peoria for a series of lectures. While in Chicago, Peyraud must have attended the Society of Western Artists first show in December. He was singled out for praise in several reviews, his work being variously described as “among the best landscapes in the collection”, and his Winter Afternoon (location unknown) as one of “the gems in the showing.” Peyraud retained a warm feeling for Peoria and frequently returned to visit old friends and to sketch.
By early 1898, Peyraud was contemplating a change. He turned down an offer to be on a jury at the Art Institute and apparently planned to leave Chicago permanently. We cannot know today what precipitated this decision. It may well be that his wife Angela was already showing signs of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill her. There are no records of participation in any Chicago shows for the year 1898, although he did show for the first of many times at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual and at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, where many fine Chicago artists – Frederick Warren Freer (1849-1908), Wendt, Guerin and Lorado Taft (1860-1936) among them, were represented. For at least part of the year he was in New York where he shared a studio with his old friend Arthur Feudel.
By early 1899 we find him back in Chicago where he exhibited at the Art Institute Chicago and Vicinity Show. Peyraud’s The Last Glow was awarded the Young Fortnightly Prize for the best painting of the show and received much favorable notice in the press.
“Improvement [in the show] was noticed in the first coup d’oeil by a fresher, brighter, more spontaneous color, which found its keynote in the alluring canvas by Mr. F.C. Peyraud, which was hung in the place of honor in the main gallery. Although of small size, the largeness of treatment, breadth of effect, and brilliancy of color, easily made it hold its commanding situation… It is perhaps the best picture Mr. Peyraud has shown, and sustains the sanguine predictions of his many admirers.”
Lorado Taft said of The Last Glow (location unknown), “I believe it to be the most beautiful landscape ever painted in the West. This jewel-like canvas marks a new era in Chicago’s art evolution.” The Last Glow was caricatured, along with others from the exhibition at the Palette and Chisel Club’s farcical exhibition, “Salon de Refuse.” The following month Peyraud spent five weeks in Philadelphia with Salvador Mège to work on their cyclorama, the Battle of Manila, whose canvas was enthusiastically described as being the “largest ever hung for cycloramic purposes.”
The year 1900 was difficult for Peyraud for he lost his wife after her lingering illness. He kept himself busy with a number of Chicago shows. It is very likely he made his first excursion to the Southwest at this time. His first sight of the Grand Canyon would inspire the diorama that he and Hardesty Maratta made for the Santa Fe Railroad that was exhibited the following year at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
Peyraud kept up the busy pace he had set for himself through 1901, with several excursions. He taught, exhibited and gave a series of lectures in Rockford, Illinois, and spent time later in the year in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. That year the Pan-American Exposition was held in Buffalo. The jury accepted Peyraud’s work and he traveled there to see the fair. Later in the year he moved from the Tree Studio building to the so-called “Baby Studio” building along with his friends William Wendt, Henning Ryden (1869-1939), and Elizabeth Krysher (1872-1961). It is not known if he was previously acquainted with Miss Krysher, who was from Carbondale, Illinois, who he would marry in 1906.
In 1902, Peyraud again had thoughts of returning to Europe. While he did not go, he dropped almost completely out of sight for the better part of two years. His children remained in Chicago with maternal relations and daughter Estelle went to Switzerland for several months with two aunts. We learn only by inference that Peyraud spent this time in New York, but we have very little idea of what he was doing. The early years of the century were a period of frenetic theater building and decorating in New York. Among the playhouses built during this time were the New Lyceum (1903), the Liberty (1904) and the spectacular New Amsterdam (1903) which has recently been restored. It seems reasonable to speculate Peyraud may well have been involved in theater mural and decoration works while in New York.
By early 1904, we find Peyraud in St. Louis working on a cyclorama for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (Universal Exposition). He later considered the piece Creation (location unknown) his masterpiece in the cyclorama line. Mercifully, perhaps, the cyclorama phenomenon was on its last legs, hurt by the advent of motion pictures for the masses. The Chicago Fire (1906, location unknown) was to be his last.
Like all artists, Peyraud struggled early to achieve success. This story recounted to writer Ben Hecht is a humorous tale that gives a little insight into Peyraud’s inventiveness.
“‘You come with me to the Art institute today, said Max Kramm. My friend Peyraud has an exhibition. You know Peyraud? Ah, I think he is today the greatest living landscape artist. No, we will walk. It is only four or five blocks. And I tell you a story. It was when we lived together in a studio in North Avenue, said Max. Jo Davidson, Walter Goldbeck and the bunch, we all roomed together in the same neighborhood and we were poor, I can tell you. But young. And that makes up for a lot of things.’\
Peyraud and I we room together in a little attic where I have a piano and he paints. Even in those days we all knew Frank Peyraud would be a great painter if he didn’t starve to death first. And the chances looked even. …Schneider was the proprietor of a beer saloon in North Avenue… Peyraud and I we keep alive for one whole year on Schneider’s free lunch… You buy one glass of beer for five cents, and then you eat til [sic] you bust - for nothing. You can imagine what that meant to us in those days. Peyraud and I, we sometimes have so much as ten cents a day between us and on this we must live.
Well it got so that the good Schneider finally points out to us one day. Max, he says, and Frank, I tell you something. You boys owe me three dollars and you come in here and eat all your meals and you don’t even pay for the one glass of beer you buy any more. I am sorry, but your credit is exhausted. Max, says Peyraud, I have and idea… Peyraud figures that what we need to do is to convince Schneider we have wonderful prospects and so Schneider will give us back our credit. So Peyraud sits down that day and all day and most of the night he paints. I think it was the last canvas he had in the studio, too. And a big one. You know all of Peyraud’s landscapes are big. Well, he paints and paints, and when he is finished we take the picture to Schneider, the two of us carrying it. I tell Schneider that it is one of the old masters which we just receive from Berlin from my father’s studio. Then Peyraud says that Schneider must keep it in his place. It is too valuable to hang in our attic. Schneider looks at the picture and, it being so big, he half believes it.
Then Peyraud and I go to the bank and draw out our $10 which we have saved up for a rainy day. And we go downtown and get the picture insured for $2,000. You can imagine Schneider. We bring the insurance gink out there and when he gives us the policy and we show it to Schneider, well, our credit is reestablished. Herring, rye bread, roast beef, pickles and cheese once more. We eat. Schneider is more proud of that picture than a peacock. And every day we drop in to see if it is all right and Peyraud always goes behind the bar and dusts it off a little and draws himself another drink. There is never any question any more of our credit. Don’t we own a picture insured for $2,000? The good Schneider is glad to have such affluent customers, you can believe me. Well, things go on like this for some months. Then I am coming home one night with Peyraud and the fire engines pass us. So Frank and I we go to the fire. It is Schneider’s beer saloon. We see it, a block off. Frank turns pale and he holds my arm and he whispers, Max the picture! It is burning up! I look at Peyraud and I suppose I tremble a little myself. Who wouldn’t? Two thousand dollars!
Peyraud and I, we hold on to each other. We see Jo Davidson running to the fire and we nod at him politely. Money makes a big difference, you know. And then we hear a cry. I recognize Schneider and I see him break loose from the crowd. He runs back into the saloon, a fireman after him. Peyraud and I, we stand and watch. He is probably gone after one of his kids. But I count the kids who are all in the street and they are all there. Then Schneider comes out and the fireman too. And they are carrying something. Peyraud falls against the delicatessen store window and groans. And I close my eyes. Yes, it is the picture.
In June 1906, Peyraud married Elizabeth Krysher, an accomplished illustrator and portrait artist. Two months later he completed a mural for the Carnegie Public Library in Waukegan, Illinois. The following year saw the birth of their only child Robert. Elizabeth was in many ways the perfect partner for Peyraud. She had long been a part of the Chicago art world and was as dedicated to her art as he was to his. She waged a continual battle to keep her career from being submerged by her husband’s. Their recently discovered correspondence depicts a relationship of two strong personalities who overcame the inevitable friction and tribulations of domestic life through humor and mutual devotion to their art and to each other.
Early in his career Peyraud had been interested in watercolor. Later he was a member and trustee (1913-14) of the Chicago Water Color Club. He actively exhibited watercolors through the early years of the century but after about 1920, he seems to have almost ceased. Several watercolors were submitted to McClure’s Magazine but it was an oil by Peyraud that they chose to reproduce on the cover of their February 1907 issue.
While maintaining a full calendar of exhibitions, Peyraud was able to devote time to mural painting, going as far afield as Seattle in 1909, in all probability to visit the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. While in Seattle, perhaps in conjunction with decorations for the fair, he painted a mural for a local hotel. One advantage of murals painted on canvas was they could be rolled up and removed from the buildings for which they were designed, and thus could outlive their original homes. The disadvantage to this was the possible loss of the murals. Peyraud’s first one-man show at the Art Institute in early 1909 was a distinct success. The Chicago Sunday Tribune devoted a full page to reproductions of five paintings and stated the exhibition had “attracted an unusual amount of attention, and aside from the undoubted merit of Mr. Peyraud’s work the critics agree that he has reached a new and purely American interpretation of western landscapes.”
The Peyraud family moved from downtown Chicago to the bucolic western suburb of Wheaton, Illinois in 1910 for what would be a two-year stay. He exhibited a series of sketches for the murals he was to do for the Cort Theater at the Art Institute in this year. For some reason, Wheaton did not suit the family and 1912 found them back in Chicago where Peyraud had a banner year, picking up the highly important Chicago Society of Artists Silver Medal, the Municipal Art League Purchase Prize and the Edward B. Butler Chicago Public Schools Purchase Prize. The Silver Medal was awarded to the most outstanding work or group of works at the annual exhibition of Chicago artists in the Art Institute. The following autumn in 1913, he made the first of several fall excursions to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Mountains, for the brilliant fall colors and change of seasons.
In 1915, Peyraud won the prestigious William Frederick Grower prize for his group of paintings at the annual exhibit of Chicago artists at the Art Institute. Later that year, Elizabeth and young Robert went to California for several months to visit family members and old Chicago painter friends such as William and Julia Wendt and the Charles Abel Corwins. They ran into other former Chicago residents as well. Elizabeth spent time visiting the fair grounds of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco and reported back to her husband on the exhibits and on the California art scene stating “Your ‘October’ looked very well.” She also viewed her own contribution, The Old Brocade (location unknown). Peyraud was one of a handful of Chicago artists awarded a prestigious Bronze Medal for the two paintings he submitted.
In the spring of 1916, Peyraud and Elizabeth traveled to Arizona where he completed a number of southwestern scenes. In the autumn of the year he made the first of at least two (1916, 1917) excursions to the art community at Old Lyme, Connecticut. Peyraud wrote home describing the village and noting that the artists “are as thick as flies and everywhere there is an interesting place and a promising sketch.” He met artists he knew from Chicago including Wilson Irvine (1869-1936).
By the end of the decade, Peyraud’s domestic life became a bit more unsettled. His son from the first marriage, Albert, went off to the Great War (and fortunately returned). His daughter, Estelle, a talented pianist (also from the first marriage,) married the poet and publisher Robert O. Ballou in 1918 and then she died unexpectedly the following year in childbirth. Peyraud was devastated by her death.
By 1920, Peyraud and Elizabeth opted for a less urban place to live and work and settled in Ravinia, (Highland Park) Illinois where Peyraud was able to design a large studio for both of them. Elizabeth became active in local artistic and literary groups.
After decades of false starts, Peyraud finally returned to Europe for an extended stay. He sailed in July 1921, and by August wrote home to Elizabeth in Ravinia of his arrival in his native town, Bulle, where he was welcomed by his sisters and brothers and his large extended family after an absence of forty years. He traveled and sketched in Switzerland and held several exhibitions. The following year Elizabeth, never one to stay home when something interesting was happening elsewhere, joined him along with young Robert and a niece. The Peyrauds settled in the charming medieval village of Gruyères, near Bulle. Peyraud seemed invigorated and inspired by this change of scene. He produced a great deal of work in his three year sojourn, perhaps more than in any other (non-buckeye) period. The Peyrauds traveled a good deal in England, France and Italy and by December 1923 they were ready to return to Chicago.
Peyraud had several exhibitions of his Swiss work in Chicago and the critics immediately commented upon his newfound freshness: “Mr. Peyraud found a new joy in painting. Though supposed to be rather settled in his painting habits he has surprised everyone with his fresh way of looking at nature.” The Swiss sojourn was indeed a stylistic watershed for Peyraud. His palette became lighter, even sun-drenched. Later, only very rarely would he return to the Barbizon browns and ochre sunsets of former years.
Peyraud continued to exhibit throughout the 1920s with success, and he continued to win prizes. However, near the end of the decade, the winds of change were blowing through the art world, and Peyraud was sixty-eight years old in 1927, the last year he exhibited at the Art Institute.
He began a mutually advantageous connection with the Chicago Galleries Association around 1926 and was a frequent exhibitor, both in one-man and in group shows. His first show at the Chicago Galleries in October 1926 received much favorable comment. The Christian Science Monitor wrote of the exhibit as:
“(one of) three brilliant one-man shows… As a senior painter accorded international recognition, Frank C. Peyraud, the landscapist, has first consideration. Mr. Peyraud has long since emerged from the storm and stress of experimental technique. He is a master of his medium...”
His 1928 exhibition at O’Brien Galleries in Chicago evidenced a strong conviction to his style and means of depicting nature. In speaking of the paintings critic R. A. Lennon said:
“Mr. Peyraud is very facile in attaining the illusion of sunlight on still water, and several of his paintings… were made along the banks of the Des Plaines and Fox rivers… There is a simplicity of design and an airy spaciousness about Mr. Peyraud’s paintings that is borrowed from the simplicity and bigness of nature… brings effects of color, form and atmosphere into a satisfying nearness to reality with apparently little effort.”
In 1935 he was awarded the Gold Medal by the Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors for his exquisite October Morning (collection of Nancy Peyraud). He was the subject of a long biographical article by critic Clarence J. Bulliet that delved into the long ago days of the cycloramas and World’s Fairs. Already he was becoming a reminder of a previous age.
In his eighties Peyraud’s eyes began to fail and he had a cataract operation that gave him a new joy reflected in the paintings of his last years. There was no diminution of power with age. Some of his best work was produced at the very end of his career.
Peyraud continued his art excursions into his ninth decade. By now he was old enough to be “rediscovered” and was considered a living link to an earlier era in Chicago. He was now almost invariably referred to as the “dean of Chicago landscape painters.” The last major show of his lifetime was at the Chicago Galleries Association in January 1948. Critic Eleanor Jewett remarked upon the able painter who was well beyond the years of most artists:
“Mr. Peyraud is a veteran Chicago painter but his eye and enthusiasm are still those of a young man. His brush stroke is firm and his colors are full and rich. He finds beauty on the Des Plaines valley and the Skokie territory and thru [sic] his vision we see accented the gorgeous wonders of land and sky which are so near at hand that most of us go in danger of missing them altogether.”
He was now eighty-nine years old and all the work displayed in this show was recent. He died peacefully on the eve of his 90th birthday during a family reunion at his home in Ravinia. His career spanned some seventy years containing a remarkably productive and varied output. This “Dean” of Chicago landscape painters was finally given his retrospective due in 1984 when the Lakeview Museum of Art and Science in Peoria, the city which gained so much by his presence, hosted a show comprised of works from the family and other collectors.
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