Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (1897 - 1983)
By Robert Cozzolino, Ph.D. © Illinois Historical Art Project
Because he seems to bear no resemblance in style or idea to the popular history of 20th century art, Ivan Albright (1897-1983) has been considered a problematic and difficult artist. Remembered as an anachronistic curiosity or a formally introverted eccentric, who had little to do with his contemporaries, Albright’s work is generally portrayed as existing in a vacuum. Unaffected by the world around him, influencing no one and devoid of external artistic contamination he pursued an intensely personal vision. Such perceptions are partly due to Albright’s own carefully constructed professional identity but mostly result from his having attracted surprisingly little scholarly attention. What exists suffers from a lack of critical focus and a reluctance to interpret or provide a context for his small but complicated body of work.1 Popular opinion on Albright perceives him as a missionary of doom and gloom who focused exclusively on decay and strove to project the physiology of death upon the living.2 To support this reputation many invoke Albright’s 1943 commission to paint the grotesque portrait of Dorian Gray for the MGM film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel. Albright considered this Hollywood commission an amusing episode and digression from his serious work, yet it has remained synonymous with his artistic identity. Further study of his notebooks, writing, correspondence, and the art itself reveals a range and depth that is far more complex than has been supposed.
A prolific but exacting artist, Ivan Albright’s career spanned seven decades of the twentieth century. He first exhibited publicly in 19183 and was planning to exhibit a suite of self-portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago when he died in 1983.4 Although he considered himself a painter first, he worked in a great variety of media. Despite his close ties to Chicago and Illinois, he worked in California, Georgia, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming and always made drawings whenever he traveled outside the United States.5 Albright took no major breaks in his career, yet due to his careful and eccentric working methods, his total output of oil paintings surely does not exceed one-hundred fifty.6
Popular wisdom states that throughout his career, Albright’s approach to art his themes, experiments and practices – changed very little. The artist himself acknowledged this phenomenon in a 1978 note written in a small notebook begun in the 1930s: “Notes 1978. Read [previous] notes to see how far different my ideas and ideals were in 1930. I find them almost the same.”7 Although Albright had developed or articulated many of his philosophical concerns and formal aspirations by the late 1920s, he pushed the limits of those ideas over the course of several decades, and realized visual solutions for those concepts he had only formulated in theory earlier. When closely scrutinized, Albright’s approach to art is one of surprising variety, perhaps characterized only by a consistently high intensity of personal drive to compete with his past achievements.
Albright himself supported the idea of his work existing in a vacuum.8 He consistently denied any influence on his work and even denied his context with the very contemporaries he competed with in exhibitions.9 He consciously positioned himself in a manner that might be perceived as anti-modernist, yet his statements and his practices anticipate or run parallel to those approaches considered canonical avant-garde territory.10 Albright was a savvy artist who even mingled with members of the European avant-garde and entertained visits from them to his studio. Well traveled, well read and well versed in exhibitions, he always remained knowledgeable about developments in contemporary art throughout the world.11 Because of his family’s financial position and later his own, he was in the rare position of not needing to sell throughout a long career. In fact, he never had a dealer and was only affiliated with a gallery by happenstance.12 As a result, Albright controlled, to a great extent, where his works were placed.13 The following biographical essay situates Albright in his time and sheds light on a few issues of place not previously raised.
Ivan Le Lorraine Albright was born in a rented house just south of Chicago in North Harvey, Illinois.14 A few minutes later his twin brother Malvin Marr (1897-1983) was born.15 The twins who shared February 20, 1897 as a birth date, were constant companions for many years, and died only weeks apart in 1983.16 Their only other sibling, an older brother named Lisle Murillo (1892-1958) did not pursue a life in art. At the time of his twin sons’ birth, Adam Emory Albright (1862-1957), was already a successful artist gaining a reputation within Chicago’s highly conservative art world. (An extensive essay on Adam appears in this book). Adam came from a long line of craftsmen who had specialized in making rifles. His own father, family lore had it, had been forbidden from studying painting. When Adam decided on a vocation, he was given the family blessing.17 Adam studied first in Chicago, then with Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia, Carl von Marr in Munich and in Paris with Benjamin Constant.18 Adam had married his childhood sweetheart, Clara Wilson Albright (1862-1939) who came from a well-educated family and had graduated from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, in 1888. Clara’s father was a physician and her mother had attended the Oxford College for Women (Ohio).
The twins were born prematurely, each weighing a mere three pounds. Ivan, who loved to rile his father, remarked later, “I always accuse my dad of having wanted to throw us in a drainage canal; but he denied it.”19 Adam Emory Albright described Ivan and Malvin’s auspicious first hours,
“They were the most unpromising mortals I have ever seen. Ever look into a wild bird’s nest? Well, they looked like the young birds just out of the shell. They slept on one pillow... Doctor said to nurse, ‘Don’t bother with them, it’s only a day or two.’ Nurse asked Clara, ‘Do you want to keep them?’ ‘Keep them??!! Of course I do.’. . ‘They have beautiful heads,’ one neighbor was kind enough to say, and that was their only compliment... that wicker basket contained two of the most distinguished artists in America.”20
The Albright family lived in a house in Edison Park, now part of Chicago, from 1898 until 1910; between 1910 and 1924 they lived in an enormous log house in Hubbard Woods (Winnetka), Illinois, in Chicago’s prestigious North Shore. From birth, Ivan and Malvin became subjects of Adam Emory’s paintings, either in the persona of the artist’s sons or as anonymous children inhabiting a sun-dappled world of merriment and natural joy. Ivan posed for Adam until he was about thirteen, a task he recalled with eye-rolling annoyance.21 Ivan and Malvin were also encouraged to make art and Adam began teaching his twin sons to draw when they reached the age of eight.22 Ivan recalled that his father, “even hired a model... [but] didn’t teach us; at least he didn’t say anything. Which was good.”23 “He made one of the worst teachers in the world. But the only good thing was he didn’t criticize so you were on your own. Unless you have a good teacher it’s much better not to be taught at all, for the simple reason that they teach you all the bad things and you’ve got to throw them out later on.”24
Most likely, Ivan was allowed to draw many hours a week, through which he developed crucial skills of observation. One summer the twins even drew from plaster casts. Certainly Ivan and Malvin picked up a great deal from watching Adam paint, posing for his paintings, or listening to conversations between their father and fellow artists. Apart from informal art lessons and conversation at home, Adam also took his sons to the Art Institute where they saw works by El Greco, Rembrandt and other old masters. These trips remained among Ivan’s earliest memories.25
Despite this stimulating artistic environment, Albright formed an early repugnance for the politics and commercial ambitions that he saw operating in his father’s artistic circle; he was determined not to become an artist. He called Adam a “short term artist,” believing him interested only in sales.26 By the turn of the century and into the first decade of the twentieth, Adam was one of the most successful painters working in the Chicago area. The Albright household became a place of gathering for both Adam’s patrons and artists in his circle of friends. Such gatherings seem to have fueled Ivan’s derision towards his father’s profession. He recalled one episode,
“At that period my father was known in the city. And we entertained one summer… I think we had 3000 club women out there in the matter of a month and a half, and they’d always say, ‘Little boy, are you going to be an artist when you grow up?’ And I got to hate it... I said, ‘I’ll never be an artist. I’ll be an architect, an engineer, anything, I’ll dig a ditch, plaster a wall, but I don’t want to be an artist.’”27
Any true reactionary spirit in Ivan Albright was against what he as a young man perceived to be a flimsy attitude about art within his father’s circle and their patrons. Here were the seeds of his often-repeated assertion, “A painting should be a piece of philosophy – or why do it?”28 In response to popular assumptions that the tone and subject matter of his work was calculated against Adam, he claimed, “[it] wasn’t any rebellion against my father; it was against the attitude of the people in general and what they liked.”29
Despite these experiences, Albright recalled his genealogical history with pride and often invoked it in detail when giving interviews. He liked to boast that his father’s side of the family went back to the astronomer Johannes Kepler.30 Frederick Sweet’s essay in the 1964 Albright retrospective catalogue barely addresses the artist himself or his work; rather it provides a narrative of the life of Albright’s ancestors, setting him up as the inheritor of a “fine tradition of craftsmanship.” Familial history was important to Albright and he referenced it at different points in his career. Many of the props used in his paintings (discussed below) belonged to members of his family, notably women. In 1940 he exhibited the painting, Shore Sentinels (private collection) in the Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy under the pseudonym “James Fleming,” the name of his maternal grandfather.31 A 1971/72 pair of paintings that purport to be about the psychological and physical effects of color, are based on an arrangement of intensely personal items once belonging to his father.32 Ivan’s close psychological and professional bond with Malvin and Adam resounded throughout his artistic career; his very profession was a constant memory of a family life in Warrenville, Illinois.
As would be the case throughout his life, Ivan’s family traveled a great deal, and during this time they had spent summers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the southwestern United States. The twins attended high school at New Trier in Winnetka, Illinois (1911-15). Ivan then went on to Northwestern University (1915-16), where he seems to have been too interested in young ladies and working on the school paper to make passing grades and was tossed out. Albright enrolled next at The University of Illinois at Urbana (1916-17) where he studied architecture and engineering. Despite his apparent disinterest and lack of formal training in art, he allegedly painted a church altarpiece on a trip to Caracas, Venezuela in 191733 and exhibited a watercolor at the Art Institute of Chicago in the following year.34 Perhaps Ivan’s real education occurred through travel with his family and in meeting a great variety of people from different cultural backgrounds. Little did he know that a life-changing moment was eminent.
As the United States entered World War I, like so many other young men, Ivan and his brothers enlisted for military service.35 Ivan and Malvin hoped to be placed in a camouflage-making unit, but instead basic training in Iowa, worked temporarily at the Standard Forging Company and then were sent overseas.36 By September of 1918 they were assigned to Base Hospital No. 11, Nantes, France, with the American Expeditionary Force Medical Corps. where Malvin was put on guard duty and Ivan became a “medical drawer.” This period is at once the most mythologized and least factually understood of Albright’s life and has often been used to explain his mature style. As he explained to one interviewer, once in France, he began making sketches of the scenic surroundings to sell to base doctors so he could buy, “a little wine or something.” He was however, invited by a Captain Flannery to draw a particularly gruesome operation and thus found his war calling which lasted well after the armistice was signed.37 Albright referred to this experience early in a romanticized tale he embellished for a writer in 1929, who dutifully reported:
“The big surgeon halted one [of the twins] outside the hospital, gave him paper, pencil, brushes and watercolors and led the unwilling youth into the operating room. At the sight of what he had to do, the artist collapsed on the floor. Regaining consciousness he said, heroically, ‘Give me a chance; I’ll try’ and took his stand near the wounded.”38
In reality, Albright found the task, “gruesome – but intensely interesting.”39 Highly prolific in his task, he filled approximately eight sketchbooks with drawings of nearly every kind of wound, following some patients over a course of several weeks, indicating when they had died, included their name, rank, and serial number. He was assigned to both Allied and German soldiers. Albright consistently downplayed the medical ward as an artistic influence throughout his career; he even emphatically denied its impact.40 He did admit he found x-rays to be a great revelation, excited on “seeing right through the body” and called it the “best art training” ever.41 However, as early as 1931, Albright had denied the impact of this powerful experience. As one journalist explained:
“…drawing pictures of wounds... together with the study of x-ray plates. … actually molded the art of this painter. Albright does not admit anything of the sort. He says he is groping for the abstract, while attending to the minutest detail of the real.”42
Yet, the war and its frightening effect on the human body were never to be forgotten by the young artist. Although Albright saw no fighting, he had direct contact with the most horrific and profoundly mortal effects of war, face to face as he was with the wounded, dead and dying for many months. Unrecorded, left to our imagination are the countless hours of conversation he might have shared or overheard from his fallen peers. Young men, wholly unprepared for the mental and physical demands of warfare on an entirely unimaginable scale lie before him as he concentrated on drawing, documenting their vulnerable bodies.
It is difficult to ignore the reality of World War I as a defining moment not only for artists who saw combat and its effects, but as a pivotal event in the twentieth century. It forever altered the lives of a generation and for many, irrevocably changed their philosophical and spiritual outlook.43 One is tempted to say that the only “group” of artists among contemporaries that fit in with Albright at all, shared similar experiences, witnessing the horrors of World War I. As his contemporary, German artist and World War I machine gunner Otto Dix (1891-1969), reflected many years later, “You don’t notice, as a young man[,] you don’t notice at all that you were, after all, badly affected. For years afterwards, at least ten years, I kept having these dreams, in which I had to crawl through ruined houses, along passages I could hardly get through.”44
Albright’s memories from this formative experience exist as traces in his mature works. Certainly his attention and fascination with the effects of time, hard labor, emotional stress, spiritual crisis or illness upon the body can be understood as having part of its origins in his war experience. These ideas are echoed in his notebooks and published statements,
“The body is merely an outward or external shell. The ego, the essential ego, is what one is in ultimate reality… The real center is never seen. But it is just that which the artist should strive to find and body forth.”45 “The artist must be the human reservoir for all emotions, all thoughts, all kindness, cruelty, pain, joy.”46
Disembodied or solitary, hands that appear in some of his most important works may be redirected symbols derived from memories in the surgical wards. He recalled in 1972, “One morning before an operation I was in the washroom just outside the operating room and there was a hand sticking out of the waste paper basket. You know, you’d bury those later. But you get used to that.”47
However, it cannot be underestimated how much Albright’s sensitivity to the frailty of the human body, fascination with the grotesque and push towards an interest in the spirit came from Adam Emory. Although it is frequently assumed that Ivan’s mature work, at its most macabre was an Oedipal reaction against the work of his father, Adam’s own formative experiences as a student under Eakins were not without similarly devastating psychological undercurrents surrounding the body. In one of the most dramatic passages in his memoir, Adam recalled the following story:
“I was left alone in the Academy Christmas week, class rooms deserted, pupils had gone home or elsewhere for the holidays. Strolling through the halls, Old Henry… came cautiously out of his little den and unlocked the back door… An ugly hulk of a man… came in with a huge burlap wrapped bundle and dropped it on the floor. Then another, and then a third… Seeing me he called, ‘keep back.’ He opened a trap door in front of our life class I had never noticed before, ripped off the burlap and dropped one human body after the other into the hole. ‘Pickles’ he said, as I heard a splash… A meaner looking man I had never seen. These were the cadavers we had in the dissecting room.”48
Adam continued in this vein for many more paragraphs. Tales of the burning of body parts from spent cadavers, mock funerals carrying a “stiff” in procession towards the lecture rooms, the removal and hotpotato-like game played with a male cadaver’s genitalia; all told in a compelling narrative. Perhaps most macabre was Adam’s own task: “I prepared a skull by boiling a man’s head. I shocked and frightened the woman that took care of my room when she found an arm and hand I was working on outside on my window sill.”49 With the exception of perhaps one article, the effects of Adam’s own intense recollections have been overlooked in his role as the first teacher of Ivan Albright.50
While in France after the armistice, Albright continued to make drawings for doctors and probably made copies of several sketches done earlier. How much of France he and Malvin saw before returning home is questionable. Although he told one reporter that he saw Paris, and the Louvre – even “studied” at L’Ecole des beaux-arts51 he later admitted that the latter lasted for two days and nights.52 The summer following Ivan’s return from France, he was asked by a Dr. Sylvester, whom he’d met during the war, to make brain surgery illustrations as part of a book project. The fate of the publishing venture and whereabouts of the drawings are unknown.53
In the fall of 1919, Albright returned to The University of Illinois to study architecture, but remained only a week. Back in Chicago, still casting about for a definite career, Albright worked briefly with the firm of architect Dwight Heald Perkins (1867–1941) located at 814 North Michigan Avenue.54 Either simultaneously or a bit later, he did color advertising work for the hotel firm Albert Pick and Company.55 Architecture and advertising struck Albright as too commercial for his taste, and despite his previous repudiation of art as a potential profession, he resolved finally to enter art school. Ivan began his true formal studies in January of 1920 at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where both he and Malvin entered on full tuition scholarships.
From 1920 to 1924 Albright followed an extremely conventional program of study, one that was rooted in thorough academic and beaux-arts traditions. His instructors, all strong artistic personalities, made a visible impression on the young artist, and their influence is felt in his notebooks. True to form, Albright denied any influence his formal studies might have had, stating, “[Whom] I studied with didn’t amount to anything.”56
Between 1920 and 1923 Albright studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with Leopold Seyffert (1887-1956), Antonin Sterba (1875-1963), Wellington J. Reynolds (1866-1949), and sculptor Albin Polášek (1879-1965). Arguably, all of these men were strong teachers and artists, notably Polášek and Seyffert. Polášek’s religious interests and Seyffert’s fine mastery of portraiture contributed further to Albright’s foundation. His earliest surviving works are portrait oils dating from his student days in Chicago. He demonstrated his ability to adopt varied painterly techniques or the unique psychology of a model when appropriate.57 Concurrent writing in his earliest notebooks is already quite sophisticated and reveals a tremendous capacity for artistic and philosophical investigation and self-inquiry. Through his early studies and writing he would develop the assertions that, “We only have knowledge of form through movement, “58 “The infinite sees my model from every viewpoint, from every time point, from every movement point,”59 and that “In painting [one should] discover the absolute.”60
Yet Albright singled out the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and its instructors with denigrating comments. He said, “I had Leopold Seyffert and different teachers but I didn’t pay any attention [to them].”61 In Chicago, “I didn’t learn much from my teachers. I avoided them because they were more or less pals or contemporaries of my dad’s but not as successful. I didn’t listen to anyone much.”62 The single-minded insistence of these instructors that he, “just copy the model,” started Albright on a quest to understand more complex, even intangible qualities of representation.
Perhaps the most important development arising from his studies at the Art Institute was a life-long practice of keeping notebooks to record plans, thoughts, quotations and small sketches. They were a crucial arena of artistic self-discovery for Albright. These notebooks illuminate his student years, from which we have very few finished works. The writings provide a clue to what inspiration he found at this time. For instance, through notes and titles, we know titles of the books and journals he presumably looked at, some of which were foreign art journals.63 Other entries describe commissions or projects, none of which have been located. Albright even made a copy of The Baptism of Christ by Pietro Perugino,64 and might have been asked to copy a painting by Correggio.65
The notebooks reveal further that Albright was already preoccupied with the intangible qualities of light, time, motion and even sound by 1924.66 A quote illustrates these concerns and would become perhaps the main artistic thesis guiding him towards a definitive, unique sense of representation,
“In music there is the time element – or sound becomes certain chords and harmony by means of the ‘time element.’ In painting to reach the time element we must do so by repetition of color, of mass, of direction, of force. The more frequent the repetition the faster your picture moves the further apart the repetition the slower the movement.”67
What is unclear here in many cases is how much of these philosophical musings are his and how much derived from influential instructors. Regardless, these early writings demonstrate that as early as 1923, he had a great foundation for the metaphysical theories he would later attempt to develop on canvas. The concept that “time is a dimension,”68 which so occupied him throughout his career saw its origins here. Clearly an advanced student, Albright graduated with a faculty Honorable Mention in life and portrait painting. He had done quite well for himself at the Art Institute, yet was eager for further study. In the fall of 1923, Ivan and Malvin studied at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, following in their father’s footsteps. Ivan felt it a more serious atmosphere than in Chicago, and he embarked on a very intense semester with Daniel Garber (1880-1958), Arthur Carles (1882-1952), Charles Grafly (1862-1929), and Henry McCarter (1864-1942). Albright’s experience in Philadelphia might have been more positive, for he told an interviewer of the stress he faced in Chicago as Adam’s son, “In Chicago all I inherited was a whole crowd of my dad’s enemies… I couldn’t compete for… scholarships… they’d eliminate me… They didn’t like my dad so they took it out on me.”69
Although far from avant garde, his instructors in Philadelphia were more adventurous artists than those in Chicago. For instance, Carles’ teaching of color and the activation of space between figures and objects definitely took hold on Albright.70 In addition, Charles Grafly taught rigorous academic modeling and Daniel Garber was an exceptionally difficult teacher.71 Among all of these instructors, Albright seems to have liked McCarter best, whose encouragement was never to be forgotten. Rare among his teachers, “McCarter was talking about the abstract,” Albright told Paul Cummings. A composition experiment done in McCarter’s class attracted some attention. Albright began a still-life assignment by approaching the setup from above, rather than from a straight-on frontal viewpoint.
“I put my canvas on the floor… I wanted to have the things rise up. I thought: This vase is sitting on a table, it’s not laying down… it rises up. So I put my canvas on the floor and painted the thing… When it came time for McCarter to give us a criticism… he came to mine [and] I said, ‘This is supposed to be flat on the floor.’ He said, ‘You’re not painting a rug… And he shook his head. The next Friday when he came around he said, ‘You’re a real modernist… I’ve been thinking it over. That’s all right.’”72
Albright reprised this experiment in a stunning 1931 oil, Wherefore Now Ariseth the Illusion of a Third Dimension (Art Institute of Chicago; discussed below).
In January of 1924 Ivan and Malvin arrived in New York for yet further study. Ivan planned to study with George Bellows (1882-1925) at the Art Students’ League, but finding him abroad, settled on the much more conservative National Academy of Design. Ivan was fortunate to study with Charles W. Hawthorne (1872-1930), an extremely influential and passionate teacher who encouraged his pupils to cultivate individual style. Hawthorne’s impact on Albright is certainly reflected in the young artist’s notebooks, through classroom quotes and ultimately a resounding sense of legitimacy for his own, similar concerns. Under Hawthorne’s tutelage, “Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision – it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so… We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace,”73 became Albright’s rallying cry.
During this time, Albright also studied works of art in the museums of Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. His notebooks provide ample opportunity to gauge who he was looking at – even particular works. Recurring names include El Greco, Rembrandt, Holbein, Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), and Abbot Henderson Thayer. Some of his thumbnail sketches can be traced to specific works by other artists while others appear to be the artist’s own invention. It is clear, despite few located early oils, he attempted similar effects on canvases concurrent with technical notes and compositional sketches. His portrait of Marie Walsh Sharpe (1921; Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation, Colorado Springs, CO) bears the hazy, dream-like style of Abbott Thayer.74 A landscape oil (1923) in a private collection resembles similar works by Fernand Hodler,75 notably one in the Birch Bartlett Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.76 In the years to come, his emulation of the old masters and the few contemporaries he admired would be more subtle, and posed as a challenge to the weight of art history.
Continual training and learning was important to Albright. In 1941, he attended a class at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the techniques of the old masters, taught by a former Musée du Louvre conservator named Jacques Maroger.77 What should be remembered about Albright’s training is that he had successfully employed a variety of technical approaches learned in the academy only to consciously abandon them for something startlingly unique. He had explored thick physicality and thin washes in paint application; strong modeling and explorations of color. After four solid years of technical training, he was ready, perhaps anxious to explore his own vision.
In 1924 the Albright family moved to Warrenville, Illinois, where Adam Emory Albright had purchased an old Methodist Church remodeled for use as a studio and gallery.78 Here he and his sons worked together for many years. The same year, Ivan Albright had begun to attract the attention of reviewers and his work began its meteoric rise to national visibility. He was so conscious of this public recognition that any notices were collected and eventually pasted into three enormous scrapbooks.79 In the Fall of 1925, Ivan and Malvin returned to Philadelphia where they worked in a studio on Cherry Street. Here, Ivan began to explore the dramatic and symbolic potential inherent in anonymous, ordinary sitters. His writing at this time and the resultant works reveal how preoccupied he was with form as well as getting to the core of his models. “Think of the character of the model,” he wrote.80 He stated elsewhere, “great art is psychology,”81 and “in painting, discover the absolute.”82 Together with these conceptual ideas, he concentrated on the technical problems of painting. “It is better to have more bone and muscle under flesh and the outward appearance very simple so as to show there is more than externals,” guided his knowledge of form.83
His work from this time demonstrated several qualities that would persist as he matured. He preferred un-idealized amateur models, posed them half-length, and often gave them props or outfits to wear. As late as the 1960s, Albright was still giving models clothes to wear for their sittings. Ivan once recalled that Adam had kept a bag full of clothes, rags and other props to be worn by children modeling for his own paintings.84 Ivan used light to produce an otherworldly, spiritual glow within the composition and as a tool to carve form. We learn from Ivan’s notebooks he was inspired largely by artists such as Rembrandt, and particularly El Greco.85 More than any other artists, these models guided his early figural work in form and content.
In the winter of 1926-27, Ivan and Malvin worked in California.86 One of the most successful paintings of this early period is a portrait of Malvin, titled, Maker of Dreams (Man with a Mallet, Maker of Images, private collection). Solid form and warm tones in this portrait help to lovingly sculpt Malvin’s face and body to produce an image of drama and grace. Light flutters across the figure’s curves and penetrates its crevasses, suggesting the flickering illumination that characterizes the art of El Greco. “One of the most important things in El Greco’s work is the element of dark and light continuously contrasting,” Albright wrote in a 1926 notebook.87 The pose and concentration of the subject closely resemble a number of similarly intense meditating saints by the Mannerist painter. The artist is presented as a religious ascetic, equating the act of making art with a revelatory, spiritual state. Religious concerns, inquiry and statements of belief are scattered throughout Albright notebooks from the 1920s until the time of his death.88
Before leaving California, Albright began another pivotal early work at the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside. It was his largest and most powerful figural work to date. An elderly Irish monk named Brother Peter Haberlin posed for I Walk To and Fro Through Civilization and I Talk as I Walk (Follow Me, The Monk, Art Institute of Chicago). The octogenarian monk stands in prayer, his hands clutching a crucifix. Behind him, light bursts and he seems to levitate as if in a state of purity. The image brings to mind similar devotional scenes by El Greco or Francisco de Zurburan. The selection of Brother Peter as a model made explicit Albright’s fascination with spirituality, the aging of the body, strong solid form and narrative, poetic titles. It also showed a growing interest in the total art object, as a hand-carved frame surrounds the canvas.89 One of the most distinguished aspects of Albright’s art making practices was his well-crafted consideration of the impact of a completely unified object: in title, content, composition, and in its frame. As Albright told interviewer Paul Cummings in 1972, “I know how to carve. I had always carved all the frames for my dad and for ourselves [he and Malvin] for years.”90
Whether or not Ivan actually carved most of his brother and his father’s frames is not known. Malvin was trained as a sculptor and had certainly acquired the sure hand of a craftsman and may have been carving earlier than Ivan. Adam, trained as a gunsmith, and from a long line of that trade in his family, was known for carving frames early in his own career. Nevertheless, the majority of Malvin and Ivan’s paintings, and some works on paper, retain their original frames - many of which were altered by or created by the artists. A distinct difference in style is also noteworthy among the Albright twins’ frames. Ivan’s carved motifs often refer directly to the subject of the painting while Malvin’s frames are elegantly decorative sculptural surrounds, interesting as ornate objects in themselves.
In 1927, on returning to Warrenville, Albright began a second large-scale figure painting, this time using his neighbor, Arthur Stanford for The Lineman (Art Institute of Chicago). When it was exhibited at the rt Institute of Chicago in 1928, the painting was awarded the Mrs. John C. Shaffer Prize for portraiture, in the Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago & Vicinity.91 Perhaps in recognition of this honor it was featured on the May cover of Electric Light and Power, an industry trade magazine. Unwittingly, this gesture unleashed a fiery controversy among its readership.92 One incensed reader wrote, “Frankly all I can see in Mr. Albright’s picture is a down and out tramp who has stolen a linemen’s belt and pole strap.” Another, “This man’s posture and his expression are indicative of absolute hopelessness, a condition that cannot be attributed to the average American workman…” And an even more outraged man wrote, “…you will be unable to find a single [lineman] which in any way resembles this uncouth, down at the heel booze fighter pictured here.”93
Most assumed Albright had picked a bum off the street to model. In fact, Stanford was a lineman. Electric Light and Power attempted reconciliation with its readers by placing an idealized photograph of “the modern lineman” on its August cover.94 The fury symbolized Albright’s position in the art world; while accepted by cultural institutions and many critics, his works met with indignation and hostility from the public and more conservative reviewers.
Over a year later, Albright completed another full-length figure painting that some writers have grouped with The Monk and Lineman. Perhaps to underscore the types of individuals he selected for models, he titled this portrait of a Warrenville blacksmith, Among Those Left (The Wheelright, The Blacksmith, 1928-29, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh).95 In the wake of rapid industrialization of American society it is possible Albright sought individuals who retained a link to the past. Together, these three canvases of equal dimensions (73 x 36 in.) have been likened to panels of a dismantled altarpiece.96 Their resemblance to Baroque saints (St. Catherine with her wheel in the case of the blacksmith) or martyr images (as in the disposition of the lineman) is perhaps what encouraged such an interpretation. Although Albright’s paintings seem to relate thematically and even visually reference one another in some cases, there is no evidence that he planned such an effect.
In the summer of 1927 Albright had gathered his works around him and underwent a critical self-evaluation. He wrote, “My painting calls for far greater study… in value, color, design and conception.” He declared his previous works, “very sloppy” and “careless… which shows lack of knowledge.”97 Soon after, Albright sharpened his focus, concentrating on solid form, choreography of light and shadow, and heightened his examination of detail. This resulted in the first paintings bearing the obsessive and spectral character of his mature style. This approach was born in Warrenville in late 1927 or early 1928.
Albright worked in Warrenville throughout 1928, where he painted Woman (Museum of Modern Art, New York),98 Flesh (Smaller Than Tears Are the Little Blue Flowers, Art Institute of Chicago), and began both Fleeting Time, Thou Hast Left Me Old (1928-29, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and the previously mentioned Among Those Left. Albright’s neighbors posed for each of these startling paintings. The model for Flesh, for instance was Arline Stanford, the wife of the model for The Lineman. Byron McCain, a seventy-eight-year-old horse trainer had posed for Fleeting Time. Warrenville Blacksmith Hugo Kleinwater had posed for Among those Left.99 The apparent microscopic elaboration of detail in these works was the result of the quality of light Albright had controlled and manipulated in his studio. As would be the case with his later studios, the walls were painted matte black, and sitters were positioned beneath a skylight that the artist could control. Albright focused a cold, white light on his models, which produced a magical effect, magnifying the intensity of the light’s own luminescence, as well as of the objects it illuminated. Albright’s biographer, Michael Croydon poignantly likened the environment to the interior of a camera.100
Albright’s new paintings simultaneously shocked and impressed critics and the exhibition-going public. In Toledo, Ohio, Woman was temporarily removed from an exhibition and then replaced due to public criticism.101 From the beginning, even in regard to his most painterly works, critics noted with amazement Albright’s ability to reproduce apparent reality on canvas. Writing about Burgomeister with a Key (1925-26; Detroit Institute of the Arts) an awkward but important early work, one critic praised its, “sheer virtuosity… [it’s] the finest canvas hung… an old master painted by a modern painter.”102 But the works he produced in Warrenville between 1928 and 1931 challenged notions of reality; Albright transformed the body as few had ever done before or since.
Almost immediately critics attributed the appearance of these works to Oedipal revolt, noting with irony how Ivan was the son of Adam, painter of “happy little fishing-boys,” a critic asserted:
“In revolt, the son has turned modern. The critics don’t know it. They still class him with the ‘better-known artists.’ But Ivan Albright has even exhibited with [Rudolph] Weisenborn’s up-an-alley group.”103
Yet critics generally admitted he was unlike anything they had seen. “Mr. Albright is an excellent painter, always with something worth while to say, but with a highly mannered technique, quite his own,”104 wrote one reviewer. Another declared Albright a
“distinct individualist… His two contributions, ‘Woman’ and ‘The Lineman’ are reminiscent of no school and no set theoretical doctrine. Neither is pleasing. Both reveal a curious attitude toward figure painting, as if the human shape were a conglomeration of lumps. ‘Woman’ will doubtless strike many as distinctly repugnant, a mass of pitted detail constituting face, hair, dress, and hands. But those who desire something new will find it here.”105
At the time of his first one-man exhibition, which was held in the Gallery of the Walden Book Shop in Chicago’s Palmolive Building, one reporter cajoled, “Women visitors, it was feared would start fainting. Strong men would turn pale and little children run screaming…”106 The critic Albright seemed to struggle with most frequently was Clarence J. Bulliet (1883-1952). Bulliet saved a good deal of negative criticism for Albright in a way that leads one to suspect there was more than aesthetic differences between them. Bulliet dismissed Albright’s modern or traditional affinities by claiming his skewed sense of anatomy - bulges where they ought not be - failed miserably.107 Bulliet later accused Albright and others of being “pets” of the Art Institute.108
“A face is a soul looking out at one who… will be dead tomorrow,” Albright wrote, perhaps inspired by one of his models.109 As these figures dwell on their own mortality they also stand as mirror images for us to meditate upon. Appropriately though curiously, Albright’s figures must face this challenge alone. No interaction occurs in these paintings and Albright apparently did no group portraits. Individuals are represented as solitary souls caught between the harsh light of reality and an enveloping darkness. Those who inhabit these bodies must come to terms with their own decay and mortality. Yet Albright clearly felt there was hope in even the most horrific of these visions and summarized his attitude as such, “In any part of life you find something either growing or disintegrating. All life is strong and powerful, even in the process of dissolution.”110
Ivan and Malvin worked in California again between January and April of 1929, this time in Laguna Beach.111 Albright painted two more major works there, Heavy the Oar to Him Who Is Tired, Heavy the Coat, Heavy the Sea (Art Institute of Chicago) and There Were No Flowers Tonight (Midnight; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). The first portrays a weathered fisherman, standing before an open window which opens onto a landscape - the latter a tired and aging ballerina.112 When he painted Heavy the Oar..., Albright was in great pain and later had a kidney removed. He later said he wanted the painting to be a swan song if necessary. While working on it he wrote in his notebooks, “If I must paint – paint well so that the painting is to others a lesson unto itself. To solve the eternal is not the domain of man. To know oneself is to find the soul... inner consciousness.”113 Spirituality and hope, concepts not immediately associated with these paintings, are actually prominent themes underlying Albright’s work.
One critic noted this undercurrent, “while there are those who are unbearably repulsed by Albright’s paintings, there are others who... sense something deeply religious in the paintings.”114
In 1929 Albright began one of his most famous figural works after a nineteen-year-old mother named Ida Rogers answered his modeling ad. It was the first work he painted in a new private, Spanish-style studio, built adjacent to the Methodist church in Warrenville. Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida (Art Institute of Chicago), was his most accomplished meditation on the body and has a vanitas theme throughout all of its compositional elements. Albright claimed he had walked around his model to view her from different angles, an approach that reveals more of the form than is customary from a single point.115 This constant shifting of perspective makes the objects and the model look unstable, nearly dizzying in uncertainty. He sculpted Ida with light and dark, and one senses that the darkness that encroaches upon her is metaphorical. She experiences a moment of realization looking into her mirror, and perhaps, evinced by a nearby smoldering cigarette and fresh cut wildflowers, her time on earth is nigh. Ida proved to be an immediate success: it was reproduced in major art periodicals and in 1931 won a gold medal in the Chicago Society of Artists annual exhibition and six years later won First Prize at the Springfield, Massachusetts Art League annual in 1937.116
In 1930 Albright created And Man Created God in his Own Image (Room 203, Art Institute of Chicago) which remains perhaps the pinnacle of his early figural work and one of the most shocking and breathtaking male figure paintings of the twentieth century. Not since Matthias Grünewald before him had flesh been painted with such sense of agony and pity. The exposed surface of the figure’s skin is a blue, cold, almost icy in tonality, pimples and hairs, patches of discoloration, provide compelling contrasts with the masses clammy flesh. Although his arms appear strong, the area around the armpit is puckered as if pruned and numb. His arms are in motion; left thigh creased in layers of flabby skin trace his bloated abdomen, which looks like it has never seen the light of day. Like the subjects of his contemporary, the German, Otto Dix, the man in room 203 appears like the walking dead, trauma stricken and sickly, affected in some philosophical as well as physical way. It reminds the viewer instantly of Albright’s war experience. When it was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art’s Twentieth Century Portraits exhibition, one reviewer reacted both to the image and title by declaring it “the most hideously cynical” picture in the show.117
Albright showed his paintings individually or in pairs, strategically sending them to annual exhibitions throughout the United States. He appears to have favored exhibitions that bestowed prizes and he certainly won his share. From the time of his first Honorable Mention in 1926, until his $5,000 award in the 1963 Dunn International (discussed below) Albright earned a broad array of prizes. Whether it was the Carnegie International, Philadelphia Annual exhibitions, or exhibitions in Illinois or New York, Albright’s ability to impress jurors and the general public in competitive exhibitions helped to make his reputation.118 Because he had no gallery affiliation and no independent dealer, Albright had few one-person shows. In 1931, after his first one-man show in 1930 at Walden’s, Albright received a much larger and more important exhibition, together with artist-brothers George (1895-1971) and Martin Baer (1895-1961) at the Art Institute of Chicago, which ran from July 23 to Oct.11, 1931. The irony of this show was the Art Institute’s exclusion of the natural addition of Malvin, especially in light of their counterpart the Baer brothers. This marked perhaps the first indication that Ivan had greater support in Chicago and elsewhere than his twin.119 As further evidence of Albright’s increasing reputation, the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio and Old White Art Gallery in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia hosted one-man exhibitions in 1933 and 1935 respectively.
In Chicago, while Albright was a staple in exhibitions at the Art Institute, he also exhibited in a variety of other contexts. Albright also exhibited with such seemingly disparate organizations as the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists, the All-Illinois Society of the Fine Arts, the Arts Club of Chicago (he was a professional member), and even the Neo-Arlimusc group, probably the most radical of all. Often, he showed with the Chicago Society of Artists, and served as their president between 1934-36, an appointment that meant he also sat on the board of the Chicago Commission for the Encouragement of Local Art where he helped make decisions on what art works would be purchase by the city with it’s budgeted funds.120
Certainly the most perplexing aspect of his astonishing paintings is the rarity in which they have been placed in context within United States culture during the 1920s and 1930s. Nor has there been much of an attempt to account for Albright’s peculiar style. Indeed, this issue was raised by Robert Silberman in a recent (1997) exhibition review, “One of the peculiarities of this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue is that, apart from noting the obvious Oedipal reaction and briefly speculating on the effects of having an identical twin brother... there is no real attempt to explain why Albright should have become such a prince of darkness.”121
As suggested, the main line of critical inquiry states that Ivan’s work was a deliberate and exaggerated response to that of his father, Adam. However provocative this might be, such a claim cannot be made without further study of the biographical relationship between Ivan and his father. On the surface such claims pose problems. One wonders why it would have taken Ivan until the age of thirty to revolt against such a strong personality as his father. Further, why would Ivan wait until well into his forties to move from his father’s house? Such psychological speculation may hold some grains of truth, but ultimately seems an easy way out of interpreting Albright’s paintings. As mentioned earlier, Adam’s memory of working under Eakins on gruesome anatomical tasks reveals a closer bond than has previously been noted.
Daniel Catton Rich compared Albright’s vision and the character of his works to contemporary writers, including some who worked in Illinois.122 Albright’s revelatory approach to the lives of things and flesh, his merciless exhibition of that which may scurry out from the darkness was shared by William Faulkner (1897-1962) in particular, whose novels today pull the reader into the world of the volatile and horrific. By painting ordinary people in Warrenville and later in Georgia or Vermont, he fixed on the human condition directly in small town USA; a powerful alternative in single canvases to the sordid street scenes produced by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) who dealt as mercilessly with issues of morality. Albright’s works should be understood in light of the writing he produced while painting. His notebooks are punctuated with meditations on God, the soul, the meaning of silence, and a sense of the infinite. Religious feelings Albright repeatedly expressed in words demonstrate his belief that the body is a mere shell, or cocoon, and that the soul, part of god within us, is what matters in the end.
Although Albright concentrated most of his artistic efforts on one major project during the decade of the 1930s,123 he was extremely active in the Chicago art community and painted many smaller scale works. Whereas the Great Depression certainly hit other families in a much more devastating way, having a savage impact on artists, the Albright family endured much less hardship while readjusting themselves during this difficult time. Ivan and Malvin supported themselves by renovating houses in Warrenville and like countless others, they worked for federal art projects. Ivan worked on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in 1933-34 and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for a few months in 1936.124 The work Albright produced for the federal programs takes on a particularly venomous taste. The Farmer’s Kitchen (1933-34, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC), done for the PWAP is a depressing, tortuous scene of menial labor - not the warm image one might expect for works meant to be installed in public places. It seems further to be a biting parody of Grant Wood (1891-1942) or John Steuart Curry (1897-1946), the so-called Regionalists, whose work Albright viewed with little patience and some contempt. In a review of Modern American Painting by Peyton Boswell Jr.,125 Albright made it clear how he felt about “regionalists” or “social realists,” whose popularity had grown significantly during the 1930s:
“Then there is that group of American Sceners whose pictures are more news bulletins than art. They picture the tornado, the flood, the drought lands, the TVA, but pathetically enough are six months behind the newspaper headlines and photographs.”126
Although Albright’s politics have been viewed as conservative, in an interview with a Chicago journalist, Albright showed himself to be outspoken - even radical on the issue of artist’s rights.127 He was also one of the signatories in the outraged, anti-fascist 1936 Artist’s Congress.128 Yet, he taunted fellow artists at the open air art fairs in Chicago’s Grant Park when he priced paintings at $10,000, while they exchanged works for food.129 One Chicago artist later recalled that Into the World There Came A Soul Called Ida, bore the cynical price of $11,000.59.130 He regularly placed prohibitively high prices on paintings, both to demonstrate their perceived worth and his intention not to sell. Similarly, with the assistance of his friend Francis Chapin (1899-1965), Albright made lithographs during the thirties.131 However, as if to deny the traditional role of prints as affordable alternatives among an artist’s stock, his editions were very small, even exclusive. In the summer of 1938, Albright taught figure painting at the Art Institute. He seems to have found the task enjoyable, and was probably not motivated by financial concerns.132
Albright’s writing, always an important part of his artistic process, took a public turn in 1939 when four of his poems were published in Creative Writing. As evidence of his influence and visibility in Chicago, Albright contributed exhibition and book reviews for various Chicago newspapers between 1939 and 1952, in which he obviously took delight, his pen often dripping with acid wit.133 By this time he had become somewhat of a force in Chicago by garnering several prizes including the 1941 Mr. & Mrs. Jule F. Brower Prize, at the annual Chicago & Vicinity exhibition in the Art Institute,134 and the Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal at the American annual in the Art Institute of Chicago later the same year.135 With tongue pressed firmly into cheek, Albright wrote with wit, cynicism and with an occasional hint of his core personality. These writings reveal a great deal about his attitude towards contemporary art, his friends and rivals in Chicago, and personal taste. Following is a brief examination of the most surprising and amusing newspaper pieces penned by the artist.
A review of the fifty-first Chicago & Vicinity exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago contained some of Albright’s most amusing verbiage. He called Mitchell Siporin’s Logan-prize winning canvas, End of an Era, “an incurably inane effort at painting.” Surveying art he felt was underdone, he continued, “Herman Dyer and Joan Mitchell’s works call for some burping.” But the finest and most vicious quip was reserved for Irving Kriesberg, who Albright gave “the dubious distinction of having the worst painting in the entire show, calling his Portrait of My Wife, “grounds for divorce.” Marion Perkins bestowed highest praise upon Negro Woman at the expense of another exhibitor. Albright might have felt an affinity in Perkins’ subject and the material itself:
“He chiseled this head out of a piece of stone from a torn down building at 37th and Indiana av [sic]. It carries the burning humbleness of centuries in his work. There is no shout. It is such fine art that the two bleating lambs standing and mushing on the ground next to it by Sylvia ‘Boo Peep’ Judson could be taken out immediately to the nearest toy counter for child consumption.”136
Albright discredited the history of modernism in a review of “Modern French Painting,” by stating that France had never birthed an artist equal to El Greco and Velasquez in Spain, Rubens in Belgium, Rembrandt in Holland or Durer in Germany, suggesting that together the moderns were but a tiny blip in the history of art.137 Modern exhibitions held in Chicago similarly could not escape Albright’s tongue. For the much anticipated and important 1947 Annual American exhibition, subtitled, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America, he penned an insult-laden landscape dotted with the remains of Surrealist émigrés. “Dali skids into the doldrums of senility with his sugar-coated portrait... Here is art ham at its worst.” Albright expressed concern that Kurt Seligmann’s The Great Waters “could be the small drip,” and that buyers of Alexander Calder’s Little Blue Under Red find out where to obtain replacement parts. Pavel Tchelitchew’s The Riddle of Daedalus was “no puzzle” while William Baziotes’ prize-winning Cyclops was determined the “blind spot” of the show. Of internationally known artists only Yves Tanguy and Isamu Noguchi escaped unscathed.138
When Albright reviewed an American watercolor exhibition in Chicago, he singled out Jacob Lawrence and Stuart Davis for praise. Of the younger African American artist, he proclaimed, “All the black magic, passion, and tears of Africa are here melted in his crucible. His brush seems to move like a baton…” Davis’ abstract manner was the recipient of rare public admiration by Albright, unquestionably motivated by disdain for the New York School. “Stuart Davis, that doughty war-horse who was a prophet of abstract art before it became fashionable... still does a job superior to those of his manifold copyists.” As an editor noted above Albright’s by-line, the critic-painter modestly reported his own success in the exhibition. “The [top] Watson F. Blair prize was wrangled afoot by this writer. His ‘Roaring Fork’ is a picture of saddles with a confusion of cinches, stirrups, bits, and barbed wire. It is badly framed.”139
One might claim Albright was essentially a still-life painter, treating all things as objects, with infinite surfaces and tangible, yet hidden structures underneath. By equal measure he believed all elements in the world constantly underwent changes and lived their own independent and interconnected lives. Such conceits were explored in the first of a series of finely crafted still-lives, Wherefore Now Ariseth the Illusion of the Third Dimension (1931; Art Institute of Chicago) in which Albright pushed his technique to its furthest extremes yet. One writer later called it “not only Albright’s greatest masterpiece of still-life painting but perhaps the best that has ever been done in this country.”140
Wherefore Now Ariseth… was the first of many paintings in which Albright worked from carefully selected objects, arranged in his studio in redetermined positions under choreographed lighting. His slow working methods permitted the apples and lemons to rot as he worked across their surfaces, transforming them in paint as they themselves were transformed by time. As he attempted to portray the passage of time and a sense of motion, Albright manipulated the viewpoints and lighting of the objects in his still life. His apples appear to jostle one another, the gloves seem animated and the lemons appear to hover or rotate. As he worked on this painting he wrote, “I could draw an object as if I had six eyes located in pairs of two at different distances from [the] object and at different levels. i.e. the vision of three people viewing an object at the same time.”141 Earlier he had posed the idea, “we only have a knowledge of form through movement.”142 This dynamism is what he would continue to express in more profound ways later in his career.
The composition also heralded a move in his work towards all-over compositions; every minute area given equal design weight. It has led some to view Albright’s works as living dual lives as hyper-realistic and abstract, “He is, paradoxically, an abstract artist who deals with reality only to destroy it by bending all images to his unique metaphysical bias,” wrote Katharine Kuh.143 This same quality would later be praised in the work of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock.144 In subsequent paintings, Albright pushed these qualities even further; the more realistic his work became, the more abstract it appeared.
In late 1931, Albright began two more compositions based on elaborate studio assemblages. While the theme of Wherefore Now Ariseth… related to growth and decay over a period of time, the objects and arrangement did not seem selected specifically for larger issues of content. A virtuoso display of craft, it resounds with meanings for a variety of viewers but has no grand theme. His next projects differed in that he selected props, and arranged them theatrically to support meaning. One presented a Victorian doll, dressed up and lying in a glass case. The other was of a door, setup on top of a threshold, fitted with the key from his studio, a funeral wreath hung upon it. Following what had now become his regular practice, Albright first drew the picture entirely in charcoal on canvas. After this exacting process was completed, he was then ready to paint. Show Case Doll (Art Institute of Chicago) is related thematically to The Door and it is understandable Albright conceived of the projects together. Each approaches mortality in a particular way; the doll as a corpse on display in a glass coffin, the door as a metaphysical, symbolic structure between the physical and spiritual.
Ambitious as he was, Albright found the simultaneous projects a distracting way to work. He abandoned Show Case Doll in 1932 in order to focus on The Door. He explained:
“I worked on one in the morning and one in the afternoon... I found that I was running back and forth from one to the other. The light would get good over one... and I’d run over and work on it. Then I’d run back to the other one. Finally I said to myself: for gosh sakes, Albright, make up your mind: it’s got to be one or the other…”145
Show Case Doll remains as a charcoal drawing on canvas, with touches of oil here and there. It affords a rare opportunity to examine Albright’s elaborate working methods as separate layers. Despite its unfinished state, Albright remained pleased with the work. He produced a lithographic version in 1954, and found it one of the few works he was still proud of in 1963.146
Albright drew in charcoal for thirteen months as a foundation for the painting of a door, eventually titled, That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do.147 Working slowly and deliberately,148 he averaged a quarter inch a day and didn’t retouch any section once he had finished. Probably the most accurate and finest detail of the color and sensuality of this astonishing painting remains Daniel Catton Rich’s 1943 description:
“Death’s corruption has never been exposed with more unfailing insight. The very pigment seems dead, made up of cobwebs, dried spittle and dust. Color is smoked on rather than painted... twisting moldings... are sharply cut by a metallic, cold light. Vapor drifts from the shadow... form dissolves into an ectoplasmic mist. The canvas dulls or glows with a charnel luminosity.”149
A hallucinogenic painting in both psychological and visual effect, it remains one of Albright’s best known works. Albright collected and arranged an intimate still life of personal and found objects - the door itself came from a Chicago junkyard, the lace handkerchief belonged to his grandmother. The
warped shape of the door, with its elaborately carved molding, resembles a coffin; a hand touches the molding as if to bid farewell; and a wisp of smoke issuing from the keyhole alludes to the expiration of life. The door does not symbolize death or the event of death but is an evocation of what lies beyond the ultimate unknown. It is a threshold we are not allowed to pass over - or to know about. Would we open the door were we allowed? Beyond lies a psychological place, hidden behind a barrier, and evokes the hushed voice in all of us which wonders beneath the everyday, what is behind the door. The painting can be seen as an extension of his figural works of the 1920s. Perhaps his figures stand before a similar door, in quiet contemplation, and here he turned this space around on the viewer. Albright wrote, “To live is one thing – to have died is to have lived longer. Death is the greatest event in the philosopher’s life. Our bodies are our earthen shelters undercover of which we live. To really see ourselves, we have to step out from our shelters, and that time comes with death.”150
In 1938 Albright initiated a practice that would become a sort of ritual for important major projects; he exhibited The Door in its unfinished state at the Pittsburgh Carnegie International where it caused a sensation.151 According to lore, the unfinished canvas was displayed in an elaborately carved frame that apparently caused the entire object to resemble a casket. The powerful effect was noted by many, including Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph critic Dorothy Kantner who wrote, ". . . if [Albright's] canvas doesn't squelch your joie de vivre you are pretty hard-shelled."152 No photograph of this frame – presumed lost – has surfaced. The very act of displaying “that which is undone,” underscores Albright’s interest in the vitality of the life of an artwork to grow in the process it experiences - both at the hand of the artist and in its public life. Albright continued this process later in life. In 1956, Katharine Kuh, the Art Institute’s first curator of Modern art assembled the American pavilion at the Venice Biennial. She and Art Institute director, Daniel Catton Rich asked Albright if he would loan The Window. He obliged and it too appeared there “in process.”153 And The Vermonter (If Life Were Life There Would Be No Death; 1966-77, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College) was exhibited two years prior to its completion.
Albright is traditionally portrayed as an introverted artist with little concern for what happened outside the walls of his studio. Yet the growing menace in Europe undoubtedly affected him in myriad ways. He frequently painted in Maine during the summers but the war had made travel on the East Coast dangerous. A recently revealed series of letters from Albright to a girlfriend demonstrates his feelings about the state of the world but also his perceptual abilities about such affairs.
“I suppose by the time you get this there will be war. Germany will probably march up to Warsaw’s door without declaring war as she speeded through Belgium the last time.”154 “What do you think of the war ‘over there.’ It sort of makes me sick to hear the news coming in. It is the same old story of the last war and the whole thing is a mess that will run half a dozen years without an end and which will see this country in the battle within two years.”155 “I can hear the steel riveters working with C.I.U. hammers laying down steel hulls for boats - to supply targets for torpedoes. They are all up and down the coast those men.”156
Certainly one wonders, given the traumatic decade in which The Door was painted, whether the painting is symbolic of the depression, rising terror in Germany, the start of WWII in September of 1939 or even of the death of Albright’s mother earlier in the same year. While this amazing painting uncannily resounds with the historical context of the ominous 1930s, the painting is an extension of the figural works Albright was creating in the late 1920s and early 1930s and is bound to their meanings.157
The Door’s meaning appears on the surface fairly straightforward; presumably we witness a home transformed through its physical and psychological presence into a vault, a crypt, a Midwestern sepulcher. There has never been any doubt the dissipation of life, eternal regret and anguish of the living
– the survivors of the dead – encircle this central theme. But one certainly must consider the meanings of Albright’s interest in the intangible, already explored in his Wherefore Now Ariseth, and his growing interest in the position of the viewer before such works. The Door, and later The Window, were composed by a painter conscious of psychological effects on the viewer through optical manipulation of compositional elements. Together with the metaphysical connotations of the “haze” rising out of the shadow on the right, manipulation of “space” between picture plane and illusionary scene, Albright’s painting shares meaning and a formal structure which find its closest equivalent in the mature canvases of Mark Rothko (1903-1970).
Like Albright, Rothko sought the full burden of religious meaning in his large-scale works. His paintings of the 1960s evoke connotations of the void; places of transition where revelation of the future is uncertain and unclear. Rothko’s works bleed with loneliness, isolation and the necessity of human
singularity.158 They present voids pregnant with death but also with the potential for life. How does one paint the infinite? How does one paint the intangible? These are questions each painter struggled with. Albright’s response was to conjure a hyper-realistic image triggering sensations and memories in viewers close to death’s touch. Rothko made the experience of being before the canvas immerse the viewer into its seemingly purged content, its silence its contemplative pull in order that meditative states might be achieved. One wonders, given the prominence Albright’s painting had in the 1940s, particularly in New York, how many seemingly unrelated artists found inspiration in this most resonant but ultimately minimalist painting by Ivan Albright of Warrenville.
After The Door was completed, it debuted at The Corcoran Gallery biennial in Washington DC, in March 1941, where it attracted a great deal of comment and attention. Its campaign continued with new found strength as it won the following prizes: Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal, Art Institute of Chicago;159 Temple Gold Medal, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and First Prize, Artists for Victory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where he turned down the $3,500 purchase prize as much too little for his painting.160 The prize was awarded to John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) for Wisconsin Landscape (1937-39) by default.161 Later, in 1946 it was featured in an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London where it "stole the show."162 By the time The Door’s campaign had ended, Ivan Albright was possibly the most famous or certainly one of the best-known artists in America. But this was only the beginning.
Although it remains unclear exactly how Hollywood movie director Albert Lewin became interested in Ivan Albright’s art, he had ample opportunity to see and read about it in the great wave of press the Illinois artist had recently accumulated.163 In addition to the fame procured by The Door, a large body of Albright’s work had been included in major exhibitions in circulation by the Museum of Modern Art.164 Lewin, a former Harvard English literature professor was also an art connoisseur and had seen, Albright’s “‘compulsively horrible’ paintings, and, naturally thought of the Illinois artist.”165 Albright had been featured in Time magazine in November of 1941 and July of the following year.166 It is possible any one of these scenarios inspired Lewin when he began to cast Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
One particular article about Albright surely would have solidified any inclination Lewin might have had towards Albright. In February of 1943, Daniel Catton Rich’s fine essay on Albright was published in the Magazine of Art. Lewin certainly would have been attracted to an artist who said, “I like faults and quirks in people. I believe a man grows to look more and more like the person he really is.”167 It seemed right out of Wilde’s novel. In March Lewin sent a telegram to the Museum of Modern Art asking for Albright’s address.168 Lewin had found his man.
Lewin wrote to Albright about the film and presumably asked him if he would like to contribute to the production as painter of the crucial artistic element. “I thought it was a phony letter,” Albright later said. “[But] it was true. He [Lewin] came all the way out from Hollywood [to see me].”169 Lewin may well have visited Albright in April of that year, and might have seen “And Man Created God in His Own Image (Room 203),” while it was on display at the Arts Club of Chicago. Albright signed a $10,000 (plus expenses) contract that allowed him to retain ownership of whatever paintings he produced for MGM. In a remarkable concession of power, the Hollywood studio would only be renting their commissioned works.170 Malvin accompanied Ivan as “assistant,” but wound up creating the initial prop painting showing Dorian as a young man.
By August, the name of the artist commissioned for the film made the newspapers. In what was purportedly a great coup, Louella Parsons got the scoop and reported that Lewin had chosen Albright.171 That opened the floodgates, and soon there was a media feeding frenzy on the Albrights, whose reputations had preceded them by many years. The publicity generated by their participation in the film kept it in the news constantly for nearly two years prior to the film’s release, and for many months afterward. The twins themselves embarked for Hollywood during the last week of October 1943.172 Once on the set, the media found themselves a worthy match in Ivan and Malvin, who played the press at will and caught many a journalist off-guard. Despite being forty-six years of age when they arrived in Hollywood, the press nonetheless used peculiar language to describe them, exaggerating their artistic personalities. They were called, gnomes, impish, pixie-like, zany, pranksters, quipsters, eccentric, odd boys, gremlins, hell-raisers, wits, jokesmiths and so on. There seemed no end to the opportunities for public interest in the Albrights. Ivan and Malvin’s good humor and ability to fabricate amusing stories arguably made much of the public relations hype more intense.173
The reaction in Chicago to Albright’s fortune and fame was celebratory. Even Albright’s old naysayer, critic C. J. Bulliet came around by 1943. In an article about the Dorian Gray commission and its art historical and literary context, Bulliet wrote:
“Uncannily apt is the choice... For Albright of all American painters, contemporary or dead, is the master of the macabre in human flesh. He has developed a heavy, gnarled nude [in the past]... a creature of the hospital if not the charnel house. To meet her [Bulliet is referring to Ida] match... you must go to Poe or Hoffmann.”174
Since the actor Hurd Hatfield was not available to pose, the Albrights constructed setups and used mannequins from which to work.175 Hatfield’s understudy sometimes modeled for Ivan, and endured posing with congealed chicken blood on his hands. The movie was shot in black and white, except for the moments when the portrait appears and is revealed in vivid Technicolor. Albright even claimed the studio allowed him to film his painting, and that they used his rushes in the final cut.176 The Oscar-nominated film drew the public’s attention even closer to Albright’s horrific vision, and unbelievably, he exceeded his own fame.
Malvin’s portrait of the youthful Dorian Gray, which he completed in four months,177 ultimately was not used in the film. Surely this was a powerful blow to Ivan’s twin brother, as it seemed a defining moment in which Ivan’s career soared while Malvin remained figuratively and literally behind. The best and most reliable explanation for this dramatic replacement was the necessity to establish as great a contrast as possible between the portraits of the young and aged Dorian, and Malvin’s portrayal failed to project the fashionable “beauty” necessary for this contrast. Unconsciously and quite subtly he had foreshadowed changes to come, which would thereby have weakened the suspense of the film.178 Ironically, this painting, which was aimed at providing a dramatic axis in the plot and visual narrative of the motion picture and which in reality bears little resemblance to the more subtle and suggestive paintings of the previous decades, has come to represent Albright’s vision. The painting’s true significance lies outside of Albright’s personal growth; as a painting that began a sort of vogue for artwork to be used in film and as the most sensational moment in the history of any artist to emerge from Illinois.179
Despite the stardom Albright kept a level head about Hollywood experience. He wrote frequently to many friends back home in Illinois and often joked about the publicity he and Malvin were getting. “The movie is apt to be pretty good... [But its been] too much hard work for commercialism,”180 he concluded. Albright claimed that he didn’t like working in Hollywood, and certainly the rigorous time constraints and schedule were alien – if not incompatible – to an artist who had spent a career being able to afford the luxury of a slow, deliberate working method. But ever the professional, he completed a worthy artistic job, an even better one in creating a spectacle. “It was fun for a while... but... you wouldn’t do good work,” he said.181
The silent triumph, which followed Dorian Gray, was Albright’s participation and prize in the 1946 Bel Ami international contest. Albright finished second of eleven internationally known artists; Max Ernst (1891-1976) took first place and Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) third.182 According to Albright, the contest was never supposed to happen. He later explained, “I introduced [art critic and later gallery owner] Sidney Janis... to Albert Lewin. I was getting a little too hot... Al was going to make a movie on The Temptation of Saint Anthony183 and was going to have me paint the picture. Janis said, ‘Oh, let’s have an international competition instead.’”184 The judges, Alfred Barr Jr., Marcel Duchamp, and Sidney Janis were all familiar with Albright’s work and each had supported it in different contexts. Each represented important portions of the contemporary art world: Barr as the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Duchamp as perhaps the most conceptually advanced artist of his day, and Janis as an important dealer and critic. Ironically, Janis kept Albright from placing first, “Al [Lewin] told me that the guy that kept me down was my friend Janis. He gave me third vote. Duchamp and the others [put] me up there. It was Sidney Janis who kept me from getting it.”185 Albright revealed however, he was promised a portion of the movie’s eventual gross by Lewin, “I had part of the world take... I wouldn’t have entered the competition [otherwise].”186 Whether Albright actually had a financial stake in Bel Ami’s success remains unconfirmed, but would reveal yet again the fortuitous position he found himself in during the mid-1940s.
Painted in Warrenville between 1945-46 The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Art Institute of Chicago)187 is at once without parallel anywhere in his career, and seems closest to any vestiges of outside influence. It is possible that this was intentional, knowing his attitude towards the competition and the many surrealists competing with him. Grotesque creatures ooze and grow, spill out of a kaleidoscope of goo. One is hard pressed to understand the meaning of “temptation” here; Albright’s Saint Anthony seems hopelessly tortured. The horrific painting was possibly a challenge or mocking of surrealism an attempt to beat the Europeans at their own game.188 Each of these projects further bolstered his experiments with color theory and afterimages in particular (the colored shapes perceived as a result of staring at a form and then closing one’s eyes to view its color complement) which he expanded upon later in his career.189
On August 27, 1946, Ivan Albright and Josephine Medill Patterson Reeve (1913-1996) were married, “in a surprise ceremony at a Wyoming Ranch.”190 They had met a few years previous through mutual friends.191 Younger daughter of New York News founder, editor, and publisher Captain Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946),192 Josephine had already lived an amazing, successful life by the time she married Ivan. Among other things, she had been a crime reporter, mail pilot, dairy farmer and found time to raise horses.193 Heiress to a wondrous fortune and popular socialite, Josephine brought Ivan into further contact with Chicago's so-called cultural elite. Albright became a loving father to Josephine’s two children, Joseph and Alice, from a previous marriage. In 1947 a son, Adam Medill was born to Ivan and Josephine and daughter Blandina in 1949. Ivan’s marriage led to a period of estrangement between him and his twin brother. As constant companions, they had shared nearly everything in life, but were now forced to go their separate ways.
Ivan and Josephine’s move to 55 E. Division in Chicago, also marked the first time Albright actually lived in the city though he had been claimed as one of its native artists. It marked the first time Ivan had really lived outside of his family home and apart from Malvin. For the first few years of his marriage, Albright commuted to his suburban studio in Warrenville until he purchased a building in Chicago on Ogden Avenue, which was remodeled by architect Andrew Rebori. The first major project Albright undertook after his marriage was initiated in January 1947 when Albright and six other Chicago artists were commissioned to paint a mural for friend Ric Riccardo’s Rush Street restaurant and gallery.194 Albright’s contribution was Drama (Mephistopheles), for which he used two models, Josephine for the legs and Ric for the rest.195
For all his visibility and independence, as a successful artist who compromised little or nothing for his art, the impact of Albright’s reputation on younger artists in Chicago has been underestimated and strangely downplayed.196 Few artists have come forth to describe his presence. Artist Ellen Lanyon is rare among her peers in giving credit to Albright:
“We all acquired a concern and appreciation of Dada, Duchamp, the primitives and the surrealists up to a point. But, there was a kind of Surrealism that turned us off – that was the later Dali, the overly theatrical. We put Albright into that category because of Dorian Gray and That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. None of us realized that certain elements of Albright’s work were inherent in our work, especially the narrative element. Albright should be credited as the first strong narrative painter here and narrative art is extremely strong in Chicago.”197
Certainly, although those who created and chronicled the “Chicago scene" have denied it198 Albright’s position as a mentor, as a model or as something to react against cannot be underestimated among the following generations. Cosmo Campoli (b. 1922), Leon Golub (b. 1922), Seymour Rosofsky (1924-81), The Hairy Who (including Jim Nutt [b. 1938], Gladys Nilsson [b. 1940], and Karl Wirsum [b. 1939]) and the later Imagists such as Ed Paschke (b. 1939) – even more contemporary artists such as Susanna Coffey, David Klamen, Jim Lutes, Alejandro Romero, and Ken Warneke – owe something to Albright’s example. Additionally, Albright was well known among Mid-Westerners much beyond Illinois, both of his own generation and those who were younger. John Wilde (b. 1919) recalled: “we all certainly felt his presence on the art scene. I can’t point to anyone who was influenced by Albright, but many of us admired him.”199
Author Susan Weininger has pointed out the startling resounding aspects of Albright’s approach and poetic titles evident in the works of Ohioan, Emerson Burkhardt (1905-1969) and certainly some of his paintings seem under the shadow of Albright.200 As suggested throughout this essay, but denied by many previous scholars, Albright's wide exposure through exhibitions, competitions and film necessarily implicates his work in a more complex dialogue with his contemporaries. His presence in California and later friendship with Nathan Oliveira also suggests that he may have inspired members of the Bay-Area Figurative School.201 The subject of Albright’s impact remains complicated and deserves a thorough, unbiased study, yet unwritten.202
During the 1940s Albright achieved great visibility. He achieved critical and popular acclaim, international and local success, and worked comfortably within a variety of unusual contexts. An obsessive exhibitor, he intensified his participation in national shows and earned awards for oil painting, watercolors and prints. He moved through drastically different social circles with ease and adapted to a shifting lifestyle. Assessing this, Jan Van der Marck commented that “Not since Whistler (and again not until Warhol) [has] an American painter been able to straddle, comfortably and without loss of professional status, the widely different worlds of art, society and entertainment.”203 The 1940s also saw the true separation of Malvin and Ivan’s careers. Their notoriety climaxed with joint “Albright Twins” exhibitions in New York and Chicago at Associated American Artists Galleries in 1945-46. Critical reaction was generally positive but the press noted the intensity of Ivan’s vision versus the serenity of Malvin’s.204 We know little of what Malvin thought about his twin’s fame and soaring career. One can only guess it may have been deeply traumatic, for the twins separated not long after, and Malvin greatly reduced his artistic activities.
But for all of this fame, Albright really wanted to return to a massive project he had begun in 1942,205 a painting he referred to as The Window. It would occupy him for twenty-one years and was the last painting he produced completely in Illinois. So important was this project to the artist that in a 1950 interview he publicly discredited Hollywood commissions, a series of lithographs, and his Chicago restaurant mural by calling The Window his “first honest job” since The Door.206
When Albright began his project in 1942, his notoriety caused great expectation among critics and local artists about the next eccentric painting. As the matter brewed slowly, press reported upon it eagerly, and Albright made the papers with just about any amusing anecdote about The Window or other related topics.207 Notes on the entire project consumed six notebooks and one original diagram.208 More astonishing than the time frame of the project was the setup Albright imagined and then constructed for his model. He eventually built an entire room, a theatrical installation filled with props from earlier aintings and elements specially devised for the new composition. The project reveals a great deal about Albright’s working methods, and a context often denied among contemporaries.
The Window was originally begun as a self-portrait but the idea was abandoned within the first year of work.209 Albright’s own explanation of the genesis of this painting was given in a typically offhand fashion:
“After ten years of painting on a picture of a door, I don’t think I cared to see any more wood for the rest of my life. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take a new material. It will be a still life.’ And after thinking it over for a number of weeks I decided on having a brick wall – with a window in it of some type – and looking through into a room.”210
In the Fall of 1942, Albright began to select bricks and after looking around for a window frame, found none that suited his purpose, so he built one. He also selected a tombstone for the sill211 and went to Aurora, Illinois, where he eventually spent three days picking out an estimated six hundred bricks.212
Initially, he experimented by building the brick wall flat, kept a running number of the order, and rearranged them until he was satisfied with a pattern. Then a temporary wall was arranged, bricks balanced precariously upon one another so it could be taken apart at will and rearranged. Finally, all elements were placed onto a stage, also built by Albright, resting on casters so the construction could be moved around. This alone took three or four months, between fall of 1942 and winter of 1943.213
Albright indicated that one of the major concerns in this project was not simply to produce a detailed and provocative still life, but to:
“Lead the observer all thru [sic] the room and then outside again but so he does not know he is being led. At places have him stop and cry. At places have his emotions torn asunder. At places have him worship God. At places have him have contempt. Make of man a poor thing. A real thing a sorry thing, a thing which he is but knows not. Have him love the bricks and have the bricks hard.”214
As we have seen, Albright believed all objects were in constant motion - that nothing was truly static, and motion translated into or crossed over into the dimension of time: “An object standing still in space is constantly causing a state of ripples in time like a stone thrown in water causes ripples in water.”215 He hoped, and believed that the effect would cause a heightened emotional response in the observer. In 1964 he wrote about his method, referring obliquely to The Window, which he had recently completed:
“I walk about and put things in different positions to break up... their eternal death. I like to see dust move and crawl over an object like a film. I like to see the objects scream and work against their positions, against their size.216 These effects I achieve in my canvas by walking around my objects and painting them from numerous angles. Sometimes my canvas is upside down and the object then rendered when the canvas is righted becomes an object of contention with its neighbor.”217
To orchestrate this cacophony of viewpoints, distances, lighting effects, and atmospheric conditions, Albright produced a diagram, which helped to systematically map out compositions and processes. In addition to visual notes, Albright wrote about the meaning of the project. This intimate writing often reveals enthusiasm, passion, disillusionment, and annoyance with the massive project. On June 14, 1945, when everything was set in his composition, he wrote:
“Now to think - this window represents me. I am the window no more or less. What I am I give... I wish to obtain movement. I wish to take different positions of the same object and relate them into one organic whole which [sic] will reflect its different positioned aspects in spite of operating as an intrinsic whole... I am not interested in obtaining the reaction of one moment but of a continual passage of time. I desire a sense of emotions of passions and work together in the canvas. I want it to posses a segment of color - space, time, and emotion to have life - not dead but alive.”218
Because of the enormity of the preparations involved in arranging his setup, it wasn’t until February 1945, some two and one half years later, Albright began to compose his under-drawing, working directly on the canvas using charcoal he had manufactured with Malvin.219 Albright’s detailed drawing required about eighteen months of work, done intermittently between 1945 and 1948 due to occasional interruptions.220
In the summer of 1950, The Window was featured in an article that was a part of an ongoing series in Art News showcasing the working methods of various artists. Since Albright’s methods were so time consuming, author Marilyn Robb discussed how the project had developed, concentrating on the
individual props, total stage setup, lighting concerns, philosophy and the under-drawing. This charcoal “sketch” on primed canvas especially impressed Robb:
“Although Albright says ‘there is no point in going too far in the drawing,’ he goes further than any other artist since Seurat and one of the most elaborate drawings of the twentieth century is being lost in the painting.”221
This characterization was appropriate. Albright truly felt he was competing with his own past, if not the weight of history. In a February 1952 notebook entry he wrote:
“Make the painting more accurate and more accurate until Door looks crude and unfinished. Get feeling in as well as accuracy. Work hard and harder and harder and then harder still. Let the best you can do be but the beginning of accuracy and go on and on beyond what you think you can do or what you think is possible. Have no limit to achievement, no end to goal. No fulfillment in further fulfillment.”222
In the 1950 article Albright referred to his props as “philosophical toys,”223 yet didn’t elaborate on the meaning of anything in the picture. He also didn’t reveal the personal connection he had to many of them. Instead, he told Robb:
“Two compositional considerations guided the... choice of objects – each must contribute to ‘the opening look of reaching back into space’; each must serve as a foil to the texture of the other.”224
In a later article, which revealed much about Albright’s relationship to his models and the objects in his still life, painting it was reported:
“Each of the old bricks in The Window was carefully selected from a brick pile in Aurora; the baby’s shoe next to the whiskey flask was found on an ash heap in Warrenville, the ‘buckeye with a hole’ [the painting on the back wall] was discovered in Geneva, the mirror came from Maxwell Street, and the costumes and corset belonged to his mother.”225
Suggesting the image of Joseph Cornell, rather than a leading “magic realist” painter, the same author wrote, “For The Window he has collected drawers full of pieces of broken glass, moss, wasp’s nests, bird’s eggs – he knows where they will fit in and why he needs them.”226 Indeed, the very act of constructing a stage setup with its own implied narrative, great physical power and provocative meaning connects Albright with a tradition of assemblage. It can be argued Albright anticipated installations that were popularized in the 1960s by nearly twenty years. Especially compelling is the parallel with Edward Kienholz, with whom Albright not only shared building methods but also similar philosophies and content.227 Kienholz declared, “all the little tragedies are evident in junk.”228
Similarly, Albright’s own statements, “things are nothing… it’s what’s happened to them that matters,”229 or “you want to pick something that looks as though its lived its life,”230 surely reveals a focus on the “object” that is every bit as poignant as anything produced by assemblage artists in the 1960s. Even George Segal’s frequent use of the window or a figure before/inside of a window in the early 1960s suggests that he too had more than a passing familiarity with Albright’s work.
Albright’s setups, generally viewed as evidence of his eccentric and meticulous working methods, have not been considered as art. Albright’s attitude toward this was ambiguous, although he considered his setups to be very important and held on to their component parts for decades after they served their apparent purpose. In 1964, as part of his first retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago the artist installed his setups for both The Door and The Window adjacent to the finished paintings. For The Window he worked with an electrician to place a lighting system within the tableau that ran on a timer illuminating specific details of the setup at different intervals.231
A profound contemporary analogy to The Window is Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) Etant Donnes (1946-66, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which would place the least fashionable artist of the twentieth century with the most fashionable. The Window has an uncanny – or perhaps not so innocent – parallel with Duchamp’s work which was supposedly a secret to all but two or three persons people in the world until October of 1968.232 Duchamp concealed the work from the entire world during the period he worked on it between 1946 to 1966. He encouraged the myth he had given up artistic activity to play chess.
Duchamp’s work shares a nearly identical date range to Albright’s The Window. Like The Window, Etant Donnes required the assemblage of a tableau, including a contrived background and interior, the construction of a brick wall, whose bricks Duchamp selected from a demolition site near his Greenwich Village studio. Each work was made with the aim that viewers be intimately involved in optical effects, their act of looking playing a crucial role in the meaning of the exhibited product.233
In 1968, Marcel Duchamp curated an exhibition in 1968 entitled “Doors” at the Cordier and Eckstrom Gallery in New York for which he wanted to borrow Albright’s famous painting of 1931-41.234 The Art Institute of Chicago refused to loan The Door, but as Albright wrote to Earle Ludgin:
“I happened to be [in] N.Y. at Sidney Janis [‘s gallery]. Eckstrom was on the phone and said Duchamp wanted my door very much for the Cordier [&] Eckstrom exhibition. They had tried to borrow the painting Door from the Art Institute & had met a refusal - so I suggested the original wooden door - so I became according to Sidney Janis, the grandfather of pop art. That clears that up.”235
Certainly, these are issues that demand a reassessment of Albright’s significance. Furthermore, in December of 1951, when Jean Dubuffet (1901-85) visited Chicago to deliver his famous “Anticultural Positions” lecture at the Arts Club, it wasn’t the city’s young artists he wanted to meet, rather, it was the painter of That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. Most likely, Katharine Kuh and Daniel Catton Rich arranged a trip to Albright’s studio for Dubuffet. According to Katharine Kuh, Dubuffet considered Albright America’s greatest living artist.236 “He thought his work was like mine... I gave him a whole set of photographs of my work which he wanted,” Albright recalled.237 Dubuffet contributed an oft cited and often reprinted forward to Albright’s 1964 retrospective catalogue. It was a fine and affectionate endorsement by a leading post-war European artist of an ardently independent American.
Meanwhile, Albright was hard at work on his painting that progressed nicely between 1950 and 1963. In January of 1962, Albright exhibited The Window one last time before he ceased work on it. The sixty-fifth annual American exhibition at the Art Institute was an apt locale as the work shared exhibit space with Louise Nevelson, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Kenneth Noland, Richard Hunt and Joan Mitchell, (whose painting was reproduced in the catalogue adjacent to The Window). Albright once quipped, “I get into both abstract and realistic shows because I am abstract.”238
The debut of The Window in its present state was made in September 1963 at the Dunn International exhibit in New Brunswick, where it was awarded a $5,000 prize. A selection committee consisting of organizer, John Richardson, Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Anthony Blunt, Alfred Barr Jr. and Gordon Washburn attempted to show the current condition of the contemporary art world in 1963 by exhibiting the “hundred best living artists.”239 As Richardson explained to Albright’s friend and collector, Earle Ludgin, in an appeal for a loan from his collection:
“Mr. Alfred Barr is particularly anxious that a painting by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright should be included. So am I, as Albright strikes me as being one of the strongest, most personal and most American of American artists, and he is very little known over here. As you well know, Albright’s output is very small, and so there is no question of getting a recent work.”240
Ludgin passed on the request to Albright, who responded by sending his most recent work, The Window. Ludgin said that Richardson, as Ludgin put it, was so astonished and ecstatic, “The man is dancing in the street.”241 As Richardson told Ludgin:
“You refer to your astonishment: mine is even greater. I would never have dared to ask Albright for what is, unquestionably, his masterpiece. When I was in Chicago three years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Albright and seeing this ‘work in progress’. It struck me as being one of the most remarkable paintings of the century.”242
During the 1950s, Albright created several still life paintings with Western themes while on trips to his ranch in Wyoming where he kept a studio. The earliest indication he had been working on such paintings was Roaring Fork, Wyoming (location unknown; 1948). As mentioned previously, several of Albright’s paintings push verisimilitude to such an obsessive or paranoiac extreme they become, paradoxically, abstract. The Window bears such qualities, but Albright pushed beyond all limits in a gouache painted between 1959 and 1965 called The Rustlers. Its subject is a collection of found objects, accumulated at the Wyoming ranch. One can read it as a response or challenge to Jackson Pollock and others who eclipsed Albright at mid-century as representatives of American art. In a review written in 1953, Albright referred to these artists scathingly as the, “hollow,” self-important “drip and dip linoleum boys, popularly known as the New York school.”243 At the same time, one finds it is difficult to look at these works without thinking of the trompe l’oeil paintings of Albright’s friend, Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992), in particular, a work like The Great West (c.1971), which deals with the same iconography on a smaller, less complex scale.244 In many of his own works Bohrod seemed to be competing directly with Albright and even did a portrait of the older artist.
Although this shift in iconography and Albright’s repeated use of such symbols of American expansionism were explained away as that which he had at hand in Wyoming, one wonders how they reflect his stance during the Cold War, possibly a window into his politics or a defense of his position as a radical yet wholly American painter. Friendships during this period with Senator William Benton and Adlai Stevenson are among those aspects of Albright’s life that will have to wait to be explored in a full length, in-depth biography.245
The fifties were not completely about still-life painting for Albright. He reluctantly accepted his first and only portrait commission late in 1954. Art patron Mary Lasker Block (1904-84) who was the wife of steel millionaire Leigh Block, posed as often as five times a week for over two years.246 Albright posed Mrs. Block with the back of the brick wall and window of his setup for The Window. Although he alluded to the folly of materialism and excess in the portrait - thus undermining the power relationship in a commission, it is significant that Mary Mrs. Block inhabits the interior space of Albright’s window - as if she were captured within his realm. The fiery red edges of the curtains flanking Mrs. Block evoke visions of an earthly purgatory, or allude to a fate held for the vain and greedy. Whether Albright deliberately infused the portrait with such meaning, it works wonderfully and places the work in lineage with traditional vanitas portraits. The painting is a spectacular ensemble of textures, from the velvet-brocade dress, to lace curtains, from leather gloves, to a heavy jeweled pendant and pearl bracelet. Each prop, in its precision, seems magnified and perfectly realized, at once dazzling and mummified, like the richly costumed, coolly regal images of Renaissance nobility by Agnolo Bronzino or Hans Holbein. As hard as her polished nails Block stares with a great chilling intensity as if hypnotized, or casting her own spell. She bravely gave herself up to Albright’s vision, although he admitted to having incorporated some of her reality into his art as well:
“I asked her to bring me her nail polish and I copied that on[to] my palette... Also I asked her for her lipstick. She wore a kind of cerise purple blue… I did the same for that...her face powder; I copied it identically. It was rather ghastly in a way; it looks so close [to how she looked] that it’s kind of scary.”247
Though a commission, Albright considered this one of his most effective paintings, probably due to the combination of finely crafted material detail and moral overtones. On viewing the portrait, a psychiatrist who had known the sitter nearly all his life told Albright, “You know more about Mary Block than I do.”248
In 1964 the Art Institute of Chicago honored Albright with a retrospective, which then traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art the following year. It was a grand Illinois send off as well because the Albrights were about to leave for Woodstock, Vermont, where they moved permanently in 1965. Despite this move, Albright’s presence in Illinois remained strong, and his connection to Chicago was direct. He exhibited in the sixty-ninth Chicago and Vicinity exhibition in 1966 although his official residence was by now Vermont. Albright received a number of honorary doctorates and other awards from colleges and universities late in life. Among the institutions who honored him were the: National Institute of Arts and Letters (1957), Mundelein College (1969), Lake Forest College (1972), Columbia College, Chicago (1974), School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1977) and Dartmouth College (1977). Albright had long planned to present the core of his work to the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1977 he made the gift official. Later, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College would receive hundreds of travel sketches and other works.
As mentioned previously, the Albright family traveled a great deal during the first part of the century. Adam, Ivan and Malvin frequently painted on such trips and many of Ivan’s watercolors and experiments with mixed media come from these excursions. Maine in particular excited the Albrights’ pens and brushes. During the 1930s they vacationed in Maine, where seascapes and landscapes, even detailed still life works depicting the produce and trade tools of the region, were immortalized by Ivan.249 Such colorful and spontaneous works, not often associated with his artistic persona, were well received by critics and the public. For instance, in 1940 Albright won the Philadelphia Water Color Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual for Ah God, Herrings, Buoys, The Glittering Sea (1940; Art Institute of Chicago). The piece was the first Albright work to be purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago. Director Daniel Catton Rich said at the time of the purchase: “I consider Ivan Albright one of the most original artists in America today. His vision is extraordinary as his technique.”250 After his marriage to Josephine in 1946, Albright had intensified his travel experiences, and they literally traveled all over the globe. including Russia, China, Japan, Iran, Greece, Kenya, Alaska and England; there were few places the Albrights didn’t see between 1946 and 1983. Albright worked in all of these places. It is possible his varied experiences of geography and terrain sparked a greater interest in landscape later in life. Although he had worked on some plein-air paintings in watercolor early in his career, he had stated
to one interviewer:
“You can’t represent [landscape]. Actually one place is just as good as another for me. Traveling around the world wouldn’t move me any more than sitting right here in my studio. It’s the meaning that you bring to your painting that’s important. Nature herself can only go as far as your mind can bring it.”251
Albright’s necessarily small and spontaneous travel sketches are some of the most fascinating of his career. There are few pure landscape oils in Albright’s oeuvre but he reserved landscape for some of his most daring experiments in expressionism late in life.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Albright also painted on family property in Georgia. There he produced one small figural piece, at least two self-portraits, in 1967-68 and in 1971, but mostly occupied himself with the Georgia landscape, particularly swamps. In these works, Albright was interested in capturing the motion of a body through the landscape, a concern that became an obsession as he literally made maps of the areas he was attempting to paint. A series of metal-point drawings done between 1956 and 1969 explores similar ideas of motion and presence.
The first major work Albright produced in Vermont was, The Vermonter (If Life Were Life There Would Be No Death). His model was a fairly ordinary man, a retired member of the Vermont House of Representatives and maple farmer, Kenneth Atwood.252 Albright began the painting three times. The
image of Atwood was painted on a hardwood panel in 1966 and completed eleven years later. Albright told Katharine Kuh he had selected a model “who has lived and feels as tired as I do.” In light of this, many, including Kuh, supposed the painting was a link to the artist himself.253
Astonishingly, his method for The Vermonter became even more complex than for The Window. He to used three diagrams and filled nine notebooks with writing and smaller diagrams of minute details such as hands or patches of cloth. By painting tiny fragmentary areas of flesh and other materials from multiple angles and viewpoints and using color for psychological effects, he hoped to give the sensation of a growing and trembling figure in a state of transformation, to “give the canvas an opportunity to elieve itself of all of its inhibitions and repressions.”254 Albright’s writing about the work is often quite poetic, and demonstrates the life he tried to evoke in paint:
“Make eyes literally move, make mouth tremble… left hand act as if it would rise up... make right hand as if it would crawl around stick... Have end of nose literally wiggle... have him as spiritual as I can make him but also all flesh...”255 “Make the painting closer than ever... more real than real so reality seems by comparison as a misty dream, an untruth against a truth...”256 “Make the most human head ever made... eye sockets that tell the years... eyes that bring pity... that have seen better.”257
The true and overlooked context of The Vermonter lies with contemporary paintings by Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacommetti (1901-66). Albright admired Giacommetti, but expressed dismay over certain issues of originality he felt lay with the Swiss artist’s well-known tall, gaunt bronze sculptures.258 Nonetheless, Albright and Giacommetti, not to mention Bacon, shared similar views about the role and participation of models in painting, and the transformative experience before them as working through the painter.259 The Vermonter bears close resemblance to images of popes, depicted by artists from Raphael to Velasquez to Francis Bacon, and reinforces Albright’s own claims for the sense of the spiritual in this late work.
Alongside The Vermonter and into the 1970s, Albright worked again on smaller oils and graphic works, many of which seem to have a relationship to the larger project. Between 1975 and 1977, he produced a series of drawings of young Vermont women, which bear a sensitivity not often seen, perhaps not since his earliest portraits. While in Vermont, he began a relationship with Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, which lasted until his death. From 1969-1974 he was a visiting scholar there and from 1980-1983 visiting artist. Although he didn’t teach during this time, he was accessible to students and had a few exhibitions at the Hood Museum of Art, where The Vermonter was exhibited in progress in 1975.
Eye problems had been growing worse for Albright over the years, induced in part by his close scrutiny of colors and their afterimages. In 1977 and 1978 he had successful corneal transplants and felt reborn, returning to his work with joy and verve. Albright seemed ready to explore the outer reaches of his vision, “Everything I have worked [on] or thought about has been almost exclusively been on or about this world. I would now like to think of other worlds and places.”260.
Albright’s late work is marked by an increasing spirituality and, a sense of the mystery he seemed to feel in all things, animate and inanimate. In his notebooks during these years, he wrote a great deal about the interchangeability of matter, the various stages of life, transformation and transcendence, and the definition of life’s boundaries. Among the most explicit manifestations of his interest in spirituality is Albright’s near obsession with the legendary Shroud of Turin, which became the inspiration for several works of art through the 1970s until his death.261
Albright’s notebook entries, relating to a late series of still life works, are concerned with the evocation of motion and spiritual relationships. One must consider the expression of isolation in these writings also represented in his exquisite, small-scale depictions of single apples and potatoes. Albright firmly held a belief that everything, even the most humble, has importance, affecting everything else, near and far.262 The largest of these works, Still Life with Potatoes in Motion (1978-80, private collection) is a most astonishing painting. The work shows strength and invention even as he entered his 80s. He used his earlier work as a median by which to evaluate his latest, which showed a highly fractured and complex vision of whirring onions, potatoes and other objects. In 1979 he wrote:
“I have just looked at the photos of my Door and Window - they are not painted too well and I can beat them both in accuracy and also put in feeling, sympathy, pathos and respect for god. I can beat them mightily and I intend to. They are inferior works and I can make them third class paintings.”263
In exhaustive notes, Albright wrote about other worlds and the possibility that light, time, motion, shadow and form itself are limiting conceptions, and as understood from our present assumptions may not mean anything elsewhere in the universe. The ultimate subjective conclusion from a constantly searching, questioning artist, Albright’s own words from a notebook, perhaps capture the spirit of this work best and emanate the intensity, joy and passion of painting during his final years:
“October 28, 1979... Saucer, little potatoes all in slow motion... The direction of all objects must include several inches above setup. The haze, the glow of all objects, the dust, the dirt, the potatoes, the porcelain butter saucers, are all moving together as a whirling unit, like a galaxy across my vision – bigger and smaller – the same objects grow dazzling, and subdued grows the light around them. Paint the dancing sun beams – in this case shadow beams – all is a unit – all is one... The bit of universe is repeating itself and moving in a circle... the universe within your studio walls... Study it, penetrate it... painting it as a ball of motion. Everything is included in it. Its motion includes time, also life and death. In its movement it’s on its way to eternity.”264
Throughout his life Albright had painted many important and meaningful self-portraits, the first in 1933. But in his eighties, prompted by an invitation to create one such image for the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy, Albright embarked upon a profound dialogue with his own character, resulting in twenty-five self-portraits (1981–83) that are remarkable for the range of emotion they express and the techniques they employ. The series should rightfully be considered one cohesive work of art. His face appears to progress frame by frame, attempting the impression of “real time,” shifting in expression and slowly unveiling the artist’s presence and personality to the viewer. It is as if his vision was could no longer be contained in a single image, many stream in procession bearing a bit of the whole. As if aware of the little time he had left, he wrote, “The amount of life I can put through my eyes is the amount I can see.”265 Indeed, Albright concentrated on his eyes in many of the portrayals, holding as much as possible onto the visual world of flesh and objects, which for so long he had rendered in transformative spiritual terms.
In this series, Albright surely intended an accomplishment that would compete with the greatest self-portraits produced by artists of any era, particularly those of Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer. As the final reative campaign of his long and tirelessly inquisitive career they remain a psychological and technical encore demonstrating his profound devotion to a singular yet unrestrained vision. Stylistically, the individual panels in this series are more daring and uncharacteristic as examples of Albright’s mature works. The artist’s head emerges from gessoed boards like that of a metaphysical explorer. Flickering, rustling messengers of light – brushstrokes masking as leaves of color – appear and disappear in repetition to create a face with surprisingly solid form. One suspects that each line, crevice and surface is n infinite homily on living and dying; ultimately “becoming.”
Albright wrote constantly while making this series:
“Make the head... more still than granite cliffs… Reach the dangerous quietness that precedes disaster... stillness of a face after death – an unliving stillness… A face before pain and horror creep into the muscles – a face ready to burst in a minute… I want a face that has been compassionate. A face that has shed tears, a face that has been alive with joy, a face that opens the door to you. A face that gives more than a face that believes in god. A face that has faith – a wrinkled face, an old face, a face ready for death. Do I want to paint the boundaries of a face or do I want to paint what wisdom the face can contain – a face that looks at a thousand years as if they were a second. A face that goes to the eternal force of life and has found it.”266
These paintings live a continuous life and resound with relevance, particularly in light of investigations of the self and identity that occupied the art world in the 1980s and 1990s and continues to this day. On August 2, 1983, Albright suffered a stroke. Josephine wrote about her husband’s reaction, “He was affected on the left side… He is, however, painting, playing chess and enjoying life. Malvin’s death was of course a shock, but he is rallying well and being quite philosophical about it.”267
Despite being bed-ridden and exhausted from this experience, he continued to draw and added four more self-portraits to his on-going series between the 21st of that month and November 14th. The final image of his life and career is an intimate, profoundly spiritual etching. For a man who devoted his life to transforming corporeality into that which transcended it, this last self-portrait seems as close to the soul as one will ever see. It evokes at once a sad whisper, a last breath, but is somehow defiant and filled with hope. Rendered with tremulous, fragile lines, it stands as one of the most confident, assertive, powerful images of his career. Two eyes, magical, ever still, look beyond the surface of the mirror, the etching plate, the ticking seconds. Four days afterward, Albright slipped out of consciousness and passed away, dying quietly and surrounded by those he loved, on November 18, 1983 in Vermont.268
Many art historians, including those who investigate relationships between disparate individuals and groups active during the twentieth century, have curiously but selectively ignored Ivan Albright’s career. Because he appeared to adopt methods and formal practices that ran counter to what was considered avant garde, he was generally dismissed as a curiosity of no real historical consequence. Albright himself actively encouraged his own reputation as an outsider among contemporaries, a point that has previously gone unexamined. Upon closer scrutiny, however, his career reveals many diverse and unexpected exchanges or affinities between he and the most “avant garde” of his contemporaries. His position and reputation demands revision, for it calls attention to the complexity of nuances between the accepted leaders of twentieth century art and figures traditionally relegated to the fringe. Albright was successful with his ploy to deliberately elude critics and writers for years. Although there is a great deal in print about him, there remains very little in the way of serious work. Few commentators have attempted to analyze the meaning of his complicated works or to interpret his work in the context of contemporaries and their cultural history.
Rather than dwelling in an isolated margin, Albright can be considered an artist spread over many edges, dancing a fine line between rich varieties of contexts. Journalists and art writers sometimes called him a Chicago artist, occasionally a Warrenville artist, but rarely an Illinois artist; and only when necessary, an American artist.269 He was alternately called a modernist, a conservative and an old master.270 None of these cultural or geographical labels say anything substantial however about Ivan Albright. More than any Midwestern artist of his generation and long before any from Chicago specifically, he achieved a reputation that was international in scope (by 1946) and continues to defy easy categorization. His achievements, long misunderstood are only now being put into perspective. He evolved an approach that brushes the boundaries of many intellectual developments yet always managed to remain distant from those territories. He remains one of the most remarkable artists of the last century and his elusive significance will gradually prove undeniable as sense is made at a distance, of our time.
1 This essay is for Kathleen A. and Bob M. Cozzolino. Portions of this essay are based on my master’s thesis, “The Truth About Ivan Albright: A Window on the Self,” which was written between March and December, 1999. Barbara Copeland Buenger has been my advisor at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her support, friendship, and advice helped sharpen my ideas and approach to this essay. The first monograph on Albright was written by Michael Croydon, Ivan Albright, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1978) and is out of print. At present, only the recent exhibition catalogue: Susan Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago and Hudson Hills Press, 1997) is in print. A critical biography, collection of writings, catalogue of works, or interpretive study of his paintings has yet to appear. The recent catalogue really served to reintroduce Albright to the world outside of Chicago. In doing so, however, the authors were able to correct and add to previous commentary and produced the most comprehensive single text on Albright to date. Over the years there have been four other exhibition catalogues devoted to the artist - each well under seventy-five pages: Frederick Sweet et. al., Ivan Albright: A Retrospective Exhibition, (Chicago and New York: Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1964); Michael Croydon and Gael Grayson, Graven Image: The Prints of Ivan Albright 1931-1977, (Lake Forest, IL: Lake Forest College, 1978); Richard R. Brettell and Phylis Floyd, Ivan Albright: The Late Self-Portraits, (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College, Hood Museum of Art, 1986); Phylis Floyd, The Ivan Albright Collection, (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College, Hood Museum of Art 1987). One of the most substantial discussions of Albright appears in Mitchell Douglas Kahan, Subjective Currents in American Painting of the 1930s, (Ph.D dissertation, City University of New York, 1983), esp. pp.73-110.
2 Two of the more interesting attempts to provide a broader social context for his work appear in: Paul Von Blum, The Art of Social Conscience, (New York: Universe Books, 1976), pp.120-123; and Greta Berman and Jeffrey Wechsler, Realism and Realities: The Other Side of American Painting, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Art Gallery, 1981).
3 He exhibited a watercolor titled The Oaks in Winter (1918; now lost) at the Art Institute of Chicago’s 30th Annual Exhibition of Watercolors, June 8 - July 9, 1918. The most comprehensive Albright exhibition history to date appears in: Op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright , pp.193-96.
4 Paul Judge reported in his visit to Ivan Albright’s studio that Albright was planning to show his recent and ongoing suite of self-portraits “at a major museum.” The exhibit became “The Last Works of Ivan Albright,” and was shown at the Art Institute of Chicago from April 14 to May 26. Paul Judge, “Light, Shadow and Ivan Albright,” Woodstock Common, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1983, pp.5-7, 18 and 19. This series was not shown in its entirety until 1986, at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. For the Chicago exhibition see Michael Bonesteel, “In a Museum of Mirrors,” Art in America Vol. 72, No. 11, December 1984, pp.143-47. For the Hood Museum showing see op. cit., Hanover, Ivan Albright: The Late Self-Portraits.
5 Robert Cozzolino, “Ivan Albright: A Chronology,” in op. cit. Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, pp.177-191, is the most comprehensive and accurate chronology to date.
6 A catalogue raisonné has yet to appear, though is in progress by this writer.
7 Ivan Albright Notebook, 1984.6.8, p.R-1, 1978, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. The numbering of Albright’s notebooks in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago was arbitrary and does not necessarily indicate chronology. Some of Albright’s notebooks contain entries that are decades apart, making a strict chronological order problematic anyway. They are referred to here by their Ryerson and Burnham Library Archive catalogue numbers. Additionally, the Art Institute notebooks were paginated by a registrar or cataloger single-sided only. Therefore, in the subsequent footnotes, page numbers are given as follows: page 3, for instance or page 3v (“v” denoting page three, verso). Unless otherwise noted, all quoted notebooks are in the Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
8 See for instance, his responses to Katharine Kuh in The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), see esp. pp.25 and 28. Albright adamantly refused to be classified in: William Inge, “Illinois Artist’s Work Placed on Exhibit Here,” St. Louis Star Times, October 1943. Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
9 See: Paul Cummings, interview with Ivan Albright, 2/5-6/1972, Oral History Collection, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., pp.19 (Josef Albers) and 24 (Andrew Wyeth) for just two of many examples.
10 For Albright’s published statements, see: http://www.illinoisart.org/ivan-albright-cbx7; Ralph M. Pearson, Experiencing American Pictures, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943), pp.184-185, 187; Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Dorothy C. Miller, American Realists and Magic Realists, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1943), p.25; Introduction by Allen S. Weller, Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, College of Fine and Applied Arts, 1953), p.162; John I. H. Baur, Editors, New Art in America: Fifty Painters of the Twentieth Century, (Greenwich, CT: 1957), p.202; Op. cit., Ivan Albright: A Retrospective Exhibition, pp.16-17; Ann C. Van Devanter and Alfred V. Frankenstein, American Self-Portraits 1670-1973, (Washington DC: International Exhibitions Foundation,1974), p.158; and Ivan Albright: Travels of an Artist, (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art 1982), n.p..
11 In a 1972 interview, Albright demonstrated more than cursory knowledge of the trends in contemporary art at various points in his life, including the most recent, op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.52-53.
12 Albright works which wound up back on the market (mostly watercolors, prints, drawings) were often sold through ACA Galleries or Kennedy Galleries, both in New York. Albright turned down gallery affiliation at least once. A letter to Albright from Earle Ludgin (Earle Ludgin Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.), 2/15/1944 (while the painter was in Hollywood working on Dorian Gray) states, “Kirk Askew, Jr., who runs the Durlacher Bros. Gallery in New York... represents Tchelitchew and a number of other people and I think does a creditable job... He expressed an interest in you and ... would like to represent you in New York. He is young, honest, has a lot of taste and knows all of the important museum men. Would you be interested in such a New York connection? I warned him that you don’t intend to sell your pictures, which didn’t bother him a bit.” Albright declined. Journalists regularly had a field day reporting his absurdly extravagant prices - particularly during the Depression - which were merely placed for show since he never intended to sell anything.
13 In the 1940s, Albright began to strategically offer particular works for sale to high profile museums and retained a core body of his major works to be placed in one concentrated place later in life. For evidence of this see Earle Ludgin Papers, letter to Albright from Ludgin, 7/19/1948. Albright had asked Ludgin to write a letter of support and recommend that Woman (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Fleeting Time, Thou Hast Left Me Old (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) be purchased for museum collections. He had much earlier presented paintings as gifts to The Layton Art Gallery (now the Milwaukee Art Museum) and The Hackley Art Gallery of Muskegon, Michigan.
14 Adam Emory Albright, For Art’s Sake, (Chicago and Crawfordsville, Indiana: The Lakeside Press, 1953), pp.97-98.
15 Courtney Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” p.16, in Op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, 1977.
16 Malvin died on September 14, and Ivan on 11/18/1983. For Malvin, see: Kenan Heise, “Malvin M. Albright, Chicago Artist,” Chicago Tribune, 9/16/1983, Sec. 2, p.10. Ivan, Malvin and Lisle were given middle names in honor of the artists: Claude Lorrain, Carl von Marr, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Ivan dropped his middle name in 1950, signing his works “Ivan Albright” thereafter.
17 Op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, 1977, p.14; op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright, p.21.
18 Adam relays tales of his student days in op. cit., Adam Emory Albright, For Art’s Sake, pp.56-75. For more on Carl Marr see Ann Kramer Bernadin, Carl Marr: An American Artist in Munich, (MA Thesis, California State University, Northridge, 1993).
19 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.1
20 Op. cit., Albright, For Art’s Sake, p.98.
21 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.2-3.
22 Op. cit., Sweet, “A Tradition of Fine Craftsmanship”, Ivan Albright: A Retrospective Exhibition, p.13.
23 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.1.
24 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.3-4.
25 Interview by Sondra Gair, National Public Radio, c.1978; I am grateful to Courtney Graham Donnell for making her transcription and taped copy of the original broadcast available to me.
26 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.2.
27 Op. cit., Gair interview, p.2.
28 Grace Glueck, “An Artist in the Flesh,” The New York Times, 2/7/1965, sec. 2, p.20.
29 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.3.
30 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.5; op. cit., Sweet, “A Tradition of Fine Craftsmanship,” p.12.
31 Op. cit., Sweet, “A Tradition of Fine Craftsmanship,” p.14. Dr. James Fleming Wilson, “was a medical doctor and, as a side-line, an encyclopaedist (sic).” Albright discusses this action in op. cit., Cummings interview, p.68.
32 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.47. The works are From Yesterday’s Day and The Image After (both private collection). They depict items Adam left home with on his way to become an artist at the age of eighteen.
33 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.3; Sterling North, “The Man Who Drew Wounds,” Chicago Daily News, 8/5/1931, p.12. The subject was an Ascension of the Virgin; the altarpiece has yet to be located.
34 Peter Hastings Falk, editor, Art Institute of Chicago, The Annual Exhibition Record, (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1990), p.58.
35 The Albrights would have had an added outrage and impulse to fight as Adam’s friend and frequent visitor to the house, Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), had died in the sinking of the Lusitania (1915). For Hubbard, see: Marie Via and Marjorie Searl (Eds.), Head, Heart and Hand: Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters, (University of Rochester Press, 1994). In op. cit., Cummings interview, p.3, Albright recalled the artist-friends who visited Adam Emory, making special note of Hubbard. At the age of thirty-six, the charming, already wealthy Hubbard left his job as executive of a Buffalo New York soap and mail order company to become a writer. What began as a modest printing establishment was soon transformed into an inspired community of over five-hundred artists known as the Roycroft Shop. Between 1895 and 1915, Hubbard’s community of craftsmen produced a dazzling array of designs and objects for a staggering variety of purposes. The enterprising temperament and engaging personality of successful artists of vision such as Hubbard surely contributed to Ivan Albright’s fascination with professional artistry, in contrast to how he viewed others in Adam’s circle.
36 During World War I, Grant Wood (1891-1942) was assigned to make camouflage in Washington DC. Although a suitable task for trained artists during wartime, it is probable that Ivan and Malvin sought to be kept out of battle through such an assignment. For Wood see: Brady M. Roberts (et. al.), Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, (Davenport Museum of Art, Iowa, 1995); and James N. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture, (New York, Viking Press, 1975), p.23. The Albright brothers’ and perhaps even Wood’s own interest in camouflage may have stemmed from Abbott Henderson Thayer’s (1849-1921) pioneering work on the subject. See: Ross Anderson, Abbott Henderson Thayer, (Everson Museum, Syracuse, New York, 1982), especially, chapter 4, “Abbott Thayer’s Theories of Natural Camouflage,” pp.112-126; and Alexander Nemerov, "Vanishing Americans: Abbot Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Attraction of Camouflage," American Art 11, 2 (Summer 1997), pp.50-81. For Thayer’s discoveries, see: Gerald Henderson Thayer, Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise Through Color and Pattern, (New York:
Macmillan Co., 1909), illustrated by Abbott Thayer.
37 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.6-9 for his World War I experiences.
38 Lena M. McCauley, “McCauley’s Point of View: Stories about Our Artists,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World,, 2/12/1929, p.10. McCauley referred to Ivan as Marvin in this article, a mistake she had made before and would repeat. In this she was not unique, although it was usually Malvin’s name that was mangled.
39 Op. cit., North, Chicago Daily News, 8/5/1931, p.12.
40 Op. cit., Kuh, The Artist’s Voice, Talks with Seventeen Artists, p.23. In 1960, when asked by Katharine Kuh: “Do you think your experience as a medical draftsman in World War I influenced your work?” Albright responded: “Not at all. If I hadn’t done that, I would have been doing something else.”
41 Op. cit., North, Chicago Daily News, 8/5/1931, p.12.
42 Op. cit., North, Chicago Daily News, 8/5/1931, p.12.
43 A.G.S. Enser, A Subject Bibliography of the First World War: Books in English, 1914-1987, (Brookfield, Vt., Gower, 1990) is a good place to begin for a wide variety of literature on the war and its effects.
44 Otto Dix 1891-1969, (Tate Gallery, London, 1992), p.140. Indeed, it is Dix who comes closest to Albright in a number of works of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even a comparison between Albright’s World War I watercolor sketches and those of Dix from a few years later reveal startling similarities of vision. See for instance, War Wounded (1922, private collection), op. cit., Otto Dix 1891-1969, cat # 63, p.140.
45 Op. cit., Jacobson, Art of Today, p.35.
46 Ivan Albright, Notebook, 1984.6.6, p.36, 1931, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
47 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.9.
48 Op. cit., Albright, For Art’s Sake, pp.62-63.
49 Op. cit., Albright, For Art’s Sake, preceeding tales, pp.63-64.
50 Harriet and Sidney Janis, “Albright: Compulsive Painter,” View, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1943, p.26. The Janises wrote, “He explains that he had been conditioned in advance [to drawing wounds] since his father, as monitor of the morgue, had dissected corpses while studying with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy; also that his grandfather had been a surgeon.”
51 Op. cit., North, Chicago Daily News, 8/5/1931, p.12.
52 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.8.
53 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.8.
54 For Perkins see: Educational Buildings by Perkins, Fellows and Hamilton Architects, Chicago, (Chicago: Press of The Blakely Printing Co., 1925), and Eleanor Ellis Perkins, Perkins of Chicago, Evanston, 1966. The wellknown architectural firm, Perkins and Will descends from Dwight Heald Perkins’ original practice and is still based in Chicago.
55 For examples of the kind of work Albright might have done here, see: C. Stanley Taylor and Vincent R. Bliss (Eds.)., Hotel Planning and Outfitting, (Chicago: Albert Pick and Co., 1928).
56 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.10.
57 Marie Walsh Sharpe, 1921 is in the collection of The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, CO; The Philosopher, 1922, is in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Both are illustrated in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, p.19 and plate 3.
58 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.38, c.1926.
59 Notebook, 1984.6.7, p.3, c.1928.
60 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.61 v., c.1926.
61 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.4.
62 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.11.
63 Examples of these are John C. L. Sparkes, A Manual of Artistic Anatomy for the use of Students in Art, (London: Bailliere, Tindall & Cox, 1922), and notably, the journal, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, which devoted part of an October 1919 issue to Matthias Grunewald, one artist in whom Albright was interested. The journal covered a variety of topics, including non-western art, expressionism from Germany and elsewhere, product design and old masters, including Velasquez and El Greco. Many titles are listed passim in 1984.6.1-4, 1923-26. See Albright Notebook, 1984.6.8 p. D-1, for the contemporary journals L’Illustration, El Ilustrado, Nuevo Mundo and La Espera. He also made note of Carl Einstein’s Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, (Berlin, 1926) in Notebook, 1984.6.45, p.11 (1926) referring to it as a “good book.”
64 Possibly, The Baptism of Christ, 1500/05 (Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1023)
65 Perugino: Notebook, 1984.6.1 pp.38 and 50v, 1923. Correggio: Notebook, 1984.6.1 p.32, January 1923. Both paintings are unlocated.
66 Notebook, 1984.6.2 passim, but see esp. pp.7-12, 1924.
67 Notebook, 1984.6.3 pp.7-8, c.1923/24.
68 Notebook, 1984.6.4 p.33 c.1924.
69 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.10. Adam Emory could be quite vocal with complaints and his strong success as an artist and even better success at real estate would combine to give many an envious competitor much to dislike.
70 For Carles see: Barbara Ann Boese Wolanin, Arthur B. Carles, 1882-1952: Philadelphia Modernist, (Ph.D dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison and UMI, 1981), see esp. p.266.
71 For Grafly: Dorothy Grafly Drummond, The Sculptor’s Clay: Charles Grafly (1862-1929), (Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Kansas, 1996). For Garber see: Kathleen A Foster, Daniel Garber 1880-1958, (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1980).
72 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.16. “McCarter abandoned illustration [he had illustrated for McClures, Harpers, Scribners, etc...] after World War I and ‘devoted himself to paint - in his own words, to the contemplation and painting of ‘the light of an hour of a day,’ and ‘the color and movement of a chime of bells.’” R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Henry McCarter 1864-1942, (New York: New Art Circle, 1943).
73 Charles W. Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting: from Student’s Notes Collected by Mrs. Charles W. Hawthorne, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960), p.17.
74 Op. cit., Rossen (Ed.)., Ivan Albright, p.19 for illustration of this work.
75 Op. cit., Rossen (Ed.)., Ivan Albright, p.55 for illustration of this work.
76 The Grand Muveran, 1912 (1926.211). Albright sketched a few Hodler paintings in his early notebooks, among them are, The Consecrated One (1893/94), Day (1900), and Dialogue with Nature (1884). Notebook, 1984.6.5, pp.12-13, 21, c.1925. For Hodler see: Sharon L. Hirsh, Ferdinand Hodler, (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1982).
77 Op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright, p.103. Maroger was the author of a much-consulted book, The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Old Masters, (New York, 1940), trans. by Eleanor Beckham.
78 This building is now the Warrenville Historical Society. For seasonal hours, first contact the Warrenville Public Library, 28 W. 751 Stafford Place, Warrenville, IL 60555, 630/393-1171.
79 The scrapbooks are now part of the Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago. Eventually, Albright had a clipping service collect notices for him, due to the sheer volume of press he received.
80 Notebook, 1984.6.3, p.4.
81 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.67v., c.1926.
82 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.61v, c.1926.
83 Notebook, 1984.6.2, pp.2v-3, 1924.
84 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.2-3.
85 A few examples: Notebook, 1984.6.3, p.60, 1984.6.5, passim, 1984.6.6, p.19v.
86 He and Malvin traveled to California several times during this period to visit their parents who were wintering there and had even toyed with the idea of moving there. For example see: “Of Timely Interest,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 11/18/1924, p.8. He and Malvin went to Laguna, California, stopping on the way in Santa Fe, Taos and the Grand Canyon. Another trip west the next year was featured in R. A. Lennon, “Brothers Establish Studio in a Church,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 5/26/1925, p.4. An illustration of his Old Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, appears with the article. For this particular trip see: “If He Paints, He’s Ivan; If He ‘Sculpts’ He’s Malvin,” San Diego Union, 2/13/1927, Ivan Albright scrapbook volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
87 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.45v.
88 There has yet to be an adequate exploration of this painting as it relates to the fact that Ivan and Malvin were identical twins. Earlier – Joshua Kind, “Albright: Humanist of Decay,” Art News, Vol. 63, No. 7, November 1964, p.70, and “Reassessing Albright,” New Art Examiner, Vol. 6, No. 3, December 1978, p.10 – had pointed to the need to explore the psychology of their twin-ness. At the same time Ivan did a portrait of Malvin, Malvin produced a sculpture of Ivan. See op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, 1977, p.21 for an illustration of this work. Hawthorne and Polá_ek had engaged in a similar exercise and both works are in the Art Institute of Chicago: Charles W. Hawthorne, 1917 (bronze, 1918.30) and Albin Polá_ek, 1917 (oil on canvas, 1917.266). It is unknown whether this was an inspiration for Ivan and Malvin, but entirely plausible.
89 Inscribed on the bottom part of the frame is an early title, “Verily Verily He Loveth Me and I Him.”
90 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.32.
91 The Lineman was illustrated in The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 2/14/1928, p.3.
92 “A Storm,” Art Digest, Vol. 5, No. 1, July 1928, pp.1 and 23. See also: “ ‘Lineman’ Winning Painting at Institute Stirs Workers,” Chicago Daily Journal, 5/14/1928, p.4.
93 “Some Interesting Comment on Our May Issue Cover Design,” Electric Light and Power, Vol. 6, No. 6, June 1928, p.115.
94 Electric Light and Power, Vol. 6, No. 8, August 1928.
95 For this work see: American Paintings and Sculpture to 1945 in the Carnegie Museum of Art, (New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with The Carnegie Museum of Art, 1992), pp.42-43.
96 Several previous writers have mentioned the apparent similarity to Baroque saints. For one: op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright, p.39. There is precedence however for this comparison, previously unnoticed. In Notebook, 1984.6.5, p.16, Albright actually made a thumbnail sketch resembling an altarpiece which might have been his own idea or plan. It was to include wings devoted to “dance, music, opera, and symphony.” It is not known if he executed such a project, but suggests that these later, separate paintings may have been the residue of such a project.
97 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.75v, June 1927.
98 Incidentally, the Museum of Modern Art’s Woman entered the collection in 1948 with its original carved frame, but is shown by that institution in a generic, thin black rectangular modernist surround.
99 For Albright’s models, see op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright; op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, 1977, and op. cit., American Paintings and Sculpture to 1945 in the Carnegie Museum of Art, pp. 42-44. Albright mentions some of the models in his notebooks and in op. cit., Cummings interview.
100 Conversation with the author, 2/25/1997.
101 “Did Its Beauty Cause Toledo to Ban This?,” Art Digest, Vol. 3, No. 20, September 1929, p.5.
102 Frances Farmer, “Honored Grant Painting Lacks Spark of Love,” Chicago American, 10/31/1927, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
103 Meyer Levin, “A Young Man’s Fancy,” Chicago Daily News, 10/1928, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. Rudolph Weisenborn was one of the most politically and formally progressive Chicago artists active in the first part of the twentieth-century. An extensive essay appears in this book on the artist.
104 Charles Fabens Kelley, “Chicago Artists’ Annual Show,” Christian Science Monitor, 2/13/1928, p.8.
105 Dorothy Grafly, “Academy’s Salon This Year Proves a Bit Disturbing,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, 1/27/1929, p.10.
106 Tom Vickerman, “Albright’s Ogres Unmask as Angels,” Chicago Evening Post, Magazine of the Art World, 8/26/1930, p.3.
107 C. J. Bulliet, “Albright Tames Wilde Baers at the Art Institute Summer Shows,” Chicago Evening Post, 7/28/1931, Art section, p.5.
108 For the relevant exchanges see: C. J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment,” Chicago Evening Post, 11/23/1935, sec 3, p.4; C. J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment,” Chicago Evening Post, 12/14/1935, sec. 3, p.4.
109 Notebook, 1984.6.6, p.30, 1930.
110 Op. cit., Kuh, The Artist’s Voice, Talks with Seventeen Artists, p.23.
111 Ivan writes about the work he is doing in Laguna Beach in Notebook 1984.6.7 p.13, 1/23/1929 and p. 24, also January. That Malvin was also working in Laguna beach is discussed in: Lucy Key Miller, “Front Views and Profiles: Heavy the Coat,” Chicago Tribune, 3/26/1954, sec. 2, p. 10.
112 In considering Albright's figural works of the late twenties, it is useful to recall Albright's admiration for and study under Charles W. Hawthorne. For comparison see, The Paintings of Charles Hawthorne, (Storrs: University of Conecticut Museum of Art, 1968). For instance in Hawthorne's paintings, April (1920, cat. # 29; exhibited at AIC 1927), The Captain's Wife (1924, cat. # 36; exhibited at AIC, 1925 and 1927), and Mrs. Bertha Davis (1929, cat. # 39) he and Albright approach form, composition and show compassion in the painting of flesh. Heavy the Oar was compared to Hawthorne's Calling of Saint Peter (c.1900) by Weininger in op.cit., Rossen (Ed.) Ivan Albright, pp.57-58.
113 Notebook, 1984.6.7 p.13, 1/23/1929.
114 Op. cit., Chicago Evening Post, 8/26/1930, p.3.
115 Albright talks about how he painted Ida, techniques and viewpoints in op. cit., Cummings interview, pp. 17, 37, 63-64. Particularly pages 63-64 concern walking around and how she posed. Specifically the “dizzying effect” is referred to in Albright, Notebook 1984.6.7 p.3v. The circumstances surrounding the modeling assignment were gleaned in: Interview with Ida Rogers by Courtney Graham Donnell with [the assistance of] Jennifer Stone, 7/1/1992, unpublished.
116 The painting was illustrated in “Albright’s ‘Ida’ Wins Chicago Gold Medal,” Art Digest, Vol. 6, 12/15/1931, p.6. The Gold Medal was instituted after the Society withdrew their top honor, the Silver Medal, [my thanks to the Illinois Historical Art Project for pointing this out to me] which Albright had won the prior year, from the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago & Vicinity exhibitions. The work was illustrated again in Art Digest, Vol. 11, 2/1/1937, p.12. For the Silver medal see: Tom Vickerman, “Medals to Dalstrom, Albright, Chassaing,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 11/4/1930, p.3. For the Springfield prize see: Art Digest, Vol. 11, 2/1/1937, p.12, where the painting is illustrated. Ida was married to a Russian soccer player. Albright claimed that she was, “…in love with me.” Personal conversation between Suzanne Dryer Kaufman and Albright at the Art Institute in 1967.
117 Christian Science Monitor, “20th Century Portraits,” 10/16/1943, p.8.
118 See the Ivan Le Lorraine Albright timeline in this book for a list of his prizes. See also, op. cit., “Selected Exhibition History,” in op. cit., Ivan Albright, 1997.
119 Malvin was denied a one-man exhibition at the Art Institute by its board of trustees that same year. Art Institute of Chicago Trustee Minutes, 10/31/1931. Though less successful as a painter and sculptor and certainly less radical in his approach than Ivan, Malvin worked alongside his brother on many similar projects through 1947. Malvin, however lived in the public shadow of his brother. With the exception of a few notes before 1926 or so, Malvin generally appears as a curious side note to discussions of Ivan’s peculiar work. On several occasions, newspaper reporters got Malvin’s name wrong, calling him Marvin, mistaking him for Ivan, or creating other name variations until he changed his name to Zsissly. Malvin initially adopted the pseudonym Zissly in 1932 to distance himself from his brother Ivan in his painting career. As such, Ivan, who nearly always appeared first in alphabetized exhibition catalogues would open and “Zissly” would close listings. When it became clear that Zissly wouldn’t always be last, the last “s” was added almost immediately: Malvin became Zsissly. He continued to exhibit sculpture under his birth name.
120 Letter to William Burkholder from Ivan L. Albright, CELA Archives, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, 2/11/1935. I wish to thank the Illinois Historical Art Project for this reference. His tenure as president of the Chicago Society of Artists was telling in that the group represented only modern artists who had split away from the conservative painters who had then formed their own association. A thorough treatment of all these art organizations may be found in the Art Organizations section of this book.
121 Robert Silberman, “Chicago and New York, Ivan Albright,” Burlington Magazine, Vol. 139, No. 1134 September 1997, p.655.
122 Daniel Catton Rich, “Ivan Le Lorraine Albright: Our Own Jeremiah,” Magazine of Art, Vol. 36, No. 2, February 1943, p.50.
123 That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), 1931-41 (Art Institute of Chicago, discussed below).
124 The enormous, wide-ranging Depression-era federal arts projects have been considered by a variety of writers. For the programs in Illinois, see: George J. Mavigliano and Richard A. Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois 1935-1943, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990); and Maureen A. McKenna, After the Great Crash, New Deal Art in Illinois, (Springfield: Illinois State Museum, 1983).
125 Peyton Boswell Jr., Modern American Painting, (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1939).
126 “Chicago’s Foremost Painter Takes Issue with Art Critic,” Chicago Daily News, 12/13/1939, Christmas Book section, p.17.
127 Ernest L. Heitkemp, “Why Not Pay All Artists Who Exhibit?,” Chicago Herald American (the Chicago Herald-Examiner became the Chicago Herald-American in 1939), Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. See also, “Make Chicago an Art Center,” Chicago Sun, 1/10/1942, p.12. Some years later he took part in Artist’s Equity, a somewhat radical and socialistic leaning group in Chicago. C. J. Bulliet, “Art in Chicago,” Art Digest, Vol. 25, 5/15/1951, p.10. My thanks to the Illinois Historical Art Project for this reference.
128 Dore Ashton, The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning, (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p.64.
129 “For Sale: $10,000,” Chicago American, 7/2/1934, p.17. Albright is shown looking rather dapper, with Flesh (Smaller Than Tears Are the Little Blue Flowers).
130 Margarita Walker Dulac, “Ivan Albright: Mystic-Realist,” American Artist, Vol. 30, No. 1, January 1966, p.34.
131 Op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright, p.197. See also op. cit, Croydon and Grayson, Graven Image: The Prints of Ivan Albright 1931-1977, [n.p.] cat. 1. 132 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.65. The teaching records of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are in the archives of the Ryerson and Burnham library, Art Institute of Chicago.
133 “‘Educationally This is a Hollow Nut,’ Says Ivan Albright,” Chicago Daily News, 2/26/1941, p.14.
134 Edith Weigle, “Logan Medal Is Awarded to Chicago Artists,” Chicago Tribune, 3/11/1941, p.15. He was featured in what could be considered his home town press in “Warrenville Resident’s Prize Picture on Display At Art Institute Exhibit, Wheaton Daily Journal, 3/11/1941, in Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, vol. 76, col. 2, p.51. Information courtesy of the Illinois Historical Art Project. He followed this with Honorable Mention at the Sears Academy of Fine Arts annual in Elgin, Illinois in May: “Winners in Elgin Show,” Art Digest, Vol. 15, 5/15/1941, p.11; The Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal, at the Art Institute’s annual exhibit of American artists and was named an Associate in National Academy of Design in 1942.
135 The prize was awarded his That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. C. J. Bulliet, “Prizes Awarded At Art Exhibit Opening Today,” Chicago Daily News, 10/29/1941, p.11.
136 Ivan Le Lorrain [sic] Albright (America’s Most Distinguished Painter), “Chicago Art Exhibition Shakes Provincialism,” Chicago Herald-American, 6/4/1947, p.14. Thanks to Daniel Schulman for alerting me to this article.
137 “Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, Chicago’s Foremost Painter, Decries the French Moderns,” Chicago Daily News, 7/3/1940, p.7.
138 “Modernism Has a Field Day at Art Institute’s U.S. Show,” Chicago Herald-American, 11/5/1947, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
139 Ivan LeLorrain [sic] Albright, “Water Color Judges Pursue Middle Road,” Chicago Herald-American, 11/6/1948, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
140 “Albright Twins: They Paint Gruesome Masterpieces in an Abandoned Methodist Church,” Life, Vol. 16, No. 13, 3/27/1944, p.66.
141 Notebook, 1984.6.8, p.G-1, c.1931.
142 Notebook, 1984.6.4, p.38, c.1926.
143 Katharine Kuh, The Open Eye: In Pursuit of Art, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971), p.4.
144 See: Clement Greenberg, "The Crisis of the Easel Picture," reprinted in Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949, vol. 2 of Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism. Edited by John O'Brian (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986). See also Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel. Jackson Pollock. (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998).
145 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.38. See: “Artist of Decay,” Newsweek, Vol. 22, No. 22, 11/29/1943, pp.82, 84; for Albright’s press concocted alternate version of this story: “One project – a doll bedecked with white and cream satin and laces and lying in a glass case with jewelry – had to be abandoned after a year because “mice ate the clothes, someone swiped the jewelry, and the dress changed eight shades duller,” p.82.
146 Notebook, 1984.6.23, p.4, 4/25/1963.
147 Op. cit., Cummings interview, pp.31-33, for the making of this painting.
148 Notes Albright made while working on The Door can be found in Notebooks: 9, pp.17, 28, 48-50 (c.1931-33); 11, pp.1-5 (1933); and 12, pp.6-10 (1937).
149 Op. cit., Rich, Magazine of Art, February 1943, p.50.
150 Notebook, 1984.6.5, p.64 (1926).
151 There is at least one previous reference to Albright’s in-progress painting in the press, June Provines, “Front Views and Profiles,” Chicago Tribune, 11/28/1935, p.41. “Ivan Le Lorraine, has been working three years on a picture that isn’t finished yet. The painting portrays a door with a funeral wreath attached, and when completed is to show a hand turning the knob…The stone that serves as a doorstep is actually a tombstone, although you wouldn’t know it…”
152 Dorothy Kantner, "American Artists 'Steal Show' At International Exhibition," Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph 10/13/1938, p. 18. Others noted the astonishing degree of finish in the "unfinished" work and expressed shock that the public chose it as the third most popular work. See also: Edward Alden Jewell, "In the Realm of Art: American Pictures at International," New York Times, 10/30/1938; Douglas Naylor, "Public Ignores 'Prize' Painting," The Pittsburgh Press 11/18/1938; Dorothy Kantner "Emotional Response Guides Public's Art Choices," Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph 12/4/1938: Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume one, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
153 According to records in the Archives of the Art Institute, the painting was collected from Albright on May 8, 1956 and returned to him on February 27, 1957. Ms. Kuh and Mr. Rich were very excited to have had the opportunity to exhibit Albright’s newest painting. In a letter to Albright dated 6/20/1955 Kuh wrote, “Dear Ivan/Dan [Rich] told me that you would be willing to lend your new painting, The Window to the Venice Biennale, Needless to say, I am thrilled beyond words and am writing this letter to show my pleasure…I want you to know how happy I am that you are letting us send the picture to Venice.” Art Institute Archives, Katharine Kuh Papers, box 13, folder 4.
154 Letter to “Peaches” (Albright’s pet name for Elinor “Jerry” Freeman, nee Willis) from Albright, 8/25/1939, Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives.
155 Letter to “Peaches” from Albright, 9/7/1939, Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives.
156 Letter to Ms. Elinor Willis from Albright, 6/2/1941, Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives.
157 There is some evidence The Door originated from figural ideas, Notebook, 1984.6.9, p.5, c.1931. The thumbnail on this page shows a cloaked figure holding a large round object, strikingly close to the formal design of The Door. The inscription that accompanies the drawing reads, “When the great father death calls be ready.”
158 For Rothko, see: Dore Ashton, About Rothko, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Marc Glimcher and Mark Pollard (Eds.), The Art of Mark Rothko: Into an Unknown World, (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1991); Sheldon Nodelman, The Rothko Chapel Paintings: Origins, Structure, Meaning, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997); Jeffrey S. Weiss, Mark Rothko, (Washington: National Gallery of Art; New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1998).
159 The painting garnered an enormous amount of local and national publicity when it debuted at the Art Institute. The Associated Press wire service picked up the story and spread it across the nation, including for example newspapers in Jackson, Michigan; Nampa, Indiana; Tacoma Washington; Ogden, Utah; Lubbock, Texas; Palm Beach, Florida; Norfolk, Nebraska; Meriden, Connecticut, among many, many others. Clippings may be found in
the Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, Vol. 76, beginning November 1941, pp.101-105.
160 Art Digest "Regional Review," 17, 8 (1/15/1943), p.16. The same article reported that Albright won a $125 war bond for Heavy the Oar at the "New Year Show" at the Butler Art Institute in Youngstown, Ohio.
161 For Curry’s painting, see Patricia Junker, “Twilight of Americanism’s Golden Age: Curry’s Wisconsin Years, 1936-46,” pp.194-209, (esp. pp.202-207) in John Stuart Curry Inventing the Middle West, (Madison, WI: Elvehjem Museum of Art and New York, Hudson Hills Press, 1998). Junker does not mention the circumstances by which Curry was awarded the prize, for what is a far different painting from The Door.
162 John Anthony Thwaites, "London Letter: The Tate Show: Misrepresenting American Art," Magazine of Art 39, 8 (Dec. 1946), p.382.
163 This discussion owes much to the example and advice of film scholar Dr. Susan Doll, who presented the lecture “Albright, Artists, and Hollywood,” in conjunction with the Chicago presentation of the 1997 Albright retrospective, 3/9/1997.
164 In addition to the previously mentioned high profile awards from three important national exhibitions, Albright was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s Twentieth Century Portraits, which traveled to ten national venues and American Realists and Magic Realists, which traveled to five other cities, including Toronto. For the itineraries, see Robert Cozzolino, "Selected Exhibition History," in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.) Ivan Albright, p.195. Both exhibitions were widely covered by the press and Albright was usually, if not always singled out. For two good reviews of American Realists and Magic Realists, see: Alfred Frankenstein, “Artists Look at Something Else Besides Themselves,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/29/1943, This World section, p.15; and M.R. "Americans 1943: Realism and Magic Realism," Art Digest 17, 10 (2/15/1943), pp.6, 27. The Door attracted more attention in 1946 (see below) for among other reasons, its appearance at the Tate Gallery.
165 Magner White, “Biography of a Photoplay,” Film and Radio Discussion Guide, Vol. 11, No. 7, April 1945, p.15. The entire issue was devoted to the MGM film, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
166 Time, “Lavender and Old Bottles,” Vol. 38, No. 21, 11/24/1941, p.81 and Time, “U.S. Art: Albright,” Vol. 40, No. 1, 7/6/1942, pp.46 and 47.
167 Op. cit., Rich, Magazine of Art, February 1943, p.51.
168 Op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, p.204, note 91.
169 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.33.
170 Op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, p.34. The contract amount was a carefully guarded secret, but Albright’s “rental” deal was reported by several gossip columns. Most Hollywood columnists assumed Albright would be getting between $75,000-$100,000 for his painting and frequently reported it that way.
171 Louella O. Parsons, “Louella Parsons Hollywood,” Chicago Herald American, 8/4/1943, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. Her rival, Hedda Hopper was the upset here.
172 Letter to “Peaches Dahlquist” from Albright, 10/29/1943, headed “En Route,” on stationary of the city of Los Angeles Streamliner luxury train. Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives.
173 Larry Lawrence, “Twin Artists from Illinois Give Hollywood Dose of Own Medecine,” The Milwaukee Journal, 3/27/1944, Green sheet sec., p.1. This is perhaps the best article on the twins in Hollywood. MGM had its perfect publicity man in Ivan Albright. He arrived in Hollywood as a witty, weathered media expert, fresh from the sensationalist reception that greeted The Door. His reputation preceded him and needed little boost from the Hollywood gossip machine. Nevertheless, both Albright and the MGM public relations people kept Dorian Gray in the news for three years.
174 C. J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment on the Seven Arts,” Chicago Daily News, 11/6/1943, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
175 For Hatfield: Mel Gussow, “Hurd Hatfield, 80, an Actor Known for Dorian Gray Role,” The New York Times, 12/29/1998, sec. C, p.19.
176 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.40; letter to “Peaches,” from Albright, 4/17/1944, Ivan Albright Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives; letter to Helen McCabe, from Albright, 4/17/1944, Helen McCabe Letters, 1942-83, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
177 Erskine Johnson, “Artists are Odd People,” Cincinnati Ohio Post, 3/21/1944, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
178 Harriet and Sidney Janis, “The Painting of Ivan Albright,” Art in America, Vol. 34, No. 1, January 1946, p.43, note 1. Perhaps as evidence of the painful impact and significance of this moment, Ivan Albright never discussed this issue in any known published interviews. Indeed, this authors own viewing of the original painting by Malvin has convinced this author the Janises were accurate in their hypothesis. Henrique Medina’s painting, used in the film in place of Malvin’s, is sickeningly sweet, while Malvin’s has a slight sinister air (and looks more like Hatfield).
179 Alfred Hitchcock, for example invited Salvador Dali (1904-89) to contribute to the dream sequence of Spellbound (1945). For discussions of the role of artwork in/and film see Angela Dalle Vacche, Cinema and Painting: How Art is Used in Film, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996); Kerry Brougher (et. al.), Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945, (Los Angeles and New York: Museum of Contemporary Art and Monacelli Press, 1996); and Chapter Three of Erika Doss, Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), see also pp.240-252.
180 Letter to Peaches, from Albright, 4/17/1944, Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
181 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.41.
182 Harriet Janis, “Artists in Competition: Eleven Distinguished Artists Compete in a Struggle with the Temptation of St. Anthony,” Arts and Architecture, Vol. 63, No. 4 (April, 1946), p.52. The other competing artists were: Eugene Berman (b. 1899), Lenora Carrington (b. 1917), Salvador Dali, Louis Guglielmi (1906-56), Horace Pippin (1888-1946), Abraham Rattner, Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), and Dorthea Tanning (b. 1910). 183 Actually The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant.
184 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.42.
185 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.42.
186 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.42.
187 According to the log on the back of the diagram Albright used for The Window, Albright ceased work on that project on July 31, 1945 and resumed May 11, 1946. This break surely corresponds to the time in which he was working on The Temptation of Saint Anthony; this means all dating published previously is erroneous. Diagram for The Window, Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. 188 Op. cit., Earle Ludgin papers. In a letter to Earle Ludgin from Albright, 1/22/1944, the painter admitted to watching Pavel Tchelitchew’s work. The painting to which he referred is probably, The Flower of Sight (1943) which appeared on the December 1943 cover of View. Tchelitchew had exhibited at the Arts Club of Chicago in 1935, 1938 and 1954. For Tchelitchew, see Pavel Tchelitchew: The Landscape of the Body, (New York: Katonah Museum of Art, New York, 1998). The exhibit was curated, with an essay by Michael Duncan. Duncan makes a brief reference to Albright, p.16.
189 See op cit Rossen (ed.), Ivan Albright, plates 66a and 66b for Albright’s extended project in this vein.
190 The marriage and subsequent births of children made Chicago papers and their gossip columns. For one example, see: “Artist Albright Weds Daughter of J.M. Patterson,” Chicago Sun, 8/28/1946, second section, p.21. ee also: “Ivan Albright Gives His Bride Ghostly $125,000 Painting,” Milwaukee Journal, 10/9/1946, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. Constant coverage of
the Albright’s lives in the Chicago press eventually contributed to their decision to move to Vermont. 191 Op. cit., Donnell, “A Painter Am I: Ivan Albright,” in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, p.38.
192 Patterson's cousin, Robert McCormick ran the Chicago Tribune and Patterson was its principal stockholder. Albright painted a posthumous portrait of Patterson in 1962-64. See plate 57 and my accompanying entry in op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright.
193 For a succinct biography of Josephine, see, Lawrence Van Gelder, “Josephine Albright, Colorful Journalist, Dies at 82,” New York Times, 1/18/1996, sec. B, p.11.
194 “7 Ex-WPA Artists Sign $100,000 Contract,” Chicago Daily News, 1/15/1947, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago. Thematically, the seven panels were to depict the seven arts. The other artists included in the project and their respective subjects were: Malvin Albright (sculpture), Aaron Bohrod (architecture; 1907-92), Vincent D’Agostino (painting), William Schwartz (music; 1896-1977), and Rudolph Weisenborn (literature). Riccardo also painted a panel himself (dance). Albright’s contribution, Mephistopheles (Drama; 1947, Sid Deutsche Gallery, New York) appears in color in op. cit., Croydon, Ivan Albright, p.164, plate 71. See also for Riccardo: “Ciao, Riccardo,” Chicago, Vol. 1, No. 11, January 1955, pp.17-19.
195 Albright Notebook, 1984.6.16, p.1.
196 In Sue Ann Prince, ed., The Old Guard and the Avant-Guard: Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), the authors missed an opportunity to characterize Albright’s interesting position in the Chicago art scene. Albright is mentioned only in passing and his name managed to escape even the index (he is mentioned at least on pp.19 and 91). He seemed in opposition to modernism, while often called a modernist by critics; he sought out and was accepted by conservative art groups and institutions while being scorned by critics for his extreme subject matter and approach. This strange position certainly has few parallels anywhere among his contemporaries. Most recently, Lynne Warren, et. al., Art in Chicago 1945-1995, Chicago and London: Thames and Hudson, 1996) repeated this mistake in the catalogue to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The recent Museum of Contemporary Art show, though rife with complicated problems of its own, included Albright but shied away from any discussion at all in its 312 pages of his impact, whether as something to react to, take from, or discard. All of this would further reinforce the perception that not only does general art history not know what to do with Albright, but Chicago, whose artistic traditions have been seen as isolated or deliberately contrary to that of New York, does not even know what to make of one of its most famous and successful artists. Ironically, the work that which was originally sought for the latter exhibition by its curators was The Picture of Dorian Gray (1943-44; Art Institute of Chicago), possibly the least understood but most persistently famous work Albright produced. As one of the few major works Albright painted outside of Illinois and one which arguably would not have been painted if Albright weren’t commissioned to do so, its look and conceit are uncharacteristic of the rest of Albright’s oeuvre and the painting itself was considered by the artist to be of lesser importance in his career. When the Art Institute of Chicago denied the loan of Dorian Gray, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1945-46; Art Institute of Chicago) was chosen for the exhibit. This painting was commissioned under similar circumstances (to be used in a Hollywood film) and is even less characteristic of Albright’s work, though it is a striking despite the fact that it represents an antecedent for much of the content and look of much Chicago art of the 1960s-1980s. Nowhere do the catalogue authors suggest this.
197 Ellen Lanyon, interviewed by Wilma Cox, February 1976, in West Coast ‘76: The Chicago Connection, (San Francisco: Crocker Art Gallery Association and E. B. Crocker Art Gallery), 1976, p.7. I am grateful to the Illinois Historical Art Project for bringing this exhibition catalogue to my attention.
198 For two significant denials see: Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images: Chicago Art Since 1945, (Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1972), p.9; see also, Roger Brown, “Rantings and Recollections,” p.33 in Dennis Adrian, et. al. Who Chicago?: An Exhibition of Contemporary Imagists, (Sunderland, England, 1980).
199 John Wilde, conversation with the author, 8/12/1998.
200 Susan Weininger, “Albright in Context,” in op. cit., Rossen (ed.), Ivan Albright, p.78. A direct and more striking comparison to Albright appears in: Art Digest, Vol. 21, No. 7, 1/1/1947, p.17. The Burkhardt piece illustrated here is “‘Universal Order,’ a conglomerate still life…which is almost as involved as those of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright won the $100 popular award in the second showing of Pepsi-Cola’s Third Annual ‘Paintings of the Year.’” Albright himself won prizes in the 1945 and 1947 Pepsi-Cola exhibitions.
201 Caroline A. Jones, Bay Area Figurative Art 1950-1965 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and University of California Press, 1990), p.113. See especially Nineteen Twenty-Nine (1961), p.114. Since I first saw this painting on a 1996 trip to The National Museum of American Art in Washington DC I have seen it as an homage to Albright. Its resemblance to Woman (1928) is striking. Oliveira came to know Albright in the late 1950s- early 1960s. See also, Paul J. Karlstrom interview with Nathan Oliveira, 8/9/1978, 10/6/1978 and 9/7/1980, Oral History Collection, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., pp.47-50.
202 The most provocative essay to deal with the similar approaches of three pivotal multi-generational Chicago artists is Christopher Lyon, “‘Synthetic Realism’: Albright, Golub, Paschke,” Art Journal, Vol. 45, No. 4 Winter, 1985, pp.330-334.
203 Jan Van der Marck, “Ivan Albright: More Than Meets the Eye,” Art in America, Vol. 65, No. 6, November/December 1977, p.94.
204 A critique of the show appeared in New York Sun, 10/27/1945, New York Public Library Artist File, A85/E5. A less favorable review appeared in “Albright Twins - Decay, Charm, Confusion,” Art Digest, Vol. 20, 11/1/1945, p.12.
205 My dating is based both on Albright’s notebooks and a work log which he maintained on the verso of the original diagram for The Window. Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
206 Marilyn Robb, “Ivan Le Lorraine Albright Paints a Picture,” Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.46.
207 W. W. Herscher, “Don’t Call a Spade a Spade, Says Artist of His Titles,” Boston Globe, 4/13/1942, p.4.
208 Ivan Albright Notebooks: 1984.6.15, 17-19, 21 and 22; 1943-60. There are a few related notes in 1984.6.16 (1943-47) and 1984.6.23 (1963).
209 W. W. Herscher, “Famed Artist Will Paint Self in Red Underwear, Eating an Egg,” Milwaukee Journal, 5/28/1943, Green Sheet section, p.1. The same article or a slightly altered version of it appeared in Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois newspapers among others.
210 Quoted from Daniel Schuffman’s film, The Enigma of Ivan Albright, (Creative Associates Production, c.1963), Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
211 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.59.
212 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.21.
213 Op. cit., Herscher, Milwaukee Journal, 5/28/1943, Green Sheet section, p.1. Also that Albright did not set brick until later can be seen in Notebook, 17 p.2, diagram, and in the article, “Art is a Family Affair for the Albrights,” Chicago Daily News, 5/15/1943, News-Views section, pp.2, 3. 214 Notebook 17, p.33v.
215 Notebook 3, p.30, c.1924.
216 Ivan Albright, “Reflections by the Artist,” in op. cit., Ivan Albright: A Retrospective Exhibition, p.17.
217 Op. cit., Albright, “Reflections by the Artist,” p.16.
218 Notebook 17, pp.30v - 31.
219 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.46; Cummings interview, p.60.
220 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.20, and diagram, verso.
221 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.58.
222 Notebook 19, p.3v, Feb. 1952. Albright had written as early as 1943: “Detail. Have detail much like detail of the Door only closer and much more movement.” Notebook 15, p.8.
223 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.45.
224 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.45.
225 Dorothy Bridaham, “The Paintings of Ivan Albright,” Chicago, Vol. 1, No. 2, April 1954, pp.24-25.
226 Op. cit., Bridaham, Chicago, April 1954, p.40.
227 Maurice Tuchman, Edward Kienholz (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966), pp.8-9. To my knowledge, Tuchman’s view on Albright as a antecedent to installation art is rare. Albright is generally ignored by writers of the so-called avant garde. Tuchman wrote, “Many earlier artists, especially 19th century ‘history painters,’ also set up extensive and detailed reconstructions - but only as models. Meissonier anticipated Hollywood’s flamboyant productions by arranging costumed figures, stacks of straw and great heaps of cotton when real snow could not be made available. Today, some would find the models more interesting than Meissonier’s transformation into oil on canvas. Ivan Albright is a recent example of another artist also concerned with time who painted from a model he laboriously constructed. His ‘Poor Room – There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End’ was painted from a life-size model. When exhibited beside the oil it projected a startling presence rivaling that of the painting.” Kienholz was invoked most recently by Susan Weininger in, “Ivan Albright in Context,” in op.cit., Rossen (Ed.) Ivan Albright, p.81. A fine recent Kienholz catalogue is, Walter Hopps [et al.], Kienholz: A Retrospective, (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with Distributed Art Publishers, 1996).
228 Op. cit., Kienholz quoted in Tuchman, Edward Kienholz, p.8.
229 Albright quoted in Time, “Not Nice But Unique,” Vol. 64, No. 6, 8/9/1954, p.56.
230 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.32.
231 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.66.
232 The most recent contributions to literature on Etant Donnes can be found in: Amelia Jones, Postmodernism and the En-Gendering of Marcel Duchamp, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Dalia Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, (Berkeley and Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1995); Mason Klein, Toward a Phenomenology of the Self: Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnés, (Ph.D dissertation, City University of New York, 1994); and Charng-Jiunn Tosi Lee, The Symbolism and Self-Imaging of Marcel Duchamp, (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994).
233 For Duchamp’s collecting of bricks, the door, and other elements see: Anne D'Harnoncourt and Walter Hopps, Etant Donnes: 1. la chute d’eau 2. le gaz d’eclairage, Reflections on a New Work by Marcel Duchamp, (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1969)pp.10-11. Also, Manual of Instruction for Marcel Duchamp Etant Donnes: 1. la chute d’eau 2. le gaz d’eclairage, (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1987).
234 This exhibition was favorably reviewed by Dore Ashton, “An Open and Shut Case,” Arts Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 6, April 1968, pp.28-30.
235 Letter to Ludgin from Albright, 8/28/1968, Earle Ludgin Papers.
236 Avis Berman interview with Katharine Kuh, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, p.95. Kuh told Berman, “Do you know who was absolutely crazy about his work when he came to Chicago? Dubuffet thought he was the greatest artist in America. He told me so…Most people who came, particularly Europeans, didn’t care for his work at all. But Dubuffet did. I think Albright’s a much more exciting artist than Dubuffet, much less chic.” See also Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987). Dubuffet’s visit to Albright’s studio is usually obscured by his Anticultural Positions lecture in Chicago and thus almost never mentioned in the literature. Glimcher makes a passing reference, p.26 and reproduces That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do, the painting that so impressed Dubuffet at the Art Institute, p.28. 237 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.55.
238 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.19.
239 Letter to Earle Ludgin from John Richardson, 4/29/1963, Earle Ludgin Papers, Archives of American Art.
240 Letter to Ludgin from Richardson, 4/29/1963, Earle Ludgin Papers, Archives of American Art.
241 Letter to Albright from Ludgin, 5/17/1963, Earle Ludgin Papers, Archives of American Art.
242 Letter to Ludgin from Richardson, 5/14/1963, Earle Ludgin Papers, Archives of American Art. John Richardson recalled his visit to Albright’s studio, “The most striking thing that sticks out in my mind about it was how relatively small the studio was… And that everything about the environment, the neighborhood in which his studio was located was like his dusty, scruffy subject matter. It was as if one was sort of fixed in the picture space and that the area around the studio had also been transformed.” Conversation with the author, 8/18/1998. 243 Ivan Albright, Max Kahn and Constantine Pougialis, “3 Painters Review Art Critic’s Exhibit,” Chicago Daily News, 3/5/1953, Ivan Albright Scrapbook, volume two, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.
244 For an illustration of this painting see Aaron Bohrod: Master of Trompe L’Oeil, (New York: Danenberg & Roman Galleries, Inc., 11/8-11/27/1971), p.16.
245 For Benton see: Sidney Hyman, The Lives of William Benton, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969); for the Albrights and Stevenson see: Walter Johnson (ed.), The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson: Volume II Washington to Springfield 1941-1948, (Boston and Toronto, Little, Brown & Company, 1973), p.548; Walter Johnson (ed. for all of the following citations), The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson: Volume III Governor of Illinois 1949-1953, (Boston and Toronto, Little, Brown & Company, 1973), p.437; The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson: Volume IV “Let’s Talk Sense to the American People,” 1952-1955, (Boston and Toronto, Little, Brown & Company, 1974), p.149; The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson: Volume VII Continuing Education and the Unfinished Business of American Society 1957-1961, (Boston and Toronto, Little, Brown & Company, 1977), p.234; The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson: Volume VIII Ambassador to the U.N. 1961-1965 (Boston and Toronto, Little, Brown & Company, 1979), p.109. For Albright’s direct relationship to these two figures, see William Benton Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Until further Albright correspondence appears, Benton’s papers are the best source on this subject, especially letter from Albright to Benton, January 8, 1965.
246 Notebook 18, p.13. Albright says here that he began Mary Block’s portrait on January 27, 1955.
247 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.49.
248 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.49.
249 Alice Frost Lord, “New Harbor, Corea, Cundy’s Harbor and Deer Isle Intrigue Hollywood Artist,” Lewiston Journal, Magazine Section, 11/25/1944, p.A3.
250 “Super-Realist Albright Bought by Chicago,” Art Digest, Vol. 16, 12/1/1941, p.17.
251 Op. cit., Robb, Art News, Vol. 49, No. 4, June/July/August 1950, p.45.
252 The reader will recall Albright’s use of local residents in Warrensville, Illinois as models.
253 Op. cit., Kuh, The Open Eye: In Pursuit of Art, pp.8-9.
254 Notebook, 1984.6.35, p.24, 11/24/1973.
255 Notebook, 1984.6.25, pp.23-24, 3/7/1966.
256 Notebook, 1984.6.29, p.49, Fall, 1972.
257 Notebook, 1984.6.30, p.12, c.1968.
258 Op. cit., Cummings interview, p.53. Albright admired Giacometti’s tall bronze figures until he saw Etruscan standing bronzes at an exhibition in Canada, whose similar elongated shapes led Albright to suspect Giacometti of copying.
259 For a comparison, see James Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1965, rev. ed. 1980), passim, but esp. pp.44-45;
260 Notebook, 1984.6.41, p.21, 5/29/1978.
261 Albright was interested in the legendary Shroud of Turin as early as 1966 when the Shroud itself is first mentioned in his notebooks. In Ivan Albright Archive, Notebook 25, pp.18 and 20, 1/2/1966, he describes attempting a drawing. After a trip to Israel in 1967, Albright became highly interested in the shroud and theories about its legend, and based at least three works upon it: In the fall of 1969 he describes a sculpture (Ivan Albright
Archive, Notebook 30, p.45-47, November 1969 and to Paul Cummings, p.43-44). In 1970 he describes what may have been a painting (Notebook 27, p.11, 7/9/1970) - neither of which appear to be extant. In 1981 he executed an etching, “Head of Christ” (Notebook 36, p.10, 13, June 1981) which is in the collection of The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. He also owned a photograph of the Shroud which he gave to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1977.
262 See for instance, Albright Archive, Notebooks 42, p.11, 5/11/1978; 39, p.56-8, 4/14/1981; 43, p.4-8, 1/28/1978 and 44, p.48, 10/28/1979.
263 Notebook 42, 7/18/1979, p.33. The work is reproduced in color in Op. cit., Rossen (Ed.), Ivan Albright, plate 69.
264 1984.6.44, pp.47-48, 10/28/1979.
265 Op. cit., Ivan Albright: The Late Self-Portraits, p.15.
266 Notebook 1984.6.48, pp.20-21, 1982.
267 Letter to “Peaches” from Josephine Albright [after 9/14/1983]. Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives. Malvin died in Florida on September 14th.
268 Letter to Jerry Freeman from Josephine Albright [postmarked 12/14/1983]. Ivan Albright Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives. This letter reads in part, “He was lucid until the very end and…was able to work three days before he died. He was able to be at home surrounded by family, friends, animals and things that he loved. His was a full and fulfilled life, so we have much to be thankful for.” 269 Art Digest, “Albright, an ‘Old Master’ from Illinois,” Vol. 5, No. 1, 10/1/1930, pp.5, 6 is a good assessment of critical labels up to the 1930s.
270 Op. cit., Pearson, Experiencing American Pictures, p.181 called him “our living old master.” See also, op. cit., Art Digest, 10/1/1930, pp.5, 6.