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John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911) By Joel S. Dryer © Illinois Historical Art Project

1918, Art Institute Alumni Exhibition


The cradle of John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911) rocked in the land of windmills and tulips, but it was in the “City of Big Shoulders” where his great talent for art was nurtured and where he gained world-wide fame as instructor for the greatest art school in the Midwest, and as author of the most remarkable art book of its time.


Vanderpoel’s parents, John and Maria (nee van Nes), made their living in the flax business in Rijsoord (now Ridderkerk), near Amsterdam, Holland. When the flax crop failed, they moved with six children to Haarlemmermeer, on the outskirts of Haarlem, where John H. and three other siblings were born. After the death of his wife, Vanderpoel’s father, convinced by correspondence with friends of great opportunities in America, set sail aboard The New York, on June 11, 1868, with his ten children: Maria, Adrianus, Jan, Hendricka, William, Johanne (John H.), Elizabeth, Macheltje (Matilda), Cornelius, and Cornelia, plus Maria’s fiancée, Bastian Leenheer.[1]


Of limited means, steerage was their only option for travel. The money ran out in New York and funds had to be borrowed to complete the trip to Chicago. Vanderpoel’s father spent many sleepless nights before the family was on a firm financial footing.[2]


The family arrived in Chicago aboard a Lake Shore emigrant car on July 11, 1868. Because of language difficulties, the little group wandered a long time looking for their friend’s home. When they were settled in an area called Little Bohemia (now Pilsen), he would return home from his laborer’s job and walk the children to classes. He made sure they learned the language of their adopted country. Every Sunday, the Vanderpoels attended services at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Halsted Street. They heard sermons which shaped their character and they sang with a caring congregation from hymnals printed in Dutch on one page and English on the other.[3]


Young John’s love of art had blossomed since age nine when he took his first freehand drawing lessons at the little polytechnic school in Kruisdorp, Holland. His father brought home an architect of Dutch lineage and Bohemian background to teach drawing to the children in their new Chicago home. John and his younger sister Matilda showed great talent.[4] John sought instruction in art wherever he could. In the public schools his blackboard drawings astonished schoolmates.[5] He attended Sunday afternoon classes conducted at Turner Hall in downtown Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Turngemeinde.[6]


Herman Hanstein, who taught in the public schools,[7] and Christian F. Schwerdt, a professor at the Chicago Academy of Design, recognized Vanderpoel’s talents. They helped him obtain a scholarship given by Uranus Crosby of the Crosby Opera House to attend the Academy of Design, of which Crosby was secretary.[8] Vanderpoel then studied with Lawrence Carmichael Earle[9], Schwerdt[10], James Farrington Gookins[11] and Henry Fenton Spread.


Spread made the biggest impression on young Vanderpoel. Born in Kinsale, Ireland, he was a man of culture, broad experience and social charm. He insisted on “method” drawing and could be described as severe, but would often gather the students around himself for impromptu talks.[12] His dreams fired the pupil’s imaginations and his eccentricities endeared him to them.[13]


The Academy of Design was reorganized as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in May 1879. Spread and Earle were professors of Drawing and Painting; Vanderpoel became an Assistant Professor of Drawing and Newton H. Carpenter was Instructor in Perspective.[14] Vanderpoel was an Instructor in Drawing by 1880.[15]


Noted Chicago artist Adam Emory Albright, opened his first paint box in Vanderpoel’s still life class. Albright had responded to a circular advertising a day and night school of modest tuition that promised help in finding room and board for out of state students. Albright later described Vanderpoel as a natural born teacher.[16]


Early in his career Vanderpoel joined ranks with contemporaries for the advancement of art in Chicago. In February 1880, he and thirteen other young students formed the Chicago Art League. By 1882, they were exhibiting at O’Brien’s Gallery and in 1883, and years following, at the Art Institute of Chicago.[17]


Vanderpoel began painting outdoors early in his career. In July 1881, the Academy sponsored a sketching excursion to the Natural Bridge, Virginia. While there the party of about thirty from six Western states, were saddened to hear of President Cleveland’s assassination but taken by the beautiful scenery.[18] In 1882-83, when the Academy became the Art Institute of Chicago, Vanderpoel taught Still Life in Oil.


In the Summer 1883, Vanderpoel spent over a month with the Eliphalet Wickes Blatchford family in Colorado Springs. Blatchford had been vice president of the Academy. Vanderpoel sketched mountain scenery and with Blatchford’s daughters, Amy and Fanny, made sketches at Queen Cañon and visited the “Garden of the Gods.”[19] Later that school year and next, he taught drawing from the antique.


In the Summer 1885, the school sponsored a Canadian sketching party of fifty who stayed about twenty days in Rosseau, Ontario, Vanderpoel and Alex Schilling were the teachers; old friends, they had studied together, shared a studio, and helped found the Chicago Art League.[20] Chicago artist Minerva Josephine Chapman, featured with an essay in this book, was one of the students. [21]


Vanderpoel earned a traveling scholarship to attend the Académie Julian in 1885. It was the fulfillment of a dream and although very accomplished by now, he said that up to this time, “he had seen but not really known.”[22]


Rodolphe Julian, founder of the Académie, earned the Legion d’Honneur in 1881. His disciplined methods were highly respected and approximated those of the Ecole des Beaux-arts.[23] He was also described as a crafty, clever man of the world.[24] Perhaps his studios were unkempt and airless,[25] but there was no shortage of models. An artist in Paris at that time would often spend nerve-wracking time searching for the right model. Earlier at the Art Institute, the pupils had posed for each other. Amateurs at best, they lacked concentration to hold a pose for long. Vanderpoel’s solution was to disregard the amateurs and concentrate on the best of the most ideal, Venus de Milo. Vanderpoel would later propose to the School of the Art Institute a method for training models. The plan was thought unfeasible because untrained models were thought more likely to present natural poses.[26]


Vanderpoel so distinguished himself under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph LeFebvre that his work was hung on the walls of the Académie, an honor granted to only four American students attending at that time.[27]Classmate Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) recorded his Paris days, saying he was happy with the highly specialized routine at Académie Julian which enabled a student to sketch a whole figure in one hour, but unhappy with Paris itself which he considered a “wicked city,” besides being “ravaged by cholera” and “politically unstable.” Vanderpoel is photographed with him in the group of Les Anglais.[28]


During his first of many trips abroad, Vanderpoel visited both Munich and Italy. He took American students and a few others to Rijsoord, Holland, during the summer. A cousin provided lodging for the ladies of the group in that Summer of 1888. Walter Gilman Page told of the “Latin Quarter Gang” to whom was shown a wonderful summer at Rijsoord.[29]


It was a magical time at the Art Institute when Vanderpoel returned from Paris in 1888. He was appointed chief instructor and lecturer in drawing and construction of the figure, a position he maintained for twenty-two years.[30] He and his colleagues seemed touched by a spark which spread to the students. Only a decade later it was said that: “The Art Institute and J. H. Vanderpoel are so closely identified that to speak of one without the other would be almost impossible.”[31]


William Merchant Richardson French waved the wand as Director of the School from 1879 until his death in 1914, he was brother to the sculptor, Daniel Chester French. French came to Chicago as a civil engineer but his office was consumed by the 1871 fire, and his business suffered financial failure during the economic panic of 1873. A Harvard graduate trained in the classics, he began lecturing and writing about art, then devoted his full time to art after his connection with the Academy of Design in 1878.[32]


Vanderpoel returned to Rijsoord during the summer 1889, where he showed several male students a “great summer.”[33] They probably lodged at the Hotel Warrendorp.


Aiming to outdo the Paris Exposition of 1889, the White City arose miraculously out of the dirt and depression which had marked Chicago, to draw the whole world to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Vanderpoel was given an exceedingly great honor to serve on the International Committee of Judges for Fine Arts.[34] Additionally, he was named vice chairman of the World Congress of Painters during the Exposition. He exhibited five pictures in the Art Palace, three of which are pictured in the contemporary book, Revisiting the White City.[35]


The exhibit of the School of Art Institute showed the remarkable success of its students. Both the museum and school came into possession of the building used for the World’s Congress of Religions at the close of the fair. The fair had a very strong impact on the minds of people artistically inclined; this in addition to the new expanded space served to almost triple attendance at the school.[36]


Plein-air painting was encouraged by the Art Institute. Riverside, a suburb west of Chicago was a favorite spot for Vanderpoel who took students there daily in 1890.[37] The hundreds of pictures done along the Des Plaines River evoked poetry on canvas.[38]


In summer 1890, Charles Boutwood and Vanderpoel sketched for a month in St. Joseph, Michigan. It was called the Coney Island of the Midwest and attracted vacationers from Chicago who traveled straight across Lake Michigan on the daily schooners. During the next summer, the St. Joseph Herald noted the professors were back and they had brought with them a group of twenty Art Institute Students.[39] St. Joseph boasted a moving sidewalk, a grand hotel and activities around the clock. It must have proven too distracting. The summer in 1891 also saw Boutwood and Vanderpoel exploring Oregon and Dixon, Illinois.[40] Lorado Taft soon established his Eagles Nest Colony at Oregon. Vanderpoel’s bride, Jessie Humphreys, accompanied him on this trip. He and Jessie had been married on December 23, 1890.[41] There had been a rash of romance at the Art Institute that year. Four of the professors, director French and even the librarian married. An alumnus of the Art Institute revealed Vanderpoel wooed Jessie in the presence of his students, much to their delight. Often, he would sit on a stool and read poetry to her with such feeling that the class almost forgot to draw at all.[42] On recommendation of Mr. French, the newlyweds moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood (now known as the Beverly Hills neighborhood in Chicago) just a block away from the French home.


One of Vanderpoel and Boutwood’s students, Adolph Shulz, recommended his home town of Delavan, Wisconsin, for summer sketching in 1891. This became their summer home of classes for about fifteen years.[43] Students from the Art Institute, many of them city dwellers, delighted in the scenery. [44] One student “felt the spirit of Corot among the cool shadows of the willows, Daubigny speaking from the valley of forest trees, Inness down the dusty road and even Theodore Robinson out of the purple shadows.”[45] When weather was foul, they enjoyed painting in a studio provided by the City of Delavan on the small Lake Comus.[46] Critic Louise Riedel had this to say about the area:


“Nature was in a lavish mood when she molded the hills and hollows of Delavan. She bestowed beauties with a free hand upon this Wisconsin resort, and the observant eye can find charming bits in quick succession. The succession of hill upon hill, the moody lake with its purple shadows at evening, and its rank growth of lilies, rushes and sedges, the small stream winding through the valley, past willows and grassy banks, almost lost to sight at times, but persistently reappearing – these are a few of the charms that never weary… The work of the week usually includes painting from a model posed outdoors during one-half of the day, when a subject is chosen which suggests open-air occupation… The other half of the day is devoted to landscape.”[47]


Adolph and his wife Ada, (also a student of Vanderpoel at the Art Institute) assumed the role of hosts for the students.[48] They not only opened their home for social activities but often counseled the distressed and provided financial aid for those who needed it. Many student works were sold in front of the Shulz homestead.[49]


In addition to summers in Delavan, Vanderpoel and Boutwood made side trips to Burlington, Wisconsin. Martha Susan Baker (1871-1911) and Anna Lee Stacey (1865-1943) were among twenty-two artists on the trip.[50] Still seeking the ideal locale, Vanderpoel conducted outdoor classes at the Presbyterian Mission Farm in Petoskey, Michigan, in 1894, but they returned again to Delavan.[51]


During the summers from 1898 to 1902, Vanderpoel and Boutwood were assisted by Delavan native, Frank Phoenix. He was the grandson of town founder, Samuel F. Phoenix. Frank had been encouraged to paint when the two teachers started the summer classes. He became so enamoured with art that he sold his wallpaper business and enrolled at the Art Institute in 1894. He attended the Académie Julian in Paris in 1898, and upon his return, became an instructor at the Art Institute until 1912.[52]


At a meeting held in the town opera house in 1899, Vanderpoel encouraged town officials to make Delavan the most beautiful and artistic city in Wisconsin. He recommended the creation of a Board of Park Commissioners; Shulz and Phoenix’s brother, John J., were appointed.[53] A blotch in the idyllic picture were the cows that terrorized the feminine students, devoured the landscape and ultimately led to the exodus of several artists to Brown County, Indiana.[54] Even Vanderpoel was intimidated by the bovines and suggested a new site, devoid of cows, would be preferred. The last summer Vanderpoel taught in Delavan appears to be 1909, although announcement was made of lessons to be given in 1910.[55]


Vanderpoel’s expertise as a teacher during the regular school year was often recognized by the press. A writer was enthralled watching him down in the basement of the Art Institute with two skeletons on either side of him, his words flowing along “quiet and clear as a meadow brook” and also his drawing flowing “as if his very fingers thought.”[56] Another stated “Mr. Vanderpoel is unexcelled as a teacher and the students under his care reflect his superiority in the quality of their work.”[57] However it was soon recognized by the press that Vanderpoel’s teaching duties were severely limiting his output of paintings, a fact reflected today in the small number of works that in retrospect can be counted.[58]


A central figure at the Art Institute and winner of Chicago’s most important art prize, Vanderpoel became active in the various art organizations that were forming as the art community matured.[59] He was a counselor for the Central Art Association, organized in 1894, “for the dispersion of good art among the people.” [60] Its goal was to promote painting throughout the Midwest. The association sent traveling art exhibits (often hung in hotel lobbies or vacant storefronts) to other Midwestern towns. They published a program of art study held at the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) as well as a magazine, The Arts, later renamed Arts for America.[61] At a festival held in the Art Institute, he helped plan an exhibition of 16th century Dutch and Flemish art.[62]


The Arché club was organized in 1889 by twenty ladies for the purpose of studying art. Vanderpoel lectured to the club and when they opened a salon for local artists in 1896, he won $100 for his Ready for the Question, and became an honorary member.[63] The club later purchased his watercolor, Threading the Needle.[64]


The Society of Western Artists was formed in 1896, and received much of Vanderpoel’s attention. Organized “with the purpose of bringing the artists west of the Alleghenies in closer fraternal communication and their works before a larger public,” its membership extended beyond Chicago to Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Toledo and St. Louis.[65] Vanderpoel was a regular exhibitor at these annual shows. His paintings were described as low in tone, but full of sympathy and tender sentiment.[66]


[1]Letter from H. M. Visser-Prins, Gemeentearchief, Harlemmermeer, 10/30/1991.

[2]Recollections of John Vanderpoel, Sr., 12/6/1907, Ruth Vanderpoel Papers. See also: Chicago Inter Ocean, 7/30/1909, p.7. Death notice of John Vanderpoel, Sr. at age 82 stated he was still employed in the Recorder's Office of Cook County where he was the oldest employee in service. He had also held the office of Chief Clerk of Probate Court, where he was known as “Uncle John.”

[3]“Reminisciences of our early Chicago Experiences,” Speech by William Vanderpoel, (John H.'s brother), 3/23/1908, given on occasion of their father’s 80th birthday, Ruth Vanderpoel Papers.

[4]“In Chicago’s Studios,” Chicago Evening Post, 1/30/1891 in Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, vol. 5. [A search for this paper on microfilm at four different libraries revealed a gap from 1/23 to 4/30/1891, hence no page number is given]. Matilda graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 1891 and taught there from 1901 to 1931. She helpred found the Saturday juvenile school and became principal of the Winnetka, Illinois, branch of the junior school.

[5]“Art Notes,” The Graphic, 1/23/1892, p. 64.

[6]A group of Germans known for their admirable ideals of a healthy mind in a healthy body. Illinois Staatszeituing, 5/12/1871, p.3, advertised the Sunday school at 257-259 Clark Street, charged children $2 for instruction in drawing and penmanship. Vanderpoel mentions the Turner Hall in op. cit., Chicago Evening Post, 1/30/1891.

[7]“Art Notes,” The Graphic, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1/23/1892, p.64.

[8]Fred W. Sandberg, “Chicago Art Colony to Lose J. H. Vanderpoel,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6/26/1910, part II, p.7.

[9]William H. Gerdts, Art Across America, Vol. 2, p. 248.

[10]Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Vol. 3, (Chicago: 1886), p.421 states that Schwerdt was born in Hesse-Cassel, Germany, and was a prosperous portrait painter. He came to Chicago in 1869.

[11]Gookins is referred to as “Chicago’s first art teacher.” He opened his first Chicago studio in 1865. See: Ruby Bradford Murphy, “Works of City’s ‘Forgotten’ Artist Are Discovered,” Chicago Tribune, 10/3/1966, Sec. 1B, p. 1. See also, Wilbur D. Peat, Pioneer Painters of Indiana, (Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, 1954), p. 43.

[12]“He is considered a rather sever teacher, rigid in his exactions, but the pupil who finishes under him has learned a lesson he will not forget.” “Students At The Art Institute,” Times-Herald, 6/2/1895, n.p., Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, Vol. 5 or 6., p.48.

[13]“Art Notes,” The Graphic, 9/19/1890, p.707. He was said to have done more than any other person of his time to awaken a genuine love of art in Chicago, see: Chicago Times, 11/17/1887, p.11. Spread held that the vast majority of students were not serious enough and he sought to cure that by only taking students for an entire term, refusing to bend from the progression of drawing to painting, see: “Art Taste In Chicago,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 1/20/1889, p.1. A much later commentary on Spread said, “…the art development of Chicago was largely identical with that of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the beginnings of this period center much around H. F. Spread, the leading instructor. A true artist, educator and citizen, his enthusiasm incited students to zealous activity, see: Ralph Clarkson, “Art Makes Great Strides Despite The City’s Newness,” Chicago Daily News, 6/17/1929, p.15.

[14]Circular of the School of Instruction, Academy of Fine Arts at SW corner of State and Monroe Streets, Chicago, (Chicago: Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, 1879), Chicago Historical Society.

[15]Circular of School of Instruction, Drawing and Painting, 1880-1881, (Chicago: Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, 1880), Chicago Historical Society.

[16]Adam E. Albright, For Art's Sake, (Chicago: privately published, 1953), p. 58.

[17]Invitation for Exhibit 2/25-3/9/1882, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Art League Pamphlet File. See also: Year Book of the Chicago Society of Artists, 1910, p. 2, Chicago Historical Society. In 1888, the year of Vanderpoel’s return from Paris, the Chicago Society of Artists superseded the Chicago Art League, with Spread as President. Its objective was, “The Advancement of Art in Chicago, and the cultivation of social relations among its members.” Vanderpoel served as president three times: 1891-1892;1895 and 1910.

[18]“Art Notes,” The Chicago Tribune, 7/17/1881, p.10.

[19]Letters to Paul Blatchford from Eliphalet Blatchford, 7/6/1883 and 8/31/1883, Eliphalet Wickes Blatchford correspondence, Newberry Library, Chicago. Blatchford later became the First President of the Newberry Library Board of Trustees, Chicago.

[20]Royal Cortissoz, et al., The Book of Alexander Shilling, (New York: Paisley Press, 1937), p.51.

[21]Paul J. Staiti and P. Hastings Falk, Minerva J. Chapman, (Hadley, MA: Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, 1986), photo on p. 9, shows Chapman, Vanderpoel and Schilling. Chapman is featured with an essay in this book, also written by Peter Hastings Falk.

[22]Op. cit., Sandberg, Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6/26/1910, part II, p.7.

[23]John Milner, The Studios of Paris--The Capital of Art in the Late 19th Century, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 12.

[24]George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man, (London: Sonnenschein, Lowery & Co., 1888), p.22. Moore, an Irish novelist, poet and playwright, went to Paris with a valet, intent on studying privately with LeFebvre who suggested he enroll at Julian’s where he taught once a week. Moore treated Julian to dinners and theatre; Julian threw open a door of Parisian life to him.

[25]George Biddle, An American Artist’s Story, (Boston: Biddle, Brown & Co., 1939), p. 125. The author describes Julian’s as “a cold, filthy, uninviting firetrap” where the models often fainted from lack of fresh air; “But, G_d knows, I was happy that year in the Latin Quarter.”

[26]Op. cit., Sandberg, Chicago Tribune, 6/26/1910, Section 2, p. 7. See also “School for Models,” Chicago Evening Post, 11/21/1896, p.4.

[27]“Art Notes,” The Graphic, 1/23/1892, p.64.

[28]Frederick C. Moffatt, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977), p. 25, fig. 13. Vanderpoel is in the front row with a mustache at the far right.

[29]Letter to Matilda Vanderpoel from Walter G. Page, John H. Vanderpoel Art Association archives, 11/24/1928. The rest of the group included fellow students Arthur Frank Matthews and Philip Leslie Hale.

[30]Op. cit., Sandberg , Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6/26/1910, p.7. Oliver Dennett Grover (1860-1927) was the co-head of the department with Vanderpoel until leaving the school in 1892. See also Harriet Hayden Hayes, “Chicago Artists and Their Works,” The National Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 1, April 1897, pp.54-55: “[Vanderpoel] is called one of the most successful teachers in the world.”

[31]Blanche M. Howard, “Society Of Western Artists. Chicago Group,” Arts For America, Vol. 7, No. 7, March 1898, p.407.

[32]Roger Gilmore, editor, Over a Century: A History of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1866-1981, (Chicago: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1982), p.70. 

[33]Op. cit., Letter to Alexander Schilling. Minverva Josephine Chapman (1858-1947) was among his guests, see: Letter from John H. Vanderpoel, 8/12/1889, Vanderpoel Art Association archives. Vanderpoel was in Holland again in 1892. “Current Art,” Chicago Tribune, 10/23/1892, p.39.

[34]The Book of the Fair, Vol. 4, (Chicago: Blakely Printing Co., 1893), p.960, shows Vanderpoel seated on the steps of the Fine Arts Building with other distinguished Members of the International Committee of Judges for Fine Arts.

[35]Robert W. Rydell and Carolyn Kinder Carr, Revisiting The White City: American Art at the 1893 World's Fair, (Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, 1993), p. 335.

[36]Op. cit., Roger Gilmore, p. 69.

[37]“Among the Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 5/28/1890, p.8.

[38]“Was an Art Center,” Riverside News, 10/17/1912, p.1.

[39]Op. cit., Chicago Evening Post, 5/28/1890, p.8 and “Personals,” The Herald, 6/14/1890, p.1. The artists had their studio in the east part of town, in a picturesque orchard overlooking the harbor and the river. Excursion boats brought visitors in the thousands over the weekend.

[40]“Art Notes,” The Graphic, 6/13/1891, p.383.

[41]“The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 12/28/90, p. 7.

[42]Maude Maple Miles reminescences, written for an Art Institute alumni meeting, November, 1922, Robert Harshe files, Ryerson Library archives, Art Institute of Chicago.

[43]“Delavan’s Adolph Shulz Becomes Prominent Artist,” Delavan Enterprise, 2/10/1972, p.3B. [This is one of several articles published about Delavan famous citizens in commemoration of the town’s Diamond Jubilee].

[44]John H. Vanderpoel, “Sketching from Nature,” The Sketch Book, Vol. 3, June 1904, No. 10, pp.309-310.

[45]Gertrude Stiles, Art Interchange, 9/9/1897, pp.55-56.

[46]Louise Riedel, “Student Life at Delavan,” Brush and Pencil, Vol. 2, No. 3, June 1898, pp.116-117.

[47]Op. cit., Riedel, Brush and Pencil, June 1898, pp.115-116.

[48]Ada’s autobiography, written for the Janesville Art League, 1908, states she entered the Art Institute under Vanderpoel in 1889. When she attended the Académie Vitti in Paris, she learned to appreciate Mr. Vanderpoel’s teaching, for “all the girls who had studied under him did the best drawing in the Academie.”

[49]Op. cit., Delavan Enterprise, 2/10/1972, p.3B.

[50]The Burlington Budget, announced the arrival and activities of the artists, see for example 6/3/1893, 6/10/1893 and 6/17/1893.

[51]“Back to the Studios,” Chicago Tribune, 11/4/1894, p.25.

[52]Teaching dates courtesy of the Illinois Historical Art Project and Ryerson Library archives, Art Institute of Chicago. See also: Biographical file at Aram Library, Delavan, Wisconsin.

[53]Delavan Enterprise, 8/31/1899, article provided by W. Gordon Yadon, Delavan Historic Presentation Society, Inc.

[54]Op. cit., Delavan Enterprise, 2/10/1972, p.4B.

[55]Evelyn Marie Stuart, “Summer Vacation Classes in Art,” Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 22, No. 6, June 1910.

[56]“Art Institute Lessons,” The Sunday Chronicle, 12/15/1895, p.35. Mr Vanderpoel’s illustrations of the head and eye were printed.

[57]Fred W. Sandberg, “It Required Seven Large Rooms for Students’ Exhibit: Critique of a Meritorious and Comprehensive Display,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6/19/1910, part II, p.5.

[58]“Chicago Art and Artists,” Sunday Inter Ocean, 5/9/1897, col. 1, p.35.

[59]Vanderpoel won a second prize of $200, given by philanthropist Charles T. Yerkes, for his oil painting, Twilight Reverie, at the fourth annual Chicago Society of Artists exhibit in 1892. At the time, the Yerkes prize was the only prize in Chicago. Now in its 111th year, the CSA is one of the oldest, most continuous art organization in the country; its members are distinguished local artists. For reference to the prize see the following: “Some Fine Pictures,” Chicago Evening Post, 5/27/1892, p.5; “A Conquest in Art,” Daily Inter Ocean, 5/28/1892, p.5; “The Society of Artists,” Chicago Times, 5/29/1892, p. 10; “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 5/29/1892, p.6; “Local Art Conquers, Daily Inter Ocean, 6/5/1892, p.7 and “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 6/12/1892, p.7. Vanderpoel and his wife then visited France and Holland for the Summer. See also: “Art and Artists,” The Graphic, 7/11/1892, p. 436 and 7/18/1892, p. 451.

[60]“Art Editorials,” Arts for America, June 1896, Vol. 5, No. 5, p.200.

[61]Information courtesy of the Illinois Historical Art Project.

[62]Charles A. L. Morse, “Artists’ Festival,” Arts for America, March 1897, Vol. 6, No. 7, pp.214-16.

[63]The painting is illustrated in “Arché Salon,” Arts For America, Central Art Association, Vol. 5, No. 1, February 1896, p.47.

[64]History of Arché Club, Gift of the Arché Society, 10/1/1941, Chicago Historical Society. Vanderpoel’s popular work was also owned by the West End Woman’s Club, who awarded him a purchase prize at the Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists, in 1898. The painting Winter Planting, was illustrated in Brush and Pencil, Vol. 1, No. 6, March 1898, p.187.

[65]John H. Vanderpoel, “The Society of Western Artists,” Brush and Pencil, Vol. 1, No. 6, March 1898, pp.153-164.

[66]Op. cit., Howard, Arts For America, March 1898, p.407.




Despite the demands of his teaching and lecturing duties, Vanderpoel exhibited watercolors and oil paintings whenever possible. One critic claimed he and Jules Guerin were the first Chicago artists to exhibit as a duo; before them artists exhibited alone or in a group.[1] Vanderpoel earlier had held a one-man exhibit at Chicago’s Anderson Galleries, in April 1898.[2] In addition to the Chicago Society of Artists and the Society of Western Artists exhibits, he participated in the Art Institute annual exhibitions. A wise and much sought after juror, he served for a very broad range of exhibitions.[3]


Vanderpoel was also a member of the Municipal Art League, incorporated in 1901, after the Chicago Art Association and Municipal Art Society merged. They had strong impulses for civic beauty. The members devoted extensive volunteer time to activities which today are assumed by governmental agencies and paid employees.[4] Mr. Vanderpoel served as a judge of the eight member Municipal Court of Art whose purpose was to stop the sale of bogus paintings.[5]


A group known as “The Little Room,” began meetings meeting on Fridays, following Symphony Orchestra performances, in Ralph Elmer Clarkson’s (1861-1942) tenth floor studio in the Fine Arts Building.[6] There Vanderpoel socialized with Chicago’s elite including: writers Hamlin Garland, Elia Peattie and Henry B. Fuller; Hull Settlement House organizer, Jane Addams; poet Harriet Monroe; cartoonist, John T. McCutcheon; concert pianist, Fannie Bloomfield Ziesler; publisher-writer, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor and others. Out-of-town visitors included: writer/philanthropist, Edward Bok; artist, Childe Hassam; actress, Helene Modjeska; poet, Amy Lowell and dancer, Isadora Duncan.[7]


Vanderpoel strove for excellence and tried to instill it in his students. His approach to teaching was credited as the source of the Art Institute’s reputation as a School of severe drawing, though discipline was not as severe.[8] A student attending the Art Institute from 1895-1899, recalled they were probably given too much freedom. Initiations and hi-jinks were the norm. Sometimes they tossed stools at each other. When the girls stole the boy’s ice cream shortly before a planned party, the boys retaliated by spreading limburger cheese on the heat register in the girl’s life drawing classroom.[9]


A summer student aware of Vanderpoel’s reputation stated she started her first sketch with decided awe of her teacher, but she soon found he was only a kind and helpful man.[10] On the other hand, a certain young student who knew he was a genius because his papa and mama and all the folks back home had told his so, awaited Vanderpoel’s praise of a mediocre drawing. Vanderpoel studied it for a long while and then said, “You’re only dirtying your paper. Start another drawing.”[11] A student with astigmatism persisted in drawing the “human figure divine” slightly tipped to the left. This bothered the meticulous Vanderpoel until the student had glasses prescribed for her condition.[12] On another occasion, a Senator’s son strutted into the School. Successful as a political cartoonist for his local newspaper, he expected some respect. He may have earned more money than the masters at the School. The student refused to draw from casts or to attend classes in the required manner. Vanderpoel never touched his work.[13]


The ever conservative Vanderpoel, had problems with a modern group calling themselves “Beetles.”[14] But in true gentleman fashion, he probably categorized their ideas as youthful behavior, never taking personally a difference of opinion. When Beetle, Albert Henry Krehbiel went to the Netherlands on a traveling scholarship, he wrote from Dordrect July 27, 1903, that Vanderpoel’s cousins, the Van Leishouts, met him on the dock at Rotterdam. He asked that correspondence be sent c/o the Van Leishouts.[15] Krehbiel, who seemed to be following in Vanderpoel’s footsteps, attended the traditional Académie Julian where he won four gold medals. Upon his return, he taught for over thirty years at the Art Institute, five of those as a colleague of Vanderpoel.


The Art Institute served as a community center for Chicago’s numerous art organizations. Its school was one of the largest and most successful in the country.[16] Leading guest teachers were attracted to the school including William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, Will H. Low, Gari Melchers, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Henry Salem Hubbell and renowned graphic artist, Alphonse Mucha. Some students objected to Mucha’s methods. To make amends, Vanderpoel, master of the Institute’s “block” method, graciously complimented Mucha as the best draftsman in the world. Mucha put his hand over his heart and responded that he considered Vanderpoel the best draftsman in his country.[17]


Vanderpoel was beginning to systematize his teaching practices. He sought an outlet for tying together the progression a student might follow in developing as an artist. The magazine Brush and Pencil, published his drawings (constructions) as early as April and September, 1899.[18] The magazine then published a series of articles entitled “The Drawing and Construction of the Human Figure,” accompanied by more drawings beginning in December 1904, and continuing through June 1906. Students were encouraged to send drawings for criticism.[19]


This led to his 1907 book, The Human Figure; first published by Inland Printers, Chicago. By 1921, ten editions had been printed and 45,000 copies sold, indicating its outstanding popularity as an art textbook.[20] It was next printed by Bridgeman Publishers and today is being published by Dover. [21] The Human Figure has been appreciated by many artists. The great Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, accorded it first place in his library.[22] Georgia O’Keeffe, in her autobiography, related buying a copy and treasuring it.[23]


Throughout his career, Vanderpoel found additional venues for expression of his talent as a mural painter, critic, illustrator and writer for Brush and Pencil. [24] His mural Vintage Festival, brightened the walls of the Hotel Alexander in Los Angeles when it opened in early 1906. The thirty by sixty foot installation was patterned after the work of Alma-Tadema.[25] In June 1907, the College Theatre was founded and run by the Roman Catholic Church on Chicago’s north side.[26] Designed by eminent architect, J. E. O. Pridmore, who had studied the temples and theatres of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, it seated 2,000[27] and had no pillars blocking anyone’s view.[28] It boasted a splendid dome which contained eight huge mural paintings by Vanderpoel and noted Chicago mural specialist, Charles Holloway.[29] The summer of 1908 took Vanderpoel to Holland. Apparently he was having such a time there was concern whether he would return for the opening of the new school year.[30]


[1]“The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 1/24/1892, p.39. They had exhibited together as early as 1891. “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 12/6/1891, p.38. They exhibited together again at the Chicago Society of Artist in 1892 and 1894 according to “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 1/10/1892, p.31 and 1/31/1892, p.36, and “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 1/21/1894, p.38. See also: “About the Studios, Chicago Inter Ocean, 2/11/1894, p.27; “Stories Told in Color,” Chicago Record, 2/12/94, p.3 and “The Chronicle of Arts: Vanderpoel and Guerin,” Sunday Inter Ocean, Vol. XX, No. 306, 1/24/1892, Part 2, p.13.

[2]“Art and Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 4/16/1898, p.10, see also, “Art,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 4/17/1898, p.32 wherein an analysis of Vanderpoel’s art showed progress through various stages: “His earlier work carefully drawn and strong in values”; then, “a stage of streaked impressionistic handling with less careful draftsmanship”; then, “he fell into a pale, colorless style” but is returning “to a better style with more solidity, more color and more careful drawing.”

[3]Very early Vanderpoel was an important part of any competition or exhibition discussions. When Charles T. Yerkes announced he would offer $500 in prize money for a Chicago Society of Artists show, Vanderpoel and Director William French were to determine the rules by which the artists would compete and to suggest appropriate jurors. “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Tribune, 4/3/1892, p.39.Vanderpoel himself was a juror for the Art Institute annual shows, Art Students’ League of Chicago, Chicago Architectural Club, Chicago Camera Club, Chicago Society of Artists, Chicago Tribune contests, Cosmopolitan Club of Chicago, Detroit Intitute of Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Swedish-American Art Association, Universal Exposition (Louisiana Purchase) in St. Louis and World’s Columbian Exposition on both the Illinois State and National juries. In one case he was requested to travel to Detroit to judge student work for a foreign scholarship competition. “The Fine Arts,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 5/31/1891, p.36.

[4]Brochure of the Municipal Art League of Chicago, published 1930, pp 9-10, Municipal Art League files.

[5]Chicago Examiner, 3/2/1907, Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, vol. 22. (Attempts to locate this newspaper were unsuccessful). A favorite game of the fakers was to offer a painting for sale which was smuggled out of Italy after the robbery of a famous collection. “It is worth $50,000; we’ll let you have it for $5,000 if you keep it dark.” The Municipal Art League continues today. In recent years, it has concentrated on giving cash awards of excellence to deserving local artists. An Award of Honor was given in Vanderpoel’s memory on April 11, 1992. Later, the Illinois Academy of Fine Arts, organized in 1990 to expand public interest in and awareness of the fine and decorative arts in Illinois, recognized him with an award for Deceased Artist Working on Paper and for Deceased Educator.

[6]Secretary's Copy of Membership List, January, 1905. Newberry Library.

[7]Richard Teutsch, “Ralph Clarkson 1861-1942,” Tri-Color Magazine, May 1942, p.36. See also: Ralph Clarkson, “Art Makes Great Strides Despite the City’s Newness,” Chicago Daily News, 6/17/1929, p.15.

[8]Op. cit., Roger Gilmore, p.74.

[9]Letter to Mr. Harshe from Edgar S. Cowan, 11/18/1922, Art Institute of Chicago Alumni collection, Harshe letter files, Ryerson Library archives, Art Institute of Chicago.

[10]Op. cit., Riedel, Brush and Pencil, June 1898, p.116. Severity paid off, for Harriet Hayden Hayes, states in op. cit., The National Magazine, April 1897: “the extraordinary excellence of the pupils’ work is due to his teaching, and he also holds their hearts besides. Few teachers are so pleasing to work under.”

[11]Op. cit., Cowan letter.

[12]Op. cit., Miles reminiscences.

[13]Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), p.24. Vanderpoel would look at the work of other students and say, “It’s no good. Do it again.”

[14]The Beetles were students John Norton, Albert Krehbiel, Harry Townsend, Harry Osgood, and B.J.O. Nordfeldt plus Art Institute composition instructor, Frederick Richardson. See: Thomas Tallmadge, John W. Norton: American Painter 1876-1934, (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1935), pp.19-20. Tallmadge, an architect and local painter, described the Art Institute as a “boiling caldron of social and artistic interests.”  Until 1903, Norton signed some of his correspondence with a scientifically unidentifiable beetle resembling a bug wearing a Viking helmet; information courtesy Jim Zimmer, Curator, Lockport Gallery, Illinois State Museum, Lockport, IL. 

[15]Albert H. Krehbiel Papers, Ryerson Library Archives, Art Institute of Chicago.

[16]Anne Felicity Cierpik, “History of Art Institute of Chicago from its Incorporation on May 24, 1879 to the Death of Charles L. Hutchinson,” Masters dissertation, De Paul University, August 1957, De Paul University, Lincoln Park Campus.

[17]“Adherents of Block System of Drawing Opposes Theories Advanced by Lecturer,” Chicago Examiner, 11/2/1906 and “Block System Has a Day of Reverses,” Chicago Examiner, 11/3/1906, Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, Vol. 22. (Attempts to locate this newspaper were unsuccessful).

[18]“Figure Drawing by John H. Vanderpoel,” Vol. 11, Plate II, The Eye, p. 42; Plate III, The Nose, p. 128; Plate IV, Nose and Mouth, p. 174; Plate IV, The Mouth, p. 222; Plate V, The Mouth and Ear, p. 274; Plate VII, The Head, p.321.

[19]The Sketch Book, June, 1906, p. 351.

[20]F. X. M., “Reviewing A Well-Known Boo,” The American Art Student, May 1921, p.20.

[21]Bridgeman declared in his tribute to Vanderpoel that the representation of his drawings will not change with time. “Mr. Vanderpoel has left behind him a great and powerful influence. True art is not subject to period changes.”

[22]“A Million Dollars Worth of Pictures This Man’s Memorial,” Beverly Review, 1/24/1936.

[23]Georgia O’Keefe, Georgia O'Keeffe, (New York: The Viking Press, 1976), p. 10. O’Keefe praised Vanderpoel: “He was a very kind, generous little man – one of the few real teachers I have known.”

[24]The magazine Art and Music, announced his hiring as a critic on 1/6/1883, p.1. The next month, Art and Music was acquired by The Indicator. Issues for March and July 1884 and a special issue for 1886, showed Art and Music on the covers. Vanderpoel’s name did not appear on the masthead. Most of the articles went unsigned. Some of his articles in Brush and Pencil included: “The Antiquarians’ Loan Exhibition of Old and Modern Masters,” February 1898, pp.152-154; “The Society of Western Artists,” March 1898, pp.153-164; “On Some Miniatures by Miss Martha S. Baker,” n.d., pp.216-220; “The Permanent Collections in the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago,” May 1898, pp.49-53. His illustration work included Enid Yandell, Jean Loughborough and Laura Hayes, Three Girls in a Flat, (Chicago: Knight, Leonard & Co., 1892), title page. In 1900, he illustrated John A. Wright’s poem, “In Holland,” see: Blue Sky Magazine, Vol. 2, January-June, 1900, p.122.

[25]Chicago Tribune, 2/6/1906, p.11. Vanderpoel’s work is illustrated in the article. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, knighted in 1899, was born in Dronrip, Friesland and was famous for his historical scenes. His painting, Vintage Festival, was contained in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg in 1870, according to The Dictionary of Art, (New York: Grove’s Publishing Company, 1996), pp.251-253.

[26]L. France Pierce, “Chicago Theatre Entirely Controlled by Priests,” The Theatre, May 1908, pp.126, 127.

[27]The Musical Courier, June 1907.

[28]“J. E. O. Pridmore Dies: Chicago Architect, 75,” New York Times, 2/4/1940, Col. 2, p. 40. The article states the theater capacity at only 1,325.

[29]“Art and Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 8/17/1907, p.6. The subjects centered on education: Athens--Socrates and His Students; Constantine Delivering Rome to the Pope; The First Christian School; Ireland, the Seat of Learning in the Sixth Century; The First Italian University at Salerno; The University of Oxford; The Catholic University of America at Washington and The Muses and the Winged Horse Pegasus. Holloway won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889 for his stained glass and painted decorations. In 1892 he painted the proscenium mural at the Auditorium Theatre. Fire destroyed the College Theater on December 13, 1967, see: Joel Havemann, “DePaul Theater Swept by Blaze; Arson Probe On,” Chicago Sun-Times, 12/24/1967, pp.2, 19 and “Auditorium, Gym at DePaul is Damaged By $75,000 Blaze,” Chicago Tribune, 12/24/1967, Sec. 4, p.8. For an extensive article on the murals see the author’s “Vanderpoel murals little known facet of artistic excellence,” The Beverly Review, 9/12/2001, p.16.

[30]Letter  to John H. Vanderpoel from William M. R. French, French Letters, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, 8/10/1908.


In June 1910, the startling news came that Vanderpoel was leaving the Art Institute of Chicago where he had taught for thirty years to join the faculty of the Art Institute of the American Woman’s League of the People’s University in University City, Missouri.[1] The American Woman’s League (American Women’s Republic, as it was known by 1911) was an organization created by E. G. Lewis in 1908, to promote opportunities for women in the suffrage movement. At the time of Vanderpoel’s announcement there were close to 100,000 members of the AWL and the People’s University had an enrollment of 50,000 correspondence students.[2] The Art Academy (or Institute) building was the only structure realized in a grand scheme for an expansive campus.[3] As he was leaving Chicago, he received an additional offer from the London Royal Academy to teach.[4] However, his plans were to keep him too busy in Chicago and St. Louis. Vanderpoel had arranged, with Art Institute director French and Mr. Lewis, to continue teaching in Chicago for “three periods of two weeks each.”[5]


Vanderpoel’s was enthusiastic over his new grand plan of instruction consisting of a series of correspondence courses based upon his work on the human figure. Sixteen lessons had been completed by October 1910, covering all areas of anatomy and utilizing as many as fifteen of Vanderpoel’s drawings per lesson as examples. In this fashion, he hoped to help the student decide for herself whether advanced study on-site at the People’s University, or other schools of art for that matter, would be rewarded with success based upon her progress in the correspondence work. He was encouraging the correspondents to form study groups for the purpose of hiring models and drawing from life, as had been successfully implemented in 1896, by the Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago. Vanderpoel was confident in his plan, “I am convinced that the… system of instruction eventually will result… in elevating the class of art students who apply for admission to the higher classes of the art academies.”[6]


Vanderpoel must have also been attracted to St. Louis by the opportunity to complete an extensive mural series in the League’s Art Academy.[7] On a trip back to lecture in Chicago, on December 1910, Vanderpoel suffered a heart attack which left him weakened but able to return to University City against doctors orders.[8] He was found propped up in bed working on studies for the expansive mural, his daughter assisting him with measurements. The whole event portrays his extreme enthusiasm for the mural and his teaching:


“I said to myself, ‘I want to live, I must live, I must do my share in this great work of the American Woman’s League. I can not give up. I must live to accomplish what is expected of me.’ This thought was uppermost in my mind day after day.”[9]


So adamant was Vanderpoel about continuing his work that he had his life classes come to his home for instruction. He had also been readying plans to receive correspondent students from across the country for summer school instruction in drawing and painting.[10] Vanderpoel never gave himself a chance to recover on May 1, 1911, he died of another heart attack.[11]


There was gloom throughout the Chicago art colony and especially at Fullerton Hall of the Art Institute where funeral services were held. Most of the faculty was in attendance. Director French exclaimed,


“News of Mr. Vanderpoel’s death was a shock to me… Mr. Vanderpoel was one of my dearest friends, and I regarded him as the foremost teacher of drawing of the human head and body in the United States, if not the world. His death is a great loss to art and especially to Chicago Art, as we still regarded Mr. Vanderpoel as a Chicago man.”[12]


Many eulogies followed, none more touching than that of E. G. Lewis, the man who had lured Vanderpoel to St. Louis:


“The beautiful things created by John Vanderpoel will live long after we have all passed on, for he gave his life to lifting life one peg higher [...] Vanderpoel was undoubtedly the greatest authority in the world on the human figure in art. Throughout the world are many thousands who have studied under him and many who owe their success to his teaching and inspiration.”[13]


Noted Chicago artist Ralph Clarkson wrote of Vanderpoel’s impact upon the many students he taught and influenced by saying:


“The lasting impression that he has left upon those who were fortunate enough to study under him was that of thoroughness, and this of course, implies industry, two things essential to the life and success of the individual as well as of the school. Undoubtedly his high standard of achievement and earnest endeavor were inheritances from his Dutch ancestry, and we are fortunate indeed to have had at the beginning of our instructive and constructive period [in Chicago] an influence so necessary in laying a firm foundation and so helpful as a tradition.”[14]


Thomas Wood Stevens wrote of Vanderpoel’s gentle nature and that his loss left “a desolate sense of personal sorrow.” Stevens emphasized the commitment this great teacher had made at the expense of personal glory:


“He painted little on his own account. He never, perhaps, extended his individual powers as an artist to the utmost. He sat down among the young men, and gave over to them his ripe learning in the laborious and essential province of figure drawing… that others might build upon the depth of his foundations… how great was the responsibility of his work, and how much he, as a teacher at the critical period, was contributing to the future of our art.”[15]



An excerpt from a ninety line poem written by Stevens to Vanderpoel in 1907, on the occasion of the Life-class farewell prior to his departure for Europe, provides a fitting end:


“This they will know years hence--a thousand years;

And they will write--in such and such a day

There lived a master who taught many men

And in him the true flame of art was pure.

To him the honor--all the fragrant praise:

Master of art, compeller of destinies…

And they will know your name, sir, then, as now.

Master of truth--compeller of destinies…

Hail and farewell.”[16]


A Memorial of his works was organized by his wife and sister, Matilda, and shown at the Art Institute, February 1-28, 1912. There were fifty-one oils, seventeen watercolors and seventy-nine pencil sketches.[17] In reviewing the exhibition, critic Harriet Monroe affirmed Vanderpoel’s vital personality and sound methods which were so influential at the Institute School.[18]


An admirer, expressing his impression of the exhibits then hanging at the Art Institute concluded that “Vanderpoel has …genius.”[19] Certainly, The Empty Cradle, which gained entrance for Vanderpoel into the New York Watercolor Club in 1895, and inspired a poem, had soul.[20] It often brought tears to the eyes of certain viewers who had experienced the same grief.[21] His Knitting Lesson had soul, showing a young girl earnestly directing the fingers of her sister who is concentrating on her job.[22]


The magic that surrounded Chicago’s art world was extinguished when World War I began and William M. R. French died. The earlier loss in 1908, of Frederick Warren Freer, and then John H. Vanderpoel, ended an era at the School of the Art Institute. These two most senior professors guided thousands of students and set the tone for the classic methods by which art was taught in Chicago, making the school among the largest, most successful in the country.


John H. Vanderpoel achieved success and fame despite two major handicaps. At age fourteen, his back had been injured in a gymnasium accident. He remained bowed over for the rest of his life. In addition, at age thirty-five, he suffered the loss of sight in his left eye.[23] His triumph over these terrible difficulties and his personal philosophy were expressed in a printed booklet entitled Thoughts, compiled by residents of Beverly Hills neighborhood. Vanderpoel’s contribution came from the words of George Eliot: “The blessed work of helping the world forward happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.”[24]


The love and respect for John H. Vanderpoel continued past his death. Two years later, his painting, The Buttermakers, was being sold by the Klio Association, a private Chicago woman’s club.[25] Relatives, neighbors and friends rallied to raise the $650 for its purchase. They then formed the Vanderpoel Memorial Association and petitioned the city to rename a street and school in his honor replacing Howard Court and Farson School..[26]


Dudley Crafts Watson urged the creation of a collection of art works to memorialize Vanderpoel. Requests went out to friends and colleagues for donations of their work. The first memorial meeting was held at the Vanderpoel school on November 15, 1914. It was attended by many artist friends and in particular, students and the PTA of the school. At the end of this first year, the collection contained over thirty items. In addition, murals of Dutch scenes had been painted on the school walls in Delft blue by students of the Art Institute. The school rejoiced at the cultural benefits provided to the children, privileged to enjoy good art while attending daily classes.[27]


John A. Campbell, husband of Eva Campbell, the woman behind the drive to buy The Buttermakers, took early charge of the Vanderpoel Association. He had befriended Vanderpoel by helping him get his book published and to secure the position in University City. Campbell spent many years keeping Vanderpoel’s memory alive. Most of the archival material at the Association today consists of correspondence between Campbell and the donors.


The Collection attained museum status when it outgrew the space at the School and moved into a special wing built in 1929, at the Ridge Park Field House, Longwood Drive and 96th Street, in Chicago. Charles Fabens Kelley, assistant director of the Art Institute, often provided his expertise to Campbell on acquisitions, framing and hanging.


When the burgeoning collection outgrew the Ridge Park Field House, Mrs. Eleanor Pillsbury, a board member of the Vanderpoel Art Association, dreamed of a building especially designed to house the art. Following a three-year search, space was found on the campus of the Morgan Park Academy at West 111th Street. After a two-story gallery was constructed, part of the collection was moved in 1969.[28]


A Board of Trustees maintains and cares for the present collection. Most of the art is representative of the genteel time when Vanderpoel lived and of the traditional method of art that he would have approved. Special exhibitions of contemporary work are held regularly. Admission is free and the visitors can delight in seeing a whole alcove of art from Vanderpoel’s genius, plus the original drawings for The Human Figure, and his own palette. Also in the collection are treasures by Karl Albert Buehr, Charles Francis Browne, Walter Marshall Clute, Oliver Dennett Grover, E. Martin Hennings, Pauline Palmer, Frank Charles Peyraud, Frank Russell Wadsworth, Ralph Elmer Clarkson, Wilson Henry Irvine and Frederick Warren Freer, all Illinois artists featured in this book with essays. The collection also includes works by Grant Wood, Frank Benson, Maxfield Parrish, Joseph Leyendecker and Mary Cassatt.


[1]Op. cit., Sandberg, Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6/26/10. See also: “Sees Great Opportunity to Spread His Theories in New Position, but Has Not Decided Definitely Yet,” Chicago Evening Post, 5/16/1910, Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, Vol. 26. (Attempts to locate this newspaper were unsuccessful). It is not known if Vanderpoel’s previous activities in St. Louis had attracted him there. In 1904, he served on the Western advisory committee for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (Universal Exposition) fine art exhibit and his Little Miss Muffet, won a bronze medal in the exhibition. Official Catalogue of Exhibitors,Universal Exposition, St. Louis,U. S. A., 1904, (St Louis: The Official Catalogue Company, 1904), revised edition, pp.5-6.

[2]Information courtesy of Mary Henderson Gass, Society of Architectural Historians, Missouri Chapter.

[3]A model for the campus is on display at city hall in University City, Missouri.

[4]Excerpt from William L. Klug, “The John H. Vanderpoel Memorial Art Gallery,” Vanderpoel Art Association catalogue, no date, IHAP Library, pp.6-7.

[5]“J. H. Vanderpoel Takes Chair in the People’s University,” The Woman’s National Daily, 10/3/1910, n.p., Historical Society of University City, Missouri.

[6]Op. cit., The Woman’s National Daily, 10/3/1910. It appears the salary must have also been an attraction as William French had said in a letter, “I have always questioned whether the correspondence business would suit you very well, but even if it should not, perhaps the salary will be some offset to it!” Letter  to John H. Vanderpoel from William M. R. French, French Letters, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, 11/14/1910.

[7]For information regarding the murals see: letter to John A. Campbell from Mrs. Vanderpoel, no exact date, January 1911: “Just wait til you see one of the last editions of John’s book now in print in which we have put those last figures he made in St. Louis for the ceiling of the Art Building.” Another letter to Campbell from Mrs. Vanderpoel, 1/30/1911, tells of studies in the back of the book “for the ceiling in the entrance of the Art Building at University City.” Folder 85, Vanderpoel Art Association archives.

[8]“J. H. Vanderpoel Seriously Ill, Insists on Resuming Art Work While in Bed,” The Woman’s National Daily, 2/9/1911, n.p., Historical Society of University City. He had been recovering at the house of his physician, Dr. Joseph Elliot Colburn (1853-1927) who doubled as a local artist, in Chicago, before leaving for St. Louis. Letter  to Frederic C. Bartlett from William M. R. French, French Letters, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, 12/23/1910.

[9]Op. cit., The Woman’s National Daily, 2/9/1911.

[10]For information on the summer school see: Ida B. Cole, “Summer School of Arts and Crafts at University City,” The Pioneer, no date, approximately May 1911, p.10. (Courtesy of Susan G. Reikopf, Historical Society of University City).

[11]See the following articles: “J. H. Vanderpoel Dies in St. Louis,” Chicago Daily News, 5/2/1911, p.16; “Pupils Mourn Dead Artist,” Chicago Tribune, 5/3/1911, p.9; Maude Oliver, “J. H. Vanderpoel Dies,” Chicago Record-Herald, 5/3/1911, p.7; Harriet Monroe, “Enthusiastic Young Painter Talks of Realism in Art,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 5/7/1911, Sec. 2, p.8 and “John H. Vanderpoel Called by Death,” Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 24, June 1911, p. 411.

[12]Op. cit., Chicago Daily News, 5/2/1911.

[13]Op. cit., Woman’s National Weekly, 5/6/1911.

[14]Ralph Clarkson, “Chicago Painters, Past and Present,” Art and Archaeology, Vol. 12, Nos. 3 and 4, September-October 1921, p.137.

[15]Thomas W. Stevens, “John H. Vanderpoel and His Work,” The Inland Printer, Vol. 57, No. 3, August 1911, pp.689-690

[16]Op. cit., Stevens, The Inland Printer, August 1911, pp.692-693.

[17]“Art and Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 2/1/1912, p.10 and “Of Interest to Artists,” Chicago Record-Herald, 2/11/1912, Sec. 7, p.5.

[18]Harriet Monroe, “Sterner Exhibit at Reinhardt’s Shows Large Variet of Medium,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 2/11/12, p.11.

[19]“Chicago as a Field for Art,” Chicago Daily News, 4/24/12, p.7.

[20]Carolyn Waldo Wade, typescript of “The Empty Cradle,” Chicago Record, 12/23/1895, IHAP Library. Vanderpoel was accepted for membership earlier in the year as announced by Lucy Monroe in “Chicago Letter,” The Critic, Vol. 23, 3/23/1895, p.224.

[21]“Stories Told in Color,” Chicago Record, 2/12/1894, p.3, remarks that, The Empty Cradle was perhaps Vanderpoel’s strongest picture in the Chicago Society of Artists Exhibit with Jules Guerin, and that a vein of religious sentiment ran through his work. See also, letter to John A. Campbell from Mrs. Vanderpoel 11/16/32, Vanderpoel Art Association Archives, stating the cradle was handmade by her father. Upon seeing it, Vanderpoel vowed to someday make a picture of it.

[22]Jean Sherwood, Childhood in Art, (Chicago: Altrua Art Library, 1912), p.68. The picture painted by Vanderpoel received as much attention as the works by Sargent, Gari Melchers and Whistler.

[23]“Chicago Art And Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 1/15/1893, p.13.

[24]Letter to Mrs. Cole, from Alice Howe, 1/30/1958. She remarked, “Wasn’t this characteristic of him?” Vanderpoel Art Association archives.

[25]The club had acquired the painting in 1897. See: James O’Donnell Bennett, “Beverly Labors For Beauty And Finds Treasure,” Chicago Tribune, 7/28/1935, p.10.

[26]Op. cit., William L. Klug, Annual Catalogue, pp.5-9.

[27]“The Vanderpoel School,” Chicago Evening Post, 11/17/1944, p.8. See also, The Art Student, October 1915, p. 84.

[28]Abra Anderson, “Beverly Art Center, Symbol of Living Community Spirit,” Chicago Sun-Times, 11/14/1968, p.42. By this move, Mrs. Pillsbury stated: “…not only was the collection in a safe and permanent home, but it also gave the academy a much-needed cultural center.”

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