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No. 51 Pauline Palmer


Pauline Palmer is the woman artist of Chicago you think of in the same breath with Lorado Taft and Oliver Dennett Grover. She bears some such relationship to the old-line Chicago “conservatives” that Rosa Bonheur enjoyed in Paris in the second empire, or Berta Moristo among the “Impressionists,” or Marie Laurencin among the French “Moderns.” Mrs. Palmer’s medals and honors consume inches of agate type in the various Who’s Who’s, general and artistic. Her portraits, mostly of children but many of women and a few of men, adorn a multitude of homes. She was a “best seller” when art was being bought, before the depression, and landscapes were among the purchases as well as commissioned portraits. 

It was Mms. Schumann-Heink who was chiefly responsible for Pauline Palmer’s specializing in portrait painting. As a young painter fresh from her studies in Paris, Mrs. Palmer, then as now eagerly interested in music, drama, and everything of a cultural nature, was among leaders promoting a musical festival at Appleton, Wis., with Mme. Schumann-Heink as chief star. They were houseguests in the same Appleton home, were thrown together, and struck up a friendship that was to persist.

“You are an artist,” said the singer, “you must come and paint my Marie and my George Washington.” Mrs. Palmer thought the diva was being polite, but coming through Chicago a little later, Mme. Schumann-Heink reminded her of the arrangement and insisted the painter come on to Caldwell, N.J., her home, and paint the children.


Marie was docile, after the habit of girl children, but George Washington thought it a bit “sissy” to pose. Mrs. Palmer appealed to his good heart. “If you don’t stand still and let me get a good likeness of you, your mother will say I’m no artist, that I can’t paint — not her children — get out, go home!” George Washington saw the point, but looked at her thoughtfully and quizzically.


“No, this is what my mother will say,” he said. He went to the top of a little flight of stairs that led down to the room. “She will come down this way,” and he descended with a peculiar, heavy stalk! For Mme. Schumann-Heink was once slight, weighed only 90 pounds as a grown woman, and had small feet. When she got heavy, her feet didn’t grow in proportion, and she has a funny way of coming downstairs on ankles that can’t quite make up their mind to support her.


“Then she’ll look at the picture this way,” and George Washington put a spoon to his eye to serve for an eyeglass, “and will say, ‘Oh, they breathe, my George, my Marie? Oh, that artist! That wonderful artist!’”


George Washington Schumann-Heink enjoyed so hugely his own acting and the hit he made that he posed thereafter perfectly. That he understood his mother excellently is demonstrated by a letter Mrs. Palmer carefully preserves among her souvenirs — a letter enclosing a check in payment and praising fulsomely the picture and the painter.


George Washington got his name as a natal present from Joseph Jefferson and a gay party of “Rip Van Winkle’s” friends celebrating in the dining room of a New York hotel one of Joe’s birthdays.


During the dinner, a waiter whispered into Jefferson’s ear. The actor arose to his feet, struck his best heroic pose, and commanded, “Let the child be brought forth!”


The waiter had told him that Mme. Schuman-Heink, on an upper floor of the hotel, had just given birth to a boy. The Schumann-Heink heir, only a few minutes old, was produced according to Jefferson’s mandate, and the actor solemnly christened him “George Washington” in honor of the diva’s enthusiasm for her adopted America.


How real was her enthusiasm was to be demonstrated later, in the war years that tore her heart because the Kaiser had delighted in honoring her. But like many another German-American, she stuck steadily with Wilson.


At the time of Mrs. Palmer’s visit to her, occasion of painting the children, there were as yet no war clouds. One day, in the garden, Mme. Schumann-Heink pointed to an American flag floating on top of a hill on her estate. “Tat’s my greatest expense,” she told the artist, laughing. The winds were whipping the flag to shreds, but as often as one flag was worn out, another was hoisted in its place. The singer had it raised and lowered with military precision at sunrise and sunset every day.


Pauline Palmer was Pauline Lennards, daughter of a merchant in McHenry, Ill. She married Dr. Elwood Palmer, an Englishman from Toronto.


Her father was of German-French descent, and her mother German. Her father came to America following the student uprising in Germany in 1848, responsible for the emigration also of Carl Schurz. German was the speech in the Lennards home until Pauline was 12, her parents believing in her getting a thorough grounding in the language as a child.


“I speak German now without accent — and with out grammar,” says Mrs. Palmer wittily, for she hasn’t bothered, among her numerous art and social activities, to pursue her studies in the language.


In her ancestry on her mother’s side, there were artists and musicians. A great-grandfather was the first German to put a color design on homespun linen and make it stick. The design was an orange with two green leaves. He was knighted for the achievement. The baronial seal awarded him, which Mrs. Palmer possess in the original brass, depicts two little devils with a dye pot.


An uncle, ever so great-great-grand, was a monk who was esteemed through Germany fro his portraits of ecclesiastics. Another of the blood, also connected with the church, was a music master.


With ancestry like this, Pauline Lennards’ parents were delighted when she began, as a very small girl, to draw. They gave her the best teachers they could find in McHenry and in Harvard, Ill. (their next home) and later sent her to a convent school in Milwaukee and to the Art Institute of Chicago. Then when she was ready, they sent her to Paris where she studied with Courtois, Simon and Collin.


After she married, her husband, who was wealthy, continued the process of her education. Mrs. Palmer grotesquely laments that she never had to encounter any hardships such as are supposed to toughen the art fiber.


In Paris, in her student days, she submitted to the Jury of the Salon des Beaux Arts, with fear and trembling, a huge painting she had made of a little Spanish boy carrying a jug. The boy was the son of professional model from Spain. His little sister was posing at the moment for Bouguereau (for an angel). “Rojerio,” Pauline Lennards named her picture, after the model.


When the envelope came from the Academy announcing the action of the jury of the salon, she was afraid to open it. She lit a candle and held it against the light. The color of the enclosed slip would tell the tale — green for acceptance, pink for rejection, or the other way ‘round (she forgets which) Anyhow, her heart leaped dangerously when she detected the color of “acceptance.”


A thrill almost equally great came when one of the Paris critics singled out “Rojerio” for mention. There were only three words, but they were precious: “Look! A Goya!” Pauline Lennards, who had only vaguely heard of Goya, scurried off to the Louvre to discover the why of the exclamation points. Goya, when she found him, pleased her immediately and immensely, so much so that she set out making a copy of one of his pictures to discover the secrets of his methods.


It was not a great while after her return to Chicago that she was commissioned to paint the Schumann-Heink children, and adopted portrait painting as her life work. Mme. Schumann-Heinke, incidentally, presented the portrait in later years to the San Diego Museum in her adopted California, for permanent preservation.


Mrs. Palmer, childless herself, has been most successful with her portraits of children. She was a way of winning their confidence, overcoming their rebelliousness, and putting them at ease, as in the instance of the Schumann-Heink boy.


Wealthy, she maintains a palatial studio in the Tree Building, Chicago, and another at Provincetown where she spends her summers. After the death of her husband a decade and more ago, she bought a picturesque old Cape Code house, whose interior she altered for studio and living quarters. She paints the sea and the dunes and the Portuguese fisher folk of Provincetown, and is popular among the numerous artists who congregate there annually, just as she is in Chicago.


It was in Provincetown she painted “The Old Stove,” a canvas pounced upon by “modernists” in Chicago who announced that Pauline Palmer, after all these years, had gone “modern.”


“Nothing of the sort,” she retorts, with a laugh.


A young Provincetown neighbor, Charles Heinz, had a tiny shack of all of which she has taken keen and vital interest.


“I’m always a fan!” says Mrs. Palmer.

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