ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 54 Paul Trebilcock
Paul Trebilcock, portrait painter, is one Chicago artist who has resisted, so far, the admonition: “Young artist, go east!” He has faith, pretty well-grounded in his own experience, that letters and telegrams have as good a chance reading a really wanted artist in Chicago as in New York.
When Columbia University, for example, wanted a portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Trebilcock got the job. So it was with a portrait of George Eastman for the Eastman House, residence of the president of the University of Rochester, N.Y.; of Dr. W.G. MacCallum, Johns Hopkins University; of “Oscar of the Waldorf” for his Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, a job he has just completed; of Mrs. Elvira D. Cabell, founder and first presiding officer of the D.A.R., to hang in the Daughters’ building at Washington.
Nor is he neglected locally, as “hometown boys” sometimes are. He has painted Dr. C.N. Johnson for Loyola University; Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, University of Chicago; President Walter Dill Scott, Northwestern University; Mrs. Potter D’Orsay Palmer; and some others.
For his portrait of President Roosevelt, Trebilcock was admitted to the executive offices and saw his “model” at work. Except that the President’s chair was turned slightly from its accustomed relation to his desk so as to give the painter a better light on his face, business was uninterrupted during the sittings. Mr. Roosevelt admitted his visitors and discussed with them the affairs of the nation.
Trebilcock recalls particularly a conversation between the President and Mr. Ickes, in which “they discussed billions with the utmost nonchalance.”
Franklin Roosevelt, reports Mr. Trebilcock, was one of the pleasantest, most agreeable, most courteous sitters he ever painted.
Another unforgettable experience was the painting of the double portrait of Thelma, Viscountess Furness, and her twin sister, Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, in the Vanderbilt mansion in New York.
The sittings, as he remembers, were frequently interrupted by a long-distance telephone call from London, with the Prince of Wales (now King Edward VIII) at the other end of the wire, asking to speak to his friend, the Viscountess Thelma.
An emerald ring, gift of the prince, distinguishes her in Trebilcock’s portrait from her identical twin sister. She spoke of coaxing Prince Edward to sit for Trebilcock, but the appointment never materialized.
Another interesting sitter was “Oscar of the Waldorf,” host extraordinary of the famous hotel since the opening of the original establishment in March 1803. Trebilcock’s portrait, unveiled a few days ago with elaborate ceremonies, hangs at the north end of Peacock Alley.
Oscar arrived in New York from his native Neuchatel the day before the formal opening of Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. The day he landed, he got his first job in the old Hoffman House, whence ten years later he went to the Waldorf. He is chock full, of course, of New York hotel lore, and during his sittings he found a ready listener in Trebilcock. One of the most dramatic of his recitals was the story of the killing by Edward Stokes of Jim Fisk in the Grand Central Hotel in a quarrel over the siren Josle Mansfield. It was reconstructed drama, on Oscar’s part, the tragedy having been enacted a decade before his arrival in America.
Trebilcock was born in Chicago as late as Feb 13, 1902. His father is a Chicago businessman, William R. Trebilcock, manager of this district for Coca-Cola.
The Trebilcock family is originally from Cornwall. This patter has run through Paul’s brain from babyhood:
By, Tre, Pol and Pen
You may know the Cornishmen.
There is in the family a portrait painted by Paul’s great-grandfather of an uncle in Cornwall. This is his “art inheritance,” along with, on second thought (a second thought of his), his father’s father who was a cabinetmaker in Grand Rapids, having emigrated from Canada, and his mother’s father, a Dane of the family of Christensen, following the same trade.
As a small boy, Paul Trebilcock’s art talents turned to dogs and chickens. His mother carefully preserves an “album” of those early works. In maturity, he “put aside childish things” and has specialized in portraits — with nudes as a recreation. Eventually, when he makes his fortune, he wants to give all his time to nude figures.
Landscape he uses only as the Florentines did — something for his portrait models to gave pensively out of the window upon, or in his hours of recreation as more or less exotic backgrounds for his more or less exotic nudes.
After graduation from high school, Trebilcock entered the University of Illinois under the impression he wanted to be a chemical engineer. He remained for two years, devoting less and less time to chemistry and more and more to playing around the university’s department of drawing and painting.
About the only use he ever made of his chemistry was on a visit he paid to Sargent. It was during a year’s sojourn in London when Trebilcock had a studio in Chelsea and was made a member of the Chelsea Art Club. Sargent invited him to his studio.
Learning he had been a student of chemistry, Sargent asked him some questions that had been puzzling him about paint, although he, unlike Whistler, was generally careless about what he daubed on his canvases. Trebilcock was able to return what he believes to have been fairly intelligent answers, even if he wouldn’t have felt so good about it had he put them down on examination papers in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree.
Sargent invited him back, but before the date set, the papers reported his sudden death. Executors of Sargent’s estate, painters themselves, distributed his brushes, tubes, books, and professional “trinkets” as souvenirs among artists. Trebilcock was fortunate enough to get a knapsack smeared with paint which Sargent once used in an Alpine climbing outing.
Before his sojourn in London, however, Trebilcock studied for three years at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his most inspiring instructors were Leopold Seyffert and John Norton. It was Seyffert who set him in the way of becoming a portrait painter.
Leon Kroll came to the Institute as visiting instructor the year Trebilcock left for Europe, and so he missed him as a teacher. But later, Droll became quite an influence in his life. Kroll was best man at his wedding in Europe (on another trip) to Maylia Castaldo, Kroll’s pupil and model, herself a talented painter, thoroughly recognized in Chicago and American exhibitions. She was born in New York of a Florentine family. She has a separate studio in Chicago from her husband’s and specializes in nudes that rival his.
A striking beauty, Trebilcock has painted her portrait many times. One of them, done on their honeymoon, he has named “Mia Sposa.” When the depression was at its height (or its lowest ebb) and portrait commissions were few, Trebilcock’s father bought “Mia Sposa,” with the two-fold purpose of “helping out financially” and of keeping the portrait, a favorite of his, in the family.
On four European trips, Trebilcock has spent most of his time in England, with extended excursions to the continent, particularly to Florence and relatives of Maylia Castaldo. In pursuit of his art of portrait painting, he has copied Van Dyck in London and Velasquez in Madrid, in order to discover how they got their effects. Of late, Rubin has become his favorite painter, and it is to Rubens and to Renoir that he is beholden in his ambitions to paint the nude resoundingly.
But it is as a portrait painter that he is pursuing just now his way. His sitters interest him both as personalities and as problems.
One of the, George J. Haight, a Chicago attorney, he so “organized” as to produce something he felt (and rightly) as a representative of a profession. “Portrait of a Lawyer,” he calls it. The “composition” is helped out by a walking stick that once belonged to Theodore Roosevelt.