ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 78 Anthony Angarola
Anthony Angarola was a bright promise never fulfilled. On the morning of August 14, 1929, he was found dead in his chair in a Rush Street hotel apartment. He had been back only two or three weeks from his first trip to his ancestral Italy, where, particularly in Florence, he had felt in “the weight of paintings” of the past an inspiration instead of something oppressive. Many an Italian going back home is frightened by the ancestral glory he never can hope to emulate.
Angarola had gone abroad on a Guggenheim fellowship and had spent a year in Florence and Venice and Capri, Vienna, Budapest, the Alps and Paris. He had taken a lively interest in it all, as attested by stacks and stacks of pictures and postcards he had sent home to his children not dutifully one or two a week, but literally scores of hundreds. He had visited the museums and the haunts of artists everywhere, had bought not only the postcards but larger prints of everything he saw to admire. He had worshiped at a thousand shrines, enthusiastically.
But – and this is scarcely believable to those of us who are familiar with the work of returning artists – he had not let Europe, not even his ancestral Italy, “get” him.
He brought back, along with his treasures in prints, fifty-four canvases he had painted through the year, and they were untouched by foreign “influences.” He saw Italy with the eyes of a mid-western American, as he had been born and reared, and recorded what he saw as he saw it, and not through the traditions of Titian to Tiepolo.
It was this ruggedness in Angarola’s talents, along with the sensitiveness of an instinctive painter and musician, that was giving promise of a brilliant future, when he went to his Rush Street hotel that August night, sat down in his chair to cook off, and never got up.
It was his heart, the doctors decided. But he was no victim of prolonged “heart disease.” During his last few weeks in Europe he had been engaged in painting a mural, a jungle scene, for Beatrice Harrison, daughter of an ex-governor of the Philippines, for her house in Ramboulliet, on the outskirts of Paris. Driving one morning to her place, his motor car smashed into a peasant’s market truck. He was thrown out, and eventually was picked up unconscious, after the duly constituted authorities had been called to inspect the accident, he was taken to a hospital. He had regained consciousness and apparently was little the worse for his experience. But his heart had got a jar that finally caused his collapse.
Angarola, before going abroad, had been painting and drawing instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute for a year. One his return he was to have gone shortly to the St. Paul School of Art in the same capacity. His career as instructor had started at the John Layton School of Art in Milwaukee in 1921, and there he remained until 1924, when the Art Institute of Chicago, where he graduated in 1917, recalled him as instructor in landscape. He was popular as a teacher, but not wholly happy.
“My students are getting my goat,” he confided to a friend, “trying to copy everything I do.”
There was flattery, of course, in this tendency of his students – a recognition that Angarola was doing something worth copying.
What he was doing, moreover, was of his own development. He was classed with Chicago’s “radicals” who had sprung up after the “Armory show” in 1913, the red letter happening of his student days at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Angarola, however, unlike most of the young American rebels, was no mere imitator of the work of the “gods” of the “moderns.” He went back, like the “gods” themselves to original sources – to Giotto, Pisanello, Holbein and Breughel, in particular, though he knew their work, for the most part, only in reproduction.
For born and reared in Chicago and without funds to travel, he had been no farther away from this town than Kansas City and once, for a short stay, New York, before the Guggenheim fellowship enabled him to go abroad.
In 1922 he told an interviewer he had seen only three Cezanne’s in his life and “didn’t get so very much out of them,” admired Van Gogh and Gauguin, but “never seen a Gauguin in color.” Yet by the same year, 1922, his own “style” was formed, the something that makes an “Angarola” recognizable as an “Angarola.”
That year, October 12, he sold his first painting, “Old Settlers’ Picnic” to Emil Smrz, president of a Bohemian bank that went out in the epidemic a few years later, so fatal to banks.
Angarola was born February 4, 1893. His father was Rocco Angarola, born in Lucania, Italy, where the natives claim direct descent from the classic Romans. His mother, too, was from Italy.
Rocco Angarola was half-brother of Salvatore Tomaso, leader of the Tomaso Mandolin orchestra, that will be readily remembered by music-loving Chicagoans of the elder generation. It was Tomaso’s orchestra that furnished the music for the brilliant fetes of the Potter Palmers, before there was a Chicago Symphony. Rocco Angarola played a guitar in this orchestra.
There were eleven children, of whom Anthony was seventh. The children followed dutifully in the stops of their father, being destined to a musical career. But, by the time the parents came to “Tony,” the enthusiasm for making all the children guitarists, mandolinists, flutists, harpists, pianists (the father was an expert at all instruments) was beginning to run him a little low and this seventh boy was left, more or less, to his own day dreams. At school, on the back of his arithmetic papers on grammar or spelling, the teacher generally found pencil and pen drawings.
There were more children than dollars in the Angarola family, and as soon as “Tony” was deemed old enough, he was apprenticed to a tailor. He didn’t care for the job, and presently left it to be a “biscuit molder.”
The owner of the bakeshop was an Italian, finely educated in his own language, but having only a spelling acquaintance with English. However, he applied himself diligently, laboring long hours after work to translate Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” into Italian. From this “boss” Angarola acquired a huge respect for literature, which he had neglected before in his enthusiasm for drawing, and his lesser enthusiasm for music. The “boss,” in turn, lent a sympathetic eye to Angarola’s modeling of human figures in gingersnap dough. “Tony” thereupon began to utilize his nights like the “boss,” entering night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. This was in 1908.
In spite of a sympathetic employer, Angarola’s job as “biscuit molder” was little more to his taste than tailoring, and he drifted from occupation to occupation. To an interviewer he once enumerated them. Tailor, “biscuit molder,” professional boxer, house painter, plumber, librarian, Italian character comedian, singer in a cabaret, moving “super,” theater usher, movie machine operator, baggage smasher, farmer.
As a farmer, he commented, he was recognized as “the best bean hoer in northern Michigan.” As theater usher – he was more often an usher in the Auditorium, so as to get to hear opera, a passion of his.
As singer in a cabaret – he had a fine voice that might have got him far in opera himself. Corollary to his movie activities, he remembered that Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne both were models at the Art Institute in classes he attended, working for $1 an hour before they distinguished themselves as pioneer romantics of the films.
As “professional boxer,” he made two appearances, winning both decisions. His princely share for one victory was $8 and for the other $5. The elder Angarola, when he heard of “Tony’s” activities in the ring, persuaded him that, while money was money, the amount he was getting wasn’t worth the risk of cauliflower ears.
Despite his various jobs, Angarola wasn’t ever flush with coin. One of his devices to pay for paint was unique. His stepmother — his mother having died when he was 9 — would fix his art school lunch a huge Italian bread sandwich with thick meat. “Tony” readily found classmates sufficiently temped when he drew the sandwich forth, to take it off his hands and out of his mouth at a price well above the standard rate for lunch-counter sandwiches.
The job that finally enabled him to live decently was instructorship in painting, and, during the last half-dozen years of his life, he was recognized as a leader in the art teaching profession. His work was beginning to sell when death crept suddenly up on him.
An elder brother, one of the musicians of the family, introduced him to Marie Ambrosius, pianist, niece of the celebrated Robert Ambrosius and a family related to Goethe, and in due time she became Mrs. Anthony Angarola. There are two children, Yvonne and Richard, to whom his pictures were left in trust. They are 18 and 16 now, their talents running to music and the dance.