ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
Rudolph Weisenborn (1881-1974) © Illinois Historical Art Project
Please credit Illinois Historical Art Project
The last of the major modernist painters of the twentieth century awaiting widespread recognition is Rudolph Weisenborn. He was born October 31, 1881, in Chicago, and died there March 15, 1974.[i] As Henry Rago, editor of Chicago’s venerable Poetry magazine, proclaimed in the catalogue of a Weisenborn retrospective exhibition “… [he] should have a permanent place among the few really indispensable painters in our time.”[ii]
Late in his career a Chicago reviewer was so positive and full of praise that the mystery of Weisenborn’s vanished reputation seems unsolvable.
“Weisenborn is the local artist whose work best reflects the times in which we live… he is one of the greatest and least appreciated of American painters. He also is the most creative in the Chicago area, shows no derivations and turns out canvases so different that to many they are baffling.”[iii]
After a peripatetic youth, spent mostly outside Chicago, Weisenborn returned to the Windy City in time to see the Armory Show of 1913 and to share the local interest in Vorticism, an avant-garde British literary and artistic movement known in Chicago chiefly through publications. Although he had received a traditional art education in Denver, Weisenborn quickly moved beyond his early academicism and soon was recognized as Chicago’s leading modernist, a position he held for several decades before sliding into oblivion in the late 1960s. Moreover, in addition to his work as an artist, his activities organizing new venues to show modern art, coupled with his efforts as the first artist in Chicago to offer instruction in modern trends in art, made him a powerful agent for changing the tastes in art of many Chicagoans.
The artist’s reputation was somewhat revived by three events: a symposium in 1988; a 1990 publication based on that symposium (The Old Guard and the Avant-garde; Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940); and a lecture, “Weisenborn’s Windy City; the Life and Art of Rudolph Weisenborn,” given April 29, 1993, by Herman Spertus at the Harold Washington Library (accompanied by a showing of a 1978 documentary film on Weisenborn). Nevertheless, by 1996, when the Museum of Contemporary Art showed Art in Chicago, 1945-1995, it was not thought necessary to include Weisenborn in the exhibition nor even to mention him in the essays in the 312-page catalogue, even though he had exhibited new work in Chicago into the mid-1950s.[iv] Moreover, Weisenborn is still poorly represented in museum collections, with the crucial Art Institute of Chicago previously owning a single work, now deaccessioned.[v] Although his work was shown at the Art Institute with some frequency (1918 to 1949),[vi] and again in 1965,[vii] praised by Chicago art critics in 1951,[viii] and again in 1971,[ix] efforts for a large retrospective exhibition at the Art Institute, have not been successful.
Surely part of the reason for Weisenborn’s lack of renown was because he worked as a fine artist in Chicago, where it simply was harder to become recognized than it was for an architect or a writer. No serious history of American architecture or literature would ignore the major architects and writers of Chicago. However, there has yet to be published a general history of American art, or of twentieth-century art, that even mentions Weisenborn!
Rudolph’s parents were from Strasbourg, France (still part of Germany at the time they emigrated). His earliest years are best understood in the context that when he was orphaned at an early age, there were two basic approaches for caring for orphans: raising them in an institutional environment or placing them out to be raised in a private home.[x] Placing out sometimes meant indenture or adoption, but nearly always it meant undocumented, not legally binding arrangements.[xi] The placing-out approach characterized the Chicago Home for the Friendless, which was entrusted with the care of young Rudolph; its policy was to offer “…protection and employment or assistance to worthy destitute women and children, until other and permanent homes and means of support can be secured to them.”[xii]
The practice of placing out gained impetus from the growth of the railroads and what became known as orphan trains. Moreover, the Chicago Home for the Friendless, perhaps typically, acknowledged help from railroads in the form of passes.[xiii] Many orphans were shipped in groups from east-coast cities, or from the newer cities in the interior, for resettlement in often western rural communities. In some cases individual orphans were sent by rail to families who had requested them.[xiv] It was also common for the placed-out orphans not to stay put; some became little wanderers, moving from farm to farm, either because they chose to leave or because they were turned out.[xv]
While Weisenborn died before the interest in orphan-train oral histories began, he nevertheless relayed some of his memories to his wife and sons and to newspaper critics and gallery owners. Some of his memories were bitter, and perhaps for this reason there are some inconsistencies in reports of his memories. There is one report that Weisenborn had two siblings who also were adopted.[xvi] Weisenborn’s birthplace is most often given, by himself and others, as Chicago, but sometimes the nearby Du Page County town of Naperville is said to be his birthplace.[xvii] His son, West Weisenborn (born 1929), recalled hearing his father had worked on a farm in Naperville.[xviii] In any case, Rudolph Weisenborn remembered having spent part of his childhood in Chicago, because he once wrote of his move to Chicago in 1913 as a return: “I came back to Chicago and was newly inspired by the visuals and dynamics of the city.”[xix] Moreover, he once told an unnamed critic for a Chicago neighborhood newspaper The Booster that he had lived until he was seven in an orphan’s home on the south side of Chicago.[xx]
The most detailed account of Rudolph’s early youth was given by his writer wife, Alfreda (“Fritzi”) née Gordon (1900-1968),[xxi] who married Rudolph on May 4, 1922.[xxii] This is in an undated account evidently intended as part of a manuscript for an uncompleted biography of her husband.[xxiii] Her chronology is sometimes vague. She wrote that before he was nine years old, Rudolph was orphaned, and shortly after entering the orphanage was adopted by John Derr, the superintendent of schools in Elgin, Illinois. Immediately after the adoption young Rudolph was “…given a basket, a rag tied around his neck, and put on a train to Clark, South Dakota.”[xxiv] There he worked for George Derr (evidently related to John), who lived in a sod shanty, and combined his activities as a farmer with teaching in the town school. Critic Clarence Joseph Bulliet (1883-1952) reported: “At school he (young Rudolph) drew pictures and was the choice of the teacher to decorate the blackboards for holiday occasions.”[xxv] Nevertheless, Derr treated the young man rather harshly, according to Fritzi Weisenborn, who described punishments such as an hours-long exile to a woodshed, as well as strappings. After about four years, when he was thirteen, Rudolph hitched a ride south on a lumber wagon that dropped him off in Davis,[xxvi] a tiny town in Turner County in southeastern South Dakota. In Davis he worked for the eponymous Mr. Davis (first name not known), in tasks such as cutting bundles for a threshing machine. The atmosphere was less oppressive, and he stayed eighteen months, after which he worked on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. He left the dairy farm to work in Wisconsin (and/or possibly Minnesota) lumber camps, and then worked as a migrant harvester, beginning in Oklahoma in early summer, working his way to North Dakota in the fall.[xxvii] He also spent some time as a Colorado cattle-ranch hand.[xxviii]
Another account, evidently based on a 1951 interview with Weisenborn, stated that he: “…lived until he was seven years old in a South Side orphan’s home, in Chicago. One day the superintendent’s brother from North Dakota wired: ‘Send us a good boy.’ The superintendent sent Rudolph Weisenborn to the farm in the Dakotas where he lived with his foster parents and four sisters until he was 14.”[xxix]
Weisenborn was said to have studied in 1898 at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.[xxx] But city life beckoned, as well as a hoped-for career as an artist, and Weisenborn was in Denver by 1902, listed as an artist in a city directory, with an address of 931 21st Street.[xxxi] Evidently, he began his career as a self-taught artist.
Thus it was before his formal art studies that Weisenborn did some portrait sketches for the Denver Post.[xxxii] He also joined the cavalry section of the Colorado Militia, because he liked to ride horses; his enlistment resulted in emergency duty during a miners’ strike in Cripple Creek in 1903-1904.[xxxiii] Although he was not involved in any shooting, it was reported he executed sketches used by the Denver Post to cover the strike.[xxxiv] He was also stationed in Telluride in the wake of the strike in Cripple Creek,[xxxv] where, according to Sidney Lens, “As late as December 1904 the mines in Telluride, now non-union, had to be patrolled day and night by guards armed with rapid fire guns, for fear of a union resurgence.”[xxxvi] Weisenborn worked as a miner in Telluride,[xxxvii] and while there sold a few paintings,[xxxviii] and also executed a backdrop of a street scene for the opera house attached to the Sheridan Hotel,[xxxix] a harbinger of his future role as a mural painter. Since the Sheridan Opera House dates from 1913,[xl] Weisenborn would probably have painted the backdrop there shortly before leaving Colorado.
Weisenborn found a job as a janitor in a Denver high school[xli] to finance his studies with Henry Read (1851-1935),[xlii] a conservative, academic teacher at the Denver Students’ School of Art. Weisenborn studied with Read from 1905 to 1907,[xliii] but only after trying for four years to gain admission.[xliv] Weisenborn left there to study with a less conventional artist, Jean Mannheim (1863-1945),[xlv] newly arrived in Denver from Europe.[xlvi] Weisenborn once stated he had studied at “Jean Mannheim’s School of Art—Denver—1907-1910.”[xlvii] He was attracted to Mannheim because they shared a love for Rembrandt. Weisenborn’s love for Rembrandt had already borne fruit in his “Rembrandtesque” Self-Portrait of 1903,[xlviii] Weisenborn’s earliest surviving work. This painting was greatly admired by Mannheim.[xlix]
Weisenborn himself once characterized his studies in Denver: “I spent two years drawing from casts: replicas of idealized Greek sculpture, arms, legs torsos which had no relationship to reality, the character of line and form. Just a stultifying matter of light and shade. I even studied Rembrandt and did a self-portrait a la Rembrandt. He was a great painter but not of my time. This was in Colorado and when I went outdoors to paint, Rembrandt and my academic training stifled me; something was fundamentally wrong. Then I saw some impressionist paintings that were like gusts of fresh air from the mountain tops. I came back to Chicago and was newly inspired by the visuals and dynamics of the city.”[l]
Fritzi added that it was only after the two years drawing from casts that he was allowed to work from a living model, and noted that her husband had often stated: “It took me ten years to get it [i.e., traditional academic training] out of my system.” She also wrote that the impressionist works seen in Denver were by painted by Claude Monet.[li]
In 1908, while studying with Mannheim, Weisenborn submitted two works, The Wind and Sunset, (locations unknown) to the International Exhibition at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh; both were rejected.[lii]
Weisenborn’s Denver experiences probably primed him for the Armory Show, an international art exhibition that included some of the most daring examples of European modernism, seen in at the Art Institute of Chicago from March 24 to April 16, 1913.[liii] Moreover, in 1913, Chicago was still in its heyday as a major literary center, and the Armory show was soon followed by local interest in English Vorticism, a short-lived artistic and literary movement strongly influenced by Italian Futurism.
Vorticism received a bit of attention in Chicago, and its appeal to Weisenborn,[liv] who had a strong interest in literature, was easy to understand. Blast; Review of the Great English Vortex, the Vorticist magazine, was edited by Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), English writer and artist, and Ezra Pound (1885-1972), an expatriate American poet and critic.[lv] The first issue of Blast was dated June 20, 1914, and comment on it by Llewellyn Jones, editor of The Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, appeared July 31, 1914. Basically, Jones attributed the content of the first issue of Blast to “Midsummer Madness,” despite his earlier admiration for Pound.[lvi]
It would probably be wrong to look for too much direct visual influence from Lewis on Weisenborn. As one of Weisenborn’s friends, the British-American-Canadian writer, John Grierson once put it, although Lewis had “indeed worked wonders,” he was after all a “brilliant amateur.”[lvii] Be that as it may, there is no evidence Weisenborn knew much about the paintings of Lewis and his British Vorticist colleagues beyond what he had seen reproduced in a few publications.
The one work by Lewis we can be sure was known to Weisenborn was Portrait of an Englishwoman of 1913 (Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford),[lviii] a watercolor with pen-and-ink work, reproduced in The Friday Literary Review of the Chicago Evening Post on July 31, 1914. Composed of hard-edged forms, the picture was seemingly completely abstract, but in his adjacent comment Jones cleverly noted that: “Anyone thinking in terms of representative art would say that this was a picture of one of Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses tumbling down in an earthquake…”[lix]
Weisenborn’s first known showing in Chicago was at the Moulton and Ricketts Gallery in 1914.[lx] [James Gardner] Moulton and [Robb R.] Ricketts described themselves as “importers and dealers in foreign and American paintings,” and they were located at 71-73-75 East Van Buren Street.[lxi] To supplement whatever income he might have derived from painting, Weisenborn also did backgrounds for show windows for Marshall Field’s and the Boston Store.[lxii] There is no record of his working as an art teacher before 1920, and one can only speculate as to what, beyond fees for decorating show windows, or the sale of an occasional picture, provided an income for Weisenborn.
The first known address for Weisenborn after his return to Chicago was 2721 South Michigan Avenue, where he was living in 1918.[lxiii] By 1920 he was at 19 East Pearson Street.[lxiv] The next year he moved to 854½ North State Street.[lxv]
The first artist-organized group show Weisenborn might have had something to do with was the short-lived Independent Society of Artists, which opened its first exhibition on April 4, 1916, in the Ohio Building, at Wabash and Congress.[lxvi] It is not known whether Weisenborn had anything to do with organizing the 1916 exhibition, but he was among the forty artists who showed in the Society’s third exhibition at the Arts Club in June, 1918.[lxvii] He was no doubt impressed that for an annual membership fee of two dollars, any member could show two works of art that did not have to be passed on by a jury.[lxviii]
In 1917 Weisenborn began showing with the Palette and Chisel Club in the club rooms at the Athaeneum,[lxix] where he showed a painting called The Gardner (location unknown).[lxx] It was in the Club’s tempera show early in 1918 that Weisenborn began to achieve recognition as an innovator. An entire wall, directly opposite the entrance, was devoted to his work. A reviewer praised the “powerful color and unique design” of his tempera paintings and went on to say: “In this exhibit his work reflects the mind of one who lives in a world apart, which makes him, to say the least, an individual.” The reviewer noted the artist “…credits Colorado mountains, canons [i.e., cañons] and sunshine for his color.”[lxxi] The one tempera identified by name was An Abstraction of Spring (location unknown), “composed of lines and color that nature uses at this time of the year,” and “also symbolical of all youth and springtime.”[lxxii] Weisenborn made it easy to identify himself with Colorado, or more generally the cowboys of the west, because he habitually wore a Stetson (ten-gallon) hat.[lxxiii] The tempera exhibition brought a measure of national recognition, as the reviewer for American Art News commented: “R. Weisenborn presents a series of poster effects that rival the rainbow for color and are strongly and decoratively composed.”[lxxiv]
Following the close of its tempera show, the Palette and Chisel Club’s 1918 annual exhibition opened, on March 23. Weisenborn showed a well received work simply called Portrait (location unknown). Another critic for the Fine Arts Journal noted “…an unusual feeling for the color effects of light,” and the magazine reproduced the painting.[lxxv]
As early as 1919, Weisenborn publicly showed a stormy temperament. He was named a juror for the Palette and Chisel Club annual exhibition and rejected a painting by Arthur Grover Rider (1886-1975)[lxxvi] entitled Autumn because he judged it was not finished, even though the artist insisted it was.[lxxvii] A Chicago Herald and Examiner reporter related:
“The paint wasn’t dry: some of the hills in the landscape looked as if they had been left out in the rain. Weisenborn asked Rider if the picture was actually finished. Yes, said Rider, but he didn’t say it with enough conviction. So Weisenborn decided Autumn would not be admitted.”[lxxviii]
The same reporter added that Weisenborn was overridden by the other jurors and by the board, and took his two works, Ruth and Self-Portrait (locations unknown) out of the show and left, and his friend Ramon Shiva (1893-1963) joined him.[lxxix] Perhaps the absence of the Weisenborn paintings was temporary; Marguerite B. Williams noted “portraits by Weisenborn” in her review dated April 25th.[lxxx]
His experience with the Independent Society of Artists and with the Palette and Chisel Club had the effect of drawing Weisenborn more completely into the life of the community, and helped him to develop a sense of solidarity with other progressive-minded artists. This led to a decade of vigorous and imaginative organizing efforts leading to exhibitions and other activities. It also led to a life-long commitment to teaching.
Weisenborn was a frequent exhibitor in the Chicago and vicinity exhibitions held annual at the Art Institute; in 1918, 1920 and 1921. The 1921 catalogue illustrated his Symbolist-tinged painting, Correlations (location unknown),[lxxxi] which was also illustrated in the Chicago Evening American (from among 350 works shown) and described as “sizable” as part of an admiring description “…boldly colored, boldly outlined, its paint applied with amazing thickness.” The newspaper went on to note:
“Two Chicago girls, Fay and Alice Hamlin, of the student colony of the lower North Side, posed for the artist, one as the younger sister, a dream in the background of life, among things green and undeveloped, while the older one, with her face sharply outlined in the full glare of life’s light, stands in the foreground with its complexities of existence dawning in her eyes.”[lxxxii]
In the same newspaper, Will Hollingsworth reported the painting “has caused quite a bit of discussion,” and added:
“The canvas, with its composition of the two figures in a landscape setting, is at the same time rough hewn and sensitively painted. The figure in the background, among the small trees, is handled with delicacy, and if the one in the foreground is treated broadly, the treatment is not carried so far as to obscure the artist’s intention.”[lxxxiii]
Weisenborn’s own showings at the Art Institute did not prevent him from leading protests against the exclusiveness of the Art Institute juries. He participated in an exhibition by the “Introspectives,” at the Arts Club in May. Collectively they shook their finger at the established art patrons of Chicago and the jury system stating:
“The Introspective Artist sincerely strives for self-realization, hence the word ‘introspective’ – this seeker of one’s inner self, and, thru that, the realization of the material world within the imagination. Whereas, the academicians teach rules handed down by other men, the introspective artist follows his own rules, prompted by his inner consciousness. If he errs, he is his own judge. If people have little faith in one’s own punishment let them remind themselves of the sorrow of Him who would not accept man’s laws and who died on the cross, listening to the word of his inner conscience.”[lxxxiv]
Critic Eleanor Jewett responded violently thoroughly skewering the group’s concepts in a scathing rebuttal and quoting the forward to the catalogue stating sarcastically their concepts “were too good to miss”:
“It strikes me forcefully that pretense and pedantry are often bedfellows in a shallow mind. The kernel of the introspective attitude apparently is that outside of their gospel there is no salvation… These men are splendid workers – for their own ends. They want notoriety. They disclaim all desires to sell their pictures, yet they demand appreciation from the public. (Riddle: How does the public express appreciation except in the purchase of an artist’s work?)… they vow that the artists of Chicago are in a conspiracy to keep them out, to deny them admittance to places of exhibition… They want the things which they belittle…Pedantry and pretense!”[lxxxv]
for the American exhibition later in the same year, and taking the lead in forming a Salon des Refusés, which had a very successful exhibition in Rothschild’s department store on State Street in November, 1921, where it ran simultaneously with the Art Institute’s American exhibition, which was shown from November 3 through December 11.[lxxxvi]
One of the groups Weisenborn helped to organize was Cor Ardens, meant to be international, but best known for its one major Chicago exhibition, held November 16 through 29, 1922, in the Arts Club.[lxxxvii] The exhibition later moved to Milwaukee. Weisenborn served as vice-president, and his friend Raymond Jonson (1891‑1982) served as president. Jonson noted that after the exhibition, “…interest seemed to drop off. I myself was able to give less time to it for 1923 was an extremely busy year and in 1924 I moved to Santa Fe.”[lxxxviii]
In Milwaukee the Cor Ardens exhibition was seen in December, 1922, in the main gallery of the newly reconstructed Milwaukee Art Institute.[lxxxix] It was not a very adventurous step for Cor Ardens, since only thirty-five canvases were shown, and several of the artists were already known in Milwaukee because they had shown there recently or had served on local exhibition juries. M. B. Mayhew wrote that Weisenborn’s Ben Reitman (location unknown) was “an intense portrait” and “a striking likeness of the famous anarchist leader.”[xc] Mayhew seemed more at home with an exhibition of conservative French nineteenth and twentieth century paintings that she found to be “a pleasant variation from the ultra modernism of the recent Cor Ardens exhibition.”[xci]
Meanwhile, Weisenborn continued to show in other venues including a three-person show, with Shiva and Julian Macdonald (1882-1939) that took place March 12 through April 9, 1922, in the Grace Hickox Gallery in the Fine Arts Building.[xcii] Among the things he showed were some portrait heads, done in charcoal, including a well-received drawing of the composer Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953),[xciii] evidently made when the composer was in Chicago to play piano in the world premiere of his third piano concerto, on December 16, 1921,[xciv] and to conduct the world premiere of his opera, A Love for Three Oranges, later in December.[xcv]
The high-profile presence of Prokofiev had a liberalizing influence in Chicago that may have helped to reinforce Weisenborn’s commitment to a modernist approach, whose ideas may have been strengthened by the modernistic settings for Prokofiev’s opera, created by Boris Anisfeld. Anisfeld’s settings were strongly praised in Chicago.[xcvi]
As noted earlier, Weisenborn and Alfreda (“Fritzi”) Gordon were married on May 4, 1922. She had been born in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was a writer and a former St. Louis night-club singer.[xcvii] She later served a long-time as art critic for the Chicago Times, and in an article in the Times in 1940 she recalled that she had “known the Bohemia of the Near North Side for 25 years.”[xcviii] Thus it is likely Fritzi and Rudolph had met in a milieu of artists and writers. The ceremony was performed by Judge Ana G. Adams in the Court of Domestic Relations; Weisenborn had neglected to bring a ring, so he borrowed a club ring from is attorney and best man, Philip R. Davis.[xcix]
A month later a fire broke out on June 20 in the studio-apartment the newlyweds were occupying at 854½ North State Street, destroying almost all of Weisenborn’s paintings and seriously burning him;[c] by one account he was treated at the Polyclinic Hospital,[ci] and by another he was treated at Passavant Hospital.[cii] Although Weisenborn’s recovery was more complete than doctors had first expected, both of his hands had been badly burned and remained very heat sensitive during the rest of his life.[ciii] The response of the Chicago community was very touching; many artists offered to be donors for skin grafts,[civ] and a benefit concert was held.[cv] Among the works destroyed was Correlations, mentioned above; evidently also destroyed was a charcoal portrait of Prokofiev.[cvi]
Shortly before the fire, Weisenborn had opened a small exhibition of twelve tempera paintings in the fourth-floor Piccadilly Gallery in the tearoom in the Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue; these constituted most of his works that had escaped the fire.[cvii] Shortly after the fire, Weisenborn moved to a coach house at 1501 North La Salle Street.[cviii]
One of Weisenborn’s earliest post-fire works proved to be one of his best known. This was a portrait of attorney Clarence Darrow (last known Gilman/Gruen Galleries), executed in charcoal in 1924. Due to the trial of the Loeb brothers, with Darrow as defense attorney, the portrait brought some national attention.
Weisenborn had met some actors during the early 1920s when he had painted scenery for a little theatre in the Near North Side neighborhood. One of these was Melvyn Douglas,[cix] who returned to Chicago in 1956 to appear as Darrow in Jerome Lawrence’s play, “Inherit the Wind.” The portrait of Darrow was borrowed from the owners, Mr. And Mrs. Solomon Jesmer of Chicago, and hung in Douglas’s dressing room in the Blackstone Theatre “as a virtual mirror.” Weisenborn and Douglas were photographed with the portrait for a newspaper.[cx] Weissenborn is shown holding a pencil in his right hand, and in his left hand a photograph of the portrait, probably similar to one Darrow had signed at a Neo-Arlimusc fund-raising event.[cxi] (Neo-Arlimusc is discussed below.) The “virtual mirror” inspired Douglas to give a performance that drew rave reviews for his evocation of Darrow as “a quiet man loaded with dynamite.”[cxii] The Darrow portrait was to come into play in a comical way with the local authorities. As recounted by critic Clarence J. Bulliet:
“On morning, long after the Armistice, about 3 o’clock, a squad of twelve Chicago policemen, under command of a lieutenant, invaded the picturesque alley studio of Rudolph Weisenborn, president of the newly-organized No-Jury society of Artists. The studio was hung with batiks newly imported from the orient, with bizarre animal motifs. Weisenborn was showing them for a friend of his, and many of Chicago’s wealthy were visiting the studio in the daylight and early evening hours and buying. In addition to these heathenish [Bulliet being comical], suspicious hangings, there was a charcoal drawing on an easel in a corner that Wesienborn had just made of Clarence Darrow…[who] was attorney for the young criminals, and in the early stages of the trial had said, in his outspoken way, some rather nasty things about juries. The police lieutenant took all this in, including Weisenborn in his bare feet. ‘West-side radical?’ he abruptly questioned… He asked about the batiks… Then, he espied a yellow poster which read in big bold black letters: ‘NO-JURY MEANS FREEDOM.’ This was proof positive – the poster, Darrow’s portrait, ‘West-side radical.’ ‘If you can read that much,’ said Weisenborn, a bit insolently, ‘maybe you can read the finer print.’ The lieutenant drew closer. There he learned the ‘No Jury’ show, whatever it might be, was to be held at Marshall Field’s. ‘Is Marshall Field’s a red hangout?,’ Weisenborn asked the square-head. The lieutenant…marched out into the night alone.”[cxiii]
Another actor friend of Weisenborn’s was Ralph Bellamy, who first met him when he (Bellamy) studied acting at a school on Rush Street, near Weisenborn’s studio;[cxiv] Bellamy stayed on to act at a little theatre in the neighborhood.[cxv]
[i]A great many original source documents on art organizations where Weisenborn was active come from the library of the Illinois Historical Art Project, who have compiled extensive files on Chicago’s historic artistic groups.
[ii]Henry Rago, “foreword,” in: Rosenstone Art Gallery, Bernard Horwich Center, Rudolph Weisenborn, a Retrospective, November 10-December 1, 1965 (Chicago: Rosenstone Art Gallery, Bernard Horwich Center, 1965), unpaged. Twenty-two works were shown. Henry Rago (1915-1969) was a poet as well as an editor.
[iii]This in reference to a one-man exhibit at the Adele Lawson’s Gallery in the Palmer House. Copeland C. Burg, “Abstractionist in 1-Man Show,” Chicago American, 11/20/1953, p.11.
[iv]Lynn Warren, editor, Art in Chicago, 1945-1995 (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996). Weisenborn was not even mentioned on pages 36-58, which primarily contained background information on earlier developments. Several Chicago scholars attribute this oversight to a lack of knowledge in the curatorial staff of the museum on the art of the period that covers the foundation of the very art they exhibited.
[v]That work is Provincetown No.4, 1950, was sold at Christie’s in 2011. But even here, as critic Eleanor Jewett noted, it was “…not too lively or characteristic a painting and with none of the ginger in his color which Weisenborn knows so well how to use,” and conceded only that it was “…a sizeable canvas and pleasant in a neutral fashion.” See her “Two Modernists’ Works Acquired for Art Institute,” Chicago Tribune, 5/12/1951, part 2, p.5. Jewett, not incidentally, while perhaps a bit more open-minded very early in her career (as shown by her acceptance of Boris Anisfeld, described below), had for many years been strongly opposed to modernism in art, but had been converted over the years, surely in large part by Weisenborn. On her one-time intransigence against modern art, see: Sue Ann Prince, “‘Of the Which and the Why of the Daub and Smear’: Chicago Critics take on Modernism,” and Avis Berman, “The Katharine Kuh Gallery: an Informal Portrait,” both in: Sue Ann Prince, editor, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde; Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); see especially pages 103-117, 159-160, 163-164 and 166. Prince offers much detail on Jewett’s early intransigence in matters concerning modern art, but overstated her case when she wrote that in the mid-1920s “Jewett was solidifying a viewpoint that would intensify throughout the rest of her career.” Op. cit., Prince, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde…, p.105).
[vi]Peter Hastings Falk, editor, The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1888‑1950, (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1990). Other sources include: Albert Ten Eyck Gardner, “Art for the Public,” Magazine of Art, September, 1938, Vol. 31, No. 9, pp.530-531 and 550; “Chicago’s Own,” Art Digest, Vol. 17, No. 8, 1/15/1943, p.18; “‘Our Fighting Navy’,” Art Digest, Vol. 19, No. 19, August, 1945, p.9; and Abstract and Surrealist American Art; Fifty‑eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago Catalog of an Exhibition Held November 6, 1947 through January 11, 1948, (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1947), item 250 on p.61. See also: “Abstract and Surrealist American Art,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, Vol. 41, No. 1, December, 1947, p.88, and illustration of Weisenborn’s Metropolis on p..
[vii]Op. cit. Rago, Rudolph Weisenborn, a Retrospective, unpaged.
[viii]Copeland C. Burg, “Weisenborn’s Talent Demands Spot in the Sun,” Chicago Herald-American, 8/31/1951, p.8. Burg complained that: “Weisenborn has been forced to display his work in little galleries totally inadequate to show off properly his powerful work.”
[ix]Harold Haydon, “That Thorny Matter of Neglect of Local Artists,” Chicago Sun-Times, 4/25/1971, part 3, p.13.
[x]Marilyn Irvin Holt, The Orphan Trains; Placing Out in America, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 147-149 et passim.
[xi]Op. cit., Holt, The Orphan Trains, pp.141-142. The most prominent placing-out organization, the New York Children’s Aid Society, actually insisted on a lack of legal documents; idem, 62.
[xii]Chicago Home for the Friendless, Thirtieth Annual Report for the Year 1888, (Chicago: Chicago Home for the Friendless, 1889), p.44.
[xiii]Chicago Home for the Friendless, Twenty-seventh Annual Report for the Year 1885, (Chicago: G. P. Brown & Co., 1886), p.19.
[xiv]Op. cit., Holt, The Orphan Trains, 50-51.
[xv]Op. cit., Holt, The Orphan Trains, 63-64 and 127.
[xvi]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Artists of Chicago Past and Present; No. 11: Rudolph Weisenborn,” Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[xvii]Kenneth R. Hey, “Five Artists and the Chicago Modernist Movement, 1909-1928” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1973), p.. The reader should note that this dissertation is packed with both useful information and complete errors.
[xviii]Oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded 5/16/1997, by his son, West Weisenborn, Illinois Historical Art Project Library (IHAP).
[xix]Rudolph Weisenborn, “abstract? ABSOLUTELY!,” undated  typescript, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 0017 and 0018. Used as a catalogue essay in: Recent Paintings by Weisenborn May 4 thru May 31, (Chicago: House of Arts, 1956) [four-page mimeographed pamphlet], Ryerson Library Pamphlet P-05500, Art Institute of Chicago.
[xx]“Exhibit at Riccardo’s—Weisenborn First Abstract Painter,” The Booster, 3/21/1951, sec.2, p.5. The Booster may be hard to find; the article cited is available in the Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, Vol. 86. It is also on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1409.
[xxi]Fritzi Wesienborn’s obituary in Chicago Tribune, 3/11/1968, sec. 1A, p.18.
[xxii]Who’s Who in America, Vol. 34, 1966-1967, (Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who, Incorporated, 1966), p.2259.
[xxiii]Shown by her son, Gordon Weisenborn (1923-1986), to Kenneth Hey. Portions were summarized in: op. cit., Hey, -202.
[xxiv]Op. cit., Kenneth Hey, “Five Artists . . .,” p.199.
[xxv]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[xxvi]Op. cit., Kenneth Hey, “Five Artists...,” p.199.
[xxvii]Fritzi Weisenborn, summarized in op. cit., Hey, p.199; op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11. The two accounts differ slightly.
[xxviii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[xxix]Op. cit., The Booster, 3/21/1951, sec.2, p.5. The four sisters (or foster sisters) are not mentioned in any other account.
[xxx]No paper trail related to his studies at the University of North Dakota has been found. There is a reference to “agricultural college” in: op. cit., “Exhibit at Riccardo’s—Weisenborn First Abstract Painter,” sec.2, p.5; North Dakota’s agricultural college is in Fargo, and is now part of North Dakota State University; no paper trail was left there either.
[xxxi]Ballenger & Richards Thirtieth Annual Denver City Directory for 1902, (Denver: Ballenger & Richards, , p.1124. Weisenborn was listed at 801 13th Street on page 1182 of a similar city directory published in 1903.
[xxxii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11. In random searches through microfilm files of the Denver Post, no examples were found.
[xxxiii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11. The Colorado Militia were frequently sent to Cripple Creek during a strike lasting from August 10, 1903, until July 26, 1904. See: Percy Stanley Fritz, Colorado; The Centennial State, (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1941), pp.372-373; Marshall Sprague, Money Mountain; The Story of Cripple Creek Gold, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1953), pp.249-259; and Sidney Lens, The Labor Wars; from the Molly Maguires to the Sitdowns, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1973), 125-134.
[xxxiv]Fritzi Weisenborn, summarized in op. cit, Kenneth Hey, “Five Artists...,” pp.200-201 and op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[xxxv]Op cit., oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded 5/16/1997.
[xxxvi]Op. cit, Lens, The Labor Wars, p.134.
[xxxvii]West Weisenborn remembers his father talking about working in the Tomboy, Smugglers and Union mines; op cit., oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded 5/16/1997.
[xxxviii]Rudolph Weisenborn once wrote a letter trying to find one of his paintings that had once belonged to a retired mine-owner in Telluride: Rudolph Weisenborn to Editor, Telluride Tribune, 11/9/1957, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 0036. No answer to Weisenborn’s letter can be located. According to Telluride resident Jim Bedford, the Sheridan Hotel still owns easel paintings, some of which could possibly be by Weisenborn (telephone interview with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, January, 1999).
[xxxix]Op. cit., oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded 5/16/1997; Telluride resident Jim Bedford reported the backdrop, somewhat altered by added figures, is still owned by the Sheridan Hotel (telephone interview with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, January, 1999)..
[xl]Thomas J. Noel, Buildings of Colorado, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 586.
[xli]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[xlii]On Read see: Mantle Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, enlarged edition, (Greens Farms, Connecticut: Modern Books and Crafts, Inc., 1926/1974), p.295, and Peter Hastings Falk, editor, Who Was Who in American Art, (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1985), p.507.
[xliii]Weisenborn dated his study with Read as 1905-1907 on a personnel sheet for the Art Institute of Chicago, dated 12/18/1948, and presumably prepared by Weisenborn in connection with the showing of one of his works in a Chicago and Vicinity Annual Exhibition.
[xliv]John C. Becken, “Among Three Million: Rudolph Weisenborn,” unidentified clipping from a Chicago newspaper, undated, but evidently from June 1927, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1243.
[xlv]Op. cit., Fielding, Dictionary..., p.227; op. cit., Falk, Who Was Who..., p.393; and Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940 (San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company, 1986), p.293. For a discussion of Mannheim’s career, and illustrations of his work, see: William H. Gerdts and Will South, California Impressionism, (New York: Abbeville Pess, 1998), p.260 et passim.
[xlvi]Op cit., Hughes, p.293, and Fritzi Weisenborn, summarized in op. cit, Kenneth Hey, “Five Artists...,” pp.199-200. Fritzi Weisenborn wrote another, slightly differing, account of these years in a single-page press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico. A copy is in the Illinois Historical Art Project (IHAP) library.
[xlvii]Weisenborn dated his study with Mannheim as 1907-1910, op. cit., personnel sheet for the Art Institute of Chicago, dated 12/18/1948.
[xlviii]The painting (still owned by the family as of 1999) was reproduced, in op. cit., Rudolph Weisenborn, a Retrospective, unpaged.
[xlix]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[l]Op. cit., Weisenborn, “abstract? ABSOLUTELY!,” Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 0017 and 0018.
[li]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953.
[lii]“Weisenborn, Rudolph,” index card from the exhibition records of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
[liii]On the Chicago showing of the Armory Show, see: Milton W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), pp.187-214; and International Exhibition of Modern Art, Association of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Inc., (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1913).
[liv]Clarence J. Bulliet, Apples and Madonnas; Emotional Expression in Modern Art, new revised and enlarged edition, (New York: Covici-Friede Publishers, 1930), p.234.
[lv]Pound’s work had appeared in the first issue of the Chicago magazine Poetry, in October, 1912, and beginning with the second issue became its foreign correspondent.
[lvi]Llewellyn Jones, “Midsummer Madness,” The Friday Literary Review of the Chicago Evening Post, 7/31/1914, unpaged [p.8]; a page from a Vorticist Manifesto appeared on p..
[lvii]John Grierson, “Saving Modern Art from Its Friends,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 6/2/1925, p.4
[lviii]Portrait of an Englishwoman was reproduced in: Tom Normand, Wyndham Lewis: Holding up the Mirror to Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.9, and in: Walter Michel, Wyndham Lewis, Paintings and Drawings, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), figure 146 on plate 22 (see also p.357).
[lix]Op. Cit., Jones, “Midsummer Madness,” unpaged [p.8].
[lx]The date of the Moulton and Ricketts exhibition appears on op. cit, personnel sheet for the Art Institute of Chicago, dated 12/18/1948. The show was listed in “Current Art Shows,” Chicago Examiner, 4/27/1918, p.8, displaying “paintings of unique impressionism.”
[lxi]The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago, (Chicago: The Chicago Directory Company, 1913), p.966; on Moulton, see: “Moulton, James Gardner,” John W. Leonard, editor, The Book of Chicagoans; a Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men in the City of Chicago, (Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Company, 1905), p.423. Moulton and Ricketts also had galleries in New York and Milwaukee: see, op. cit, “Moulton & Ricketts’ Failure ...The Firm’s History,” p.2.
[lxii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[lxiii]Op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, p.940.
[lxiv]Op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, p.940. The Beil and Hermant Building was a rather tony studio in its day.
[lxv]Op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, p.940.
[lxvi]Louise James Bargelt, “Art,” Chicago Tribune, 4/9/1916, sec. 8, p.11.
[lxvii]Special Exhibition of Paintings by The Independent Society of Artists, (Chicago: The Arts Club of Chicago, 6/7/1918), IHAP Library. Weisenborn exhibited A Winter Abstraction (location unknown). Paul Kruty makes the error of stating that there was only one exhibition of the Independent Society of Artists in his article, “Declarations of Independents: Chicago’s Alternative Art Groups in the 1920s,” in op. cit., Sue Ann Prince, editor, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, p.78. For further information on the group see the Art Organizations section in this book.
[lxviii]Op. cit., Bargelt, sec. 8, p.11.
[lxix]On the Chicago Athenaeum, see: Joseph M. Siry, “Chicago’s Auditorium: Opera or Anarchism,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 57, No. 2, June, 1998, pp.150-151 and 159.
[lxx]Chicago Daily Journal, Wednesday, 4/18/1917; from a clipping in the Palette and Chisel Club file in the Newberry Library; not found in the microfilm files of this newspaper in the Harold Washington Library.
[lxxi]“Palette and Chisel Club,” Chicago Examiner, 3/9/1918; from a clipping in the Palette and Chisel Club file in the Newberry Library; not found in the microfilm files of this newspaper in the Harold Washington Library.
[lxxii]Op. cit., Chicago Examiner, 3/9/1918.
[lxxiii]Gordon Weisenborn, interviewed by Kenneth R. Hey, April 16-17, 1973, in op. cit. Hey, p.201; see also: Jacob Zavel Jacobsen, Thirty-Five Saints and Emil Armin, (Chicago: L.M. Stein, 1929), p.101.
[lxxiv]Marion Deyer, “Chicago,” American Art News, Vol. 16, No. 22, 3/9/1928, p.6.
[lxxv]Evelyn Marie Stuart, “Annual Exhibition Palette and Chisel Club,” Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 36, April 1918, p.7. Portrait was reproduced on p.4.
[lxxvi]Rider, a native Chicagoan who had studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and in Europe, later became well known as one of the California Impressionists, and was also a motion-picture scenic artist for MGM and Fox Studios. See: op. cit., Gerdts and South, California Impressionism, p.263 et passim, and op. cit. Hughes, Artists in California, p.388.
[lxxvii]The printed list of paintings shown did not include Rider’s Autumn; in the copy in the Palette and Chisel Club file at the Newberry Library, Chicago, an addition, written in ink, lists the work.
[lxxviii]“Marne [i.e., site of a fierce World War I battle] Tame to This Artist’s Row; Palette and Chisel Club Froths in Temperamental Battle Over Entry at Exhibit,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, dated in pen as May 2, 1919 on microfilm reel 856, frame 1170, Archives of American Art; the date could not be verified in the microfilm files of the newspaper in the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, evidently because the article did not appear in all editions, and was not in the edition microfilmed.
[lxxix]Op. cit., Chicago Herald and Examiner, dated in pen as May 2, 1919.
[lxxx]Marguerite B. Williams, “Palette and Chisel Annual Exhibition,” Chicago Daily News, 4/25/1919, p.12.
[lxxxi]The Catalogue of The Twenty-Fifth Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1921), n.p., plate 5.
[lxxxii]Chicago Evening American, 1921 [exact date and page number not available]; reproduced on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1172.
[lxxxiii]Will Hollingsworth, “Throngs Visit Chicago Artists Exhibit,” Chicago Evening American, 1/29/1921 [page number not available], Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1171.
[lxxxiv]“Introspective Artists,” in “News of the Art World,” Chicago Evening Post, 5/10/1921, p.5.
[lxxxv]Eleanor Jewett, “Art And Architecture,” Chicago Tribune, 5/15/1921, part 9, pp.8-9.
[lxxxvi]Lena M. McCauley, “Salon des Refuses to appear Here” in “News of the Art World,” Chicago Evening Post, 11/15/1921, p.11. This footnote courtesy of research compiled by the IHAP Library. Some thirty-six years later Weisenborn recalled the salon was in 1919. Edith Weigle, “No Jury Show Often Stormy,” Chicago Tribune, 2/10/1957, part 7, p.4.
[lxxxvii]On Cor Ardens see: op. cit., Kruty, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, pp.79-80 and especially the IHAP library.
[lxxxviii]Letter from Raymond Jonson to Mrs. M.J. Sparks, TLS, May 5, 1970, xerox copy in IHAP library.
[lxxxix]“Cor Ardens Will Exhibit at Institute; Milwaukee Art-Tasters Will Be Alert to See Work Done by Unique Group,” Milwaukee Journal, 12/3/1922.
[xc]M. B. Mayhew, Milwaukee Sentinel, 12/17/1922, society, drama, music and movies section, p.3.
[xci]M.B. Mayhew, “Exhibition of French Artists to Close Jan. 9,” Milwaukee Sentinel, 12/31/1922, drama, music, fashion, clubs and society section, p.4.
[xcii]Will Hollingsworth, “Architectural Show Is Now Popular,” Chicago American, 3/18/1922, in AIC Scrapbooks, vol.43. Lena M. McCauley, “Worth Seeing,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 4/4/1922, p.8. The invitation is in the Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet box P-05500.
[xciii]Op. cit., Hollingsworth, Chicago American, 3/18/1922.
[xciv]Karleton Hackett, “Prokofieff Wins Plaudits at Stock Concert,” Chicago Evening Post, 12/17/1921, p.12.
[xcv]Karleton Hackett, “‘Love for Three Oranges’ Said to Be Russian Jazz,” Chicago Evening Post, 12/31/1921/ p.5; “Prokofieff’s Opera in Chicago,” New York Times, 1/8/1922, p.4; Edward C. Moore, Forty Years of Opera in Chicago, (New York: Horace Liveright, 1930), pp.235-236.
[xcvi]Eleanor Jewett, “Anisfeld Drawings of Opera Settings Given to [Art] Institute,” Chicago Tribune, 1/15/1922, part 9, p.5; Edward Moore, “‘Love for Three Oranges’ Color Marvel, but Enigmatic Noise; Prokofieff’s Opera Put on in Gorgeous Style,” Chicago Tribune, 12/31/1921, part 6, p.7.
[xcvii]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune, 3/11/1968, sec. 1A, p.18.
[xcviii]Alfreda Gordon [Fritzi Weisenborn], “Bohemia with a Haircut,” Chicago Times, 3/24/1940, p.4-M.
[xcix]“Art Insurgent Weds in Court,” unidentified newspaper clipping, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1188.
[c]“Artist Loses All His Productions in Studio Blast,” Chicago Evening Post, 6/21/1922, Home Edition, p..
[ci]“Rudolph Weisenborn,” Chicago Evening Post, 6/27/1922, “News of the Art World,” p.8.
[cii]“Artist Weisenborn is Burned in Studio Fire,” unidentified clipping, undated but evidently published 6/21/1922, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1174.
[ciii]Op. cit., Oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded 5/16/1997.
[civ]“Arrange Benefit to Artist,” clipping from an unidentified Chicago newspaper from July 1922, Archives of American Art microfilm 856, frame 1174.
[cv]The concert, organized by Jane Addams, Ramon Shiva and a large committee is described in unidentified Chicago newspaper clippings from July 1922, Archives of America Art microfilm 856, frame 1174.
[cvi]Op. Cit., Chicago Evening Post, 6/21/1922, Home Edition, p.: “All but one of his charcoal portraits, recently exhibited at the Fine Arts building, were destroyed.”
[cvii]Op. cit., “Rudolph Weisenborn,” Chicago Evening Post, 6/27/1922, p.8; Marguerite B. Williams, “Art Notes,” Chicago Daily News, 6/21/1922, p.10; the exhibition was also discussed in a clipping from another, unidentified, Chicago newspaper from July 1922, Archives of America Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1174.
[cviii]No precise date can be given for the move; the first listing of Weisenborn in a Chicago city directory was in 1923, when he was listed at 1501 North La Salle: Chicago City Directory, 1923, (Chicago: R.L. Polk & Co., 1923), p.2729. (This was the first Chicago city directory published since 1917.)
[cix]Op. cit., Alfreda Gordon [Fritzi Weisenborn], Chicago Times, 3/24/1940, p. 4-M-5-M.
[cx]“Darrow, Darrow on the Wall,” Chicago Sun-Times, 2/26/1956, sec.2, p.2. The portrait is reproduced in: op. cit., The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, p.69. The actor Ralph Bellamy discussed the friendship between himself, Douglas and Weisenborn in: Ralph Bellamy, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979), pp.44-45. West Weisenborn remembers visiting an actor’s home (he was unsure if it was that of Douglas or Bellamy) on a trip to California with his father in 1941; telephone interview with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, 6/26/1998.
[cxi]Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1285.
[cxii]Claudia Cassidy, “On the Aisle: Douglas’ Superb Darrow Is Focus of ‘Inherit the Wind’,” Chicago Tribune, 2/9/1956, part 4, p.3.
[cxiii]Clarence J. Bulliet, “How Modern Art Came to Town: The War Years and the Advent of No-Jury Shows,” The Chicagoan, Vol. 12, September 1931, 72.
[cxiv]Caption under picture labeled “Real Art to Art Talk,” Chicago American, 3/23/1955, part 2, p.25.
[cxv]Op. cit., Alfreda Gordon [Fritzi Weisenborn], Chicago Times, 3/24/1940, p. 4-M-5-M.
Weisenborn’s teaching at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts had begun by the summer of 1920;[i] he taught there consecutively until 1937,[ii] and again in 1939.[iii] At the Academy he offered a classes in which he hoped to attract a group of younger successful artists who would share their ideas with each other, because, “Such a union [of artists], it is hoped, will eventually cradle a really significant and progressive art movement.”[iv] In 1922 he taught at Hull House, “…where for a nominal fee, talented students are given an opportunity for artistic expression that would otherwise not be accorded to them”[v] on Monday, Tuesday and Friday afternoons, quite an active schedule. “The class will be small, so that Mr. Weisenborn may best understand the temperament of the individual student and search for his special aptitude.”[vi] He also taught a Sunday class in his studio while teaching at the Academy, beginning in 1935.[vii] No doubt with this teaching schedule these activities provided a ready source of income to what were likely less than supportive art sales. Critic C. J. Bulliet claimed Weisenborn was the “Dean of Chicago abstractionists,” a moniker that no doubt worked to attract students.[viii]
One of Weisenborn’s students at the Academy of Fine Arts, John E. Walley (1910-1974), recalled he had moved away from his regionalist approach because of a new feeling for abstract design gained from his studies with Weisenborn.[ix] After viewing the 1965 retrospective, John and his wife, Jano, also a former Weisenborn student wrote: “…both of us have always felt that our experience as Rudolph’s students was the spark in our young lives. To see that spark still glowing in Rudolph is wonderful…”[x] Students considered Weisenborn to be non-prescriptive in his teaching, trying to encourage each student to find his or her own way. Frank Holland, a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, once summarized Weisenborn’s attitude toward his students:
“He does not force his own style on them, nor does he permit them to simply copy the model or still-life setup. Each person is evidently urged to make his own decisions and to develop an individual painting style and technique. At the same time each student is required to know and to think through what he is attempting.”[xi]
Carl Newland Werntz, founder of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, commented that, as a teacher, Weisenborn “really prefers to preserve the individuality of his students.”[xii] Writer and critic Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) studied with Weisenborn. “I started working under the direction of Rudolph Weisenborn… and he has remained one of my best friends.” Rexroth fondly recalled:
“…he understood what I was trying to do in my geometrical painting, and he gave me careful criticism of my dispositions of squares and circles. Besides this, he and his wife Fritzi gave me something else - familial affectation. I was always welcome at their house, and they were always ready to feed me, listen to my troubles, and counsel me on my problems - artistic, philosophical, or erotic.”[xiii]
Rexroth also wrote about his enjoyment of intellectual open-house gatherings regularly held in Chicago, and noted: “They [Rudolph and Fritzi Weisenborn] too had ‘at homes,’ and perhaps due to the fact that Rudolph was one of the town’s important artists, they got only the cream of the habitués of the other bohemian hangouts.”[xiv]
Weisenborn helped to organize and also presided over the initial five years of the revolutionary Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists,[xv] an organization founded to protest what the artists saw as the continued exclusiveness of the juries for the Chicago and vicinity exhibitions at the Art Institute. The No-Jury Society gave annual exhibitions of its own, usually in the galleries of the Marshall Field Department Store.[xvi] For the first exhibition the call to submit pictures went out nationally, and artists from all over the U.S. responded. The only requirement was payment of a $4 membership fee; in exchange any artist could submit one or two paintings, depending on the size. The exhibit was so large eight galleries were needed, on the second floor of Field’s building. [xvii] Complementing the 365 paintings shown was an exhibition of handicrafts and manufactures assembled by the Association of Arts and Industries.[xviii] A few days before the exhibition closed, a newspaper reported: “The last week of the exhibition of the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists is alive with increasing interest. The crowds thronging the galleries have advertised the event…”[xix]
The group also presented lectures by members and guests. A lecture by New York artist and critic Walter Pach (1883-1958), one of the exhibiting artists and author of the catalogue preface,[xx] was given on several years later in 1927, at Marshall Field’s.[xxi] Pach was influential in modern art; he had helped to organize the Armory Show in 1913, which included ten of his own paintings.[xxii]
The formation of the No-Jury show had an impact as the following year Weisenborn and other “radicals” served as jurors for the Chicago and Vicinity Exhibition at the Art Institute,[xxiii] part of a successful but short-lived attempt to liberalize the event.[xxiv] Among those of the modern group listed in the catalogue were Carl Hoeckner (1883-1972), Raymond Jonson (1891-1982), and Gordon Saint Clair (1885-1966). The remainder of the large jury, some twenty-one artists were of the conservative tendancy. Weisenborn showed his own Leon J. Ell (location unknown), a drawing.[xxv] In a bit of whimsy it was said he was: “Chief Poo-Bah or Trotzky of the insurgents. Instigator and president of the No-Jury Society. His first masterpiece covered sixty-three square feet including the frame, and was covered with $10,000.00 worth of paint. After a series of portentous portraits in charcoal he is devoting the next several years to a second masterpiece.” [xxvi]
An anonymous “no-jury advocate” wrote a letter to a newspaper asking why Weisenborn and others “should declare for ‘no-jury’ and then act as jurors.”[xxvii] In answer Weisenborn wrote a letter to a newspaper dated February 5, 1923, explaining why he had served as a juror:
“The twenty-seventh annual exhibition of artists of Chicago and vicinity is open. It is by far the most democratic showing of local art ever held at the Art institute. To those who have criticized my action as a ‘no-jury’ advocate, I have only this to say, go and see. We, the so-called ‘no-jury members,’ did all in our power to give a representative showing of every phase of art, of every school of art and surely every individual in art. As president of the ‘No-Jury Society of Artists’ I want my critics to know that the no-jury exhibition will hold its second annual showing again at Marshall Field’s and from all indications will be even larger and better than last year’s. Now I would also wish my critics to know I am strong for the no-jury principles, yet I do not believe them flawless in fact. Personally, there is only one way to exhibit pictures—that is, one picture at a time. To me a picture Gallery is most tiresome, and yet it is wonderful to have them. I am very sure that every so-called ‘no-jury juryman’ has been, and is, working for a better art condition. - -Rudolph Weisenborn”[xxviii]
Thus Weisenborn had decided juries could be an advantage under the right circumstances. In 1924 he showed as part of the Chicago Society of Artists, who presented an exhibition at Marshall Field’s, from March 24 through April 5. Weisenborn also served as a juror; he showed a landscape and “an interpretive charcoal portrait.”[xxix] Weisenborn’s association with the group was short lived as 1926 was his last year exhibiting with the group.[xxx]
Weisenborn’s contact with Marshall Field’s was important to his own career, because Harrison M. Becker, the manager of the picture galleries there, was described as “progressive in his ideas,” and a man who “combined commercial instincts with discrimination in taste.”[xxxi] Thus it is not surprising an exhibition of Weisenborn’s black-and-white portraits was shown at Field’s from March 26 to April 7, 1923.[xxxii] Hi Simons wrote an lengthy and sensitive review that began with this observation:
“You will find two kinds of drawings in this exhibition. One is primarily a character sketch. In the other, you will find more interest in form—rhythmic line, harmony, and opposition of lights and darks, handling of shape and substance—than in description of personality. You can judge some, therefore, as portraits, as likenesses, and others as, first of all, compositions in black and white.”[xxxiii]
A reviewer for the Chicago Evening Post thoughtfully analyzed a number of portraits in detail, and concluded: “You will recognize them as more important than mere literal transcriptions from the actual; you will think of them as works of art.”[xxxiv]
In fact, Weisenborn completed an especially large number of portraits in the 1920s, providing a virtual gallery of people, some residents and some visitors, who were active in Chicago’s artistic and literary life at the time. The portraits of Darrow and Prokofiev have already been mentioned. Many portraits were done in charcoal, in a style, to an extent, that was jointly developed by him and Stanislaus Szukalski (1893-1987), as exemplified by Szukalski’s charcoal portrait of Weisenborn, 1919.[xxxv] All of the portraits were boldly modeled, and a number were rendered with some degree of the facet characteristics of early Cubist or Vorticist painting.
Weisenborn often used Cubism or Vorticism as a starting point for his easel paintings and murals, going on to create original works characterized by bright colors and lively color harmonies, as well as by inventive concepts of space. He usually built up a bold impasto in his paintings, even in those with sharp-edged, precisionist lines. Some of his work was completely abstract, but most was not: the portraits include fine Cubist work. Weisenborn created imaginatively-rendered nudes highlighting his original approach to painting the human figure, semi-abstract cityscapes, and landscapes, including many enriched by his vivid memories of the Rocky Mountains. Weisenborn was also active as a theatrical designer. His Vorticist-tinged settings for George Kaiser’s Gas, designed in Chicago in 1925, are of particular note. [xxxvi]
A considerable number of Weisenborn’s portraits were published in Chicago newspapers.[xxxvii] Samuel Putnam seized the opportunity of using his position as critic to write with some depth about Weisenborn’s 1925 charcoal portrait of him, which was shortly to be seen at the Art Institute in its International Water Color show.[xxxviii] The essay takes the form of self-effacing humor and Putnam, a skilled writer, uses that device to provide insight into Weisenborn’s achievement, for example in this passage:
“… there is Rudolph Weisenborn, our leading young vorticist, who sees my impressive head as a center of swirling nebulae, viewed from an elevated train which was taken a notion to play leap-frog with the Wrigley tower.”[xxxix]
Putnam went on to quote Weisenborn himself: “It will be a long time before I go beyond what I have done in Portrait of Samuel Putnam.”[xl]
At least one of Weisenborn’s exhibitions stressed Chicago’s literary life. A June 1926, exhibition at the Washington Book Company, 1012 North Rush Street, included the Darrow portrait, and it was noted: “Other portraits of local writers and others being shown are of [poet] Mark Turbyfill, [critic] Putnam, Samuel Ash and Lucile Linder.”[xli] These were by no means traditional portraits, but they were, as Simons indicated, much more realistic than the semi-abstract portraits from Weisenborn’s later career.
If an exhibition, or a compendium in book form, could be assembled of Weisenborn’s portrait drawings of the 1920s, it would be a unique window on the past, showing how leading Chicago intellectuals, artists, and their patrons, were viewed and surely would also provide some insight as to how they viewed themselves. As Rexroth had noted: “Weisenborn turned out in those days excessively vorticist portraits of all of Chicago of the Twenties.”[xlii]
In a 1926 exhibit in Madison, WI, Weisenborn was described in the review as an artist “whose reputation is spreading throughout America.”[xliii] Unfortunately during the heart of his career his work had little play outside of Chicago excepting a few Midwestern towns such as Milwaukee, Madison, Evansville,[xliv] and St. Louis. An international tour was arranged by art patroness Mrs. John Alden Carpenter and heralded in the news, but it is unclear if it came to fruition as no other mentions were made in the press.[xlv]
Weisenborn’s exhibited with the Society of Independent artists three times in New York. In 1924 he showed his portraits of Clarence Darrow and Chicago artist Minnie Harms Neebe (1873-1936)[xlvi] Two years later he showed his portrait of Samuel.[xlvii] The following month the Society of Independent artists loaned some of the paintings for a small exhibition in show for the Newark Museum Association. A reviewer for a local newspaper referred to Weisenborn as “one of the strongest painters of the Middle West.”[xlviii] Weisenborn’s last showing with the Society of Independent Artists was at the Grand Central Palace in New York, where two of his tempera paintings were on view from April 13 to May 6, 1934.[xlix]
For the international exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Weisenborn submitted a work in 1929 and one in 1930; both were rejected.[l] The records indicate Weisenborn withdrew his Chicago (1927, Illinois State Museum) from consideration for the 1929 exhibition; one can only speculate he may have thought the painting too modern for consideration.
These out-of-town showings did not mean Weisenborn put less emphasis on Chicago. He had one-person showings at the Chicago Randolph Theater,[li] Washington Book Company in June 1926,[lii] September 1927 in the lobby of the Playhouse in the Fine Arts Building[liii] and in November 1927 at the Stutz Petit Salon.[liv][lv] Later in 1928, Weisenborn had an art exhibition in a little theater, known as The Cube, that presented live drama and was located in the University of Chicago neighborhood.[lvi]
Weisenborn showed his Interior (location unknown) in a small group exhibition at the Moulin Rouge Café, 416 South Wabash Avenue, presented by the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists in November 1926. Interior was singled out for praise by Putnam as “the most outstanding picture in this show.”[lvii] The regular fifth annual exhibition of the society was presented in 1927 from January 10 through 22 at the Marshall Fields Galleries, but shortly before the exhibition, Weisenborn stepped down as president because of “…friction with his fellow directors of the society over the conduct of the forthcoming show,”[lviii] and, by one account, “[mis]management of the society’s ball” was also a factor.[lix] Fritzi Weisenborn later recalled her husband had thought the time had come to move its annual exhibition out of Marshall Field’s but the other directors balked:
“Weisenborn, who believes in being tolerant until he almost bursts, yelled and swore at them and called them a bunch of numskulls. They were all insulted and wanted to resign, but he did instead.”[lx]
The acrimony was evidently short-lived because many No-Jury artists followed Weisenborn into a new group, Neo-Arlimusc.[lxi]
Neo-Arlimusc was Weisenborn’s incarnation. The name was meant to indicate an interest in [ar]t, [li]terature, [mu]sic and [sc]ience, preceded by Neo for new.[lxii] Weisenborn hoped through Neo-Arlimusc to unite artists, writers, musicians and scientists into an intellectual community. Weisenborn’s abstract painting, Construction, then recently completed, was announced as the group’s “official emblem.”[lxiii] The group was organized late in 1926[lxiv] and had its first meeting Wednesday, January 12, 1927, in Weisenborn’s studio at 1501 North La Salle Street.[lxv] Assisting Weisenborn were Sarah Dubow, secretary and Ramon Shiva, treasurer.[lxvi] By October, it was reported there were forty members,[lxvii] paying dues of $15.00 per year.[lxviii]
Neo-Arlimusc presented lectures and discussions, and organized several group and one-person exhibitions; there were also special events, the earliest being the “Artists Mardi Gras, a Night with Artists Models, January 28, 1927, at Merry Gardens.” Weisenborn himself designed the poster announcing the event, featuring a dancer, adroitly executing a Charleston step, and clad in a dress with a printed design that could have been based on one of his abstract paintings.[lxix] Most of the exhibitions were held in Weisenborn’s studio, which was remodeled for that purpose;[lxx] no commission was charged for any works sold.[lxxi]
The response to the Neo-Arlimusc spring exhibition held in 1927 was not encouraging; Samuel Putnam (1892-1950), a friend of Weisenborn’s and an admirer of his work and one who had welcomed the formation of Neo-Arlimusc, nevertheless found the exhibition “too tame.”[lxxii] Neo-Arlimusc opened a “between-seasons” exhibition June 18, 1927, with work by Weisenborn and other member artists, including Helmut N. von Erffa,[lxxiii] who later spoke before the group, as noted below. The opening included a lecture by Llewellyn Jones, “Some Recent Books.”[lxxiv] The Neo-Arlimusc summer exhibition in 1927 was a showing by Weisenborn of a number of his portraits of some of the very people he was hoping would be part of the Neo-Arlimusc community and make it thrive, and the exhibition can thus be seen as part of his organizing activity, an attempt to forge a sense of community. Examples of portraits shown in that exhibition were published in the Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World. Included were: Llewellyn Jones (1884‑1961), editor of the Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, Ruth Baron and Max Haleff.[lxxv]
The autumn exhibition opened October 15, 1927, on the general theme of Chicago. R.A. Lennon reported that: “The exhibition…is provocative, but it is not condemnatory. It runs an eventful course from the sylvan solitudes of the forest preserve to the gory murk of the slaughter house…” He went on to note that “The pick of the No Jury society seem to be represented…” He also observed: “Of the more memorable single exhibits, Mr. Weisenborn’s large construction of swirling planes and curves in flaming colors express one aspect of Chicago…”[lxxvi] The opening night of the “Chicago” exhibition demonstrated that the interests of Neo-Arlimusc extended beyond the Windy City. The opening was celebrated by a panel chaired by Frank Sohn, president of the Art Directors Club; the panel included Barry Byrne, a Chicago architect, and “H.N. Erffa of Weimar, Germany.”[lxxvii] The latter, Helmut N. von Erffa, had studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar, and was the first person connected with that school to settle in Chicago, where he lived from March, 1927, to September, 1929.[lxxviii] The former, Byrne, had paid a visit to the Bauhaus in 1924,[lxxix] making him one of the first Americans to visit that school. Other autumn events included a November 5 lecture by Dr. Louis Wirth, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, who spoke on “Science and Some of Its False Prophets,”[lxxx] and a November 12 lecture by Dr. Hyman Cohen, author of The Tents of Jacob, who spoke on “Art Consciousness, or the Day of Creation.”[lxxxi]
The most ambitious public event was a midnight fund-raiser called “Alley Oop Chicago,” a reference to the alley location of Neo-Arlimusc behind 1501 North La Salle Street, and to a popular newspaper comic strip, Alley Oop, about dinosaurs and cavemen. The event was held in the Playhouse in the Fine Arts Building at 410 South Michigan Avenue, and featured musicians, including John Alden Carpenter, composer, and Theodore Katz, violinist; dancers, including Ruth Page; and writers, including Bulliet, Llewellyn Jones and Harriet Monroe.[lxxxii] Surely the most intriguing event was a showing of what seems to be Weisenborn’s only film; as one newspaper noted: “A modernistic motion-picture impression of Chicago, made by Rudolph Weisenborn, for the Cinema club, will be shown on the screen.”[lxxxiii]
But Neo-Arlimusc is best known for its special showing of “Exhibition of Chicago Moderns,” set up early in 1928 for the visiting art historian and critic, Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935 ), in its gallery in Weisenborn’s studio. The exhibition was carefully assembled by Weisenborn from work done by Chicago artists in modern styles (going back to the period of the Armory Show),[lxxxiv] however critic Bulliet reported that Meier-Graefe had “failed to detect anything significant” in it.[lxxxv]
What appear to be Neo-Arlimusc’s final two events took place in March, 1928. A lecture on March 17 was given by Douglas C. McMurtrie, a modernist designer of typography who was also a leading historian of printing; he spoke on “Modernism in Typography.”[lxxxvi] The last exhibition, drawings and paintings by Seymour DeKoven, opened March 24, 1928; Maxwell Bodenheim spoke at the opening on “What Is Wrong with the American Novel.”[lxxxvii] Only the Neo-Arlimusc life sketch classes continued, at least into April.[lxxxviii] Shortly after that, Weisenborn closed his La Salle Street studio and moved further north to Irving Park Road. About a dozen years later, Fritzi Weisenborn fondly recalled Neo-Arlimusc in the magazine section of the Chicago Sunday Times:
“Up an alley on La Salle was a club…called Neo Arlimusc. It was for the furtherance of new art, literature, music and science. Llewelyn [sic] Jones, book editor of the Chicago Post, would talk on books, Maxwell Bodenheim would recite his poetry, Leon Benditsky and Vitali Schnee and a group of musicians would play Ravel and Schoenberg. Louis Wirth would discuss sociology, Dr. Mandel Sherman, psychiatry, [John] Landesco, crime and the underworld. Even the gangsters came to listen and see the art exhibits… After the crowd would leave, Carl Sandburg would bring out his guitar and sing American songs, from “Frankie and Johnny” to the “Boll Weevil.” Ben Hecht and Maxwell Bodenheim would drop around to plan for the next issue of the Literary Times.”[lxxxix]
[i]This was Weisenborn’s first documented experience as a teacher; see: “News of the Art World ...Academy of Fine Arts,” Chicago Evening Post, 8/10/1920, p.8.
[ii]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Chicago Academy opens 35th Season,” Chicago Daily News, 10/10/1936, Art Antiques and the Artists section, p.4R.
[iii]It was announced he re-joined the faculty to teach a Saturday class in C. J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries: Weisenborn’s Class,” Chicago Daily News, 12/25/1938, Art and Music Section, p.24.
[iv]“Seeks to Scotch Success Stigma by Sunday Class,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/17/1929, p.4; see also: “Spare Time Classes in Art Open Oct. 12,” 9/24/1929, p.11. The cohesion developed by Weisenborn’s Academy students is illustrated by an off-campus group exhibition the staged. Clarence J. Bulliet, “Around the Picture Galleries: Beholden to Weisenborn,” Chicago Daily News, 11/25/1933, Art and Artists Section, p.24.
[v]From a clipping from a Chicago newspaper from July 1922, Archives of America Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1174.
[vi]“At Hull House,” Chicago Evening Post, News of the Art World, p.. See also: Eleanor Jewett, “Art and Artists,” Chicago Tribune, 6/18/1922, part 8, p.12.
[vii]“Weisenborn’s Class,” Chicago Daily News, 10/5/1935, Art, Antiques and The Artists section, p.4: “Rudolph Weisenborn is conducting a life drawing and painting class Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in his studio, 1007 Rush Street.” A notice appears again in C. J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries: Weisenborn’s Sunday Class,” Chicago Daily News, 9/12/1936, Art, Antiques and the Artists Section, p.4R. Edith Weigle, “Mexico Put on Canvas by Local Artist,” Chicago Tribune, 10/5/1947, p.G4.
[viii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.1, and C. J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries,” Chicago Daily News, Antiques and the Arts section, 4/10/1937.
[ix]John E. Walley, interviewed by Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, Chicago, 1/1973.
[x]Letter from John E. and Jano Walley to Rudolph and Fritzi Weisenborn, 11/11/1965, two-page handwritten note, signed, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frames 0044 and 0045.
[xi]Frank Holland, “Exhibit of Students’ Works Is Colorful, Exciting Show,” Chicago Sun, 9/28/1947, p.15.
[xii]“Dull, Busy, Utilitarian Chicago Might Well Be Cheered up by Art,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 7/2/1929, p.15.
[xiii]Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966), p.146.Op. cit, Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel, p.147.
[xiv]Op. cit, Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel, p.147.
[xv]“The No-Jury Society,” Chicago Evening Post, 8/29/1922, p.7.
[xvi]On the No-Jury Society see: op. cit., Kruty, The Old Guard…, pp.80-88 and 245-246; and op. cit., Hey, pp.212-218
[xvii]Lena M. McCauley, “No-Jury Exhibit Is Nationwide,” Chicago Evening Post, 10/3/1922, p.9.
[xviii]Op. cit., McCauley, Chicago Evening Post, 10/3/1922, p.9. On the Association of Arts and Industries, see: Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, “The Association of Arts and Industries: Background and Origins of the Bauhaus Movement in Chicago” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1973).
[xix]“The No-Jury Society,” Chicago Evening Post, 10/10/1922, p.22.
[xx]Fifth Annual Exhibition of the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists, (Chicago: No-Jury Society of Artists, 1/10/1927).
[xxi]“Leading American Modernists Send Work to No Jury Show; Walter Pach to Speak,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 1/4/1927, p.8.
[xxii]Op. cit., Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, pp.69-72 and 299.
[xxiii]Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, February 1 to March 11, 1923, (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1923), p.6.
[xxiv]Paul T. Gilbert, “Anti-Jury Art Radicals Pack Exhibition Jury; Clash of Modernist and Conservative Ideas Seen at Big Show,” Chicago Herald and American, March 1923, [exact date and page number not known], Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1183.
[xxv]Op. cit., Art Institute of Chicago, Catalogue of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, item 311.
[xxvi]A whimsical caricature found in “The Parade of Chicago Artists to the No-Jury Artists Cubist Ball,” Chicago Literary Times, Vol. 1, 9/15/1923.
[xxvii]“What is ‘No-Jury’ Jury,” unidentified clipping from a newspaper of January or February 1923, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1187. The writer had signed his or her name to the letter but it was not printed by the newspaper.
[xxviii]Unidentified clipping from a newspaper, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1187.
[xxix]Marguerite B. Williams, “Art Notes,” Chicago Daily News, 3/19/1924, p.10; “Society of Artists in First Exhibition; Offerings Not Large in Numbers, but Prove Pleasing Collection, Critic Says,” Chicago Daily News, 3/24/1924 [page number and date could not be confirmed in microfilms of the Daily News], Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1205; Sam Putnam, “The Chicago Society,“ Chicago Evening Post, 4/1/1924, [unnumbered page, probably p.10]; and “Chicago Society of Artists,” unidentified newspaper clipping from about 3/24/1924, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1205.
[xxx]IHAP library files.
[xxxi]See Becker’s obituary, Chicago Daily News, Art, Antiques & Interiors Section, 4/5/1941, p.15
[xxxii]Hi Simons, “Of Mr. Weisenborn,” Chicago Evening Post, 3/27/1923, p.11; and “Weisenborn,” unidentified newspaper, dated in pen “Sunday, April 1, 23,” Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 187.
[xxxiii]Op. cit., Simons, Chicago Evening Post, 3/27/1923, p.11.
[xxxiv]Chicago Evening Post, 3/27/1923, [page number not available], Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1187.
[xxxv]Published in: Susan S. Weininger, “Modernism and Chicago Art: 1910-1940,” in op. cit., The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, p..
[xxxvi]George Kaiser, Gas; a Play in Five Acts; translated from the German by Hermann Scheffauer, (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1924). Donald James Powers’ review, “The Destructive Power of Machinery,” appeared in the Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 4/17/1925, p.2. John Grierson, “Vorticism Brought to Serve Drama,” illustrated with Weisenborn’s “working-drawing,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 2/17/1925, p.11. Evidently Weisenborn’s sets for Gas were never used; the American premiere of the play took place on 1/27/1926, at the Goodman Theater of the Art Institute of Chicago, with sets by Louis Lozowick; see: “New Russian Art Adapted to Stage,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 1/26/1926, p.24, and Clarence J. Bulliet, “‘Gas’ a Work of Genius Only Half Attained,” Chicago Evening Post, 1/28/1926, p.11.
[xxxvii]An example would be an “unfinished portrait sketch” of writer and pacifist Dorothy Day (1897-1980) (location unknown), published in the Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 4/18/1924, p.8.
[xxxviii]Art Institute of Chicago, The International Watercolor Exhibition, May 1-June 4, 1925, item 403, as cited in: op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, pp. 19, 940.
[xxxix]Samuel Putnam, “Seeing Myself as Artists See Me,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 4/21/1925, p.5.
[xl]Op. cit., Putnam, Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 4/21/1925, p.5.
[xli]Picture caption under portrait of Darrow, Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 6/18/1926, p.3; the portrait of Mark Turbyfill was illustrated in the Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 4/27/1926, p.5.
[xlii]Op. cit., Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel, p.147.
[xliii]“Review Work of Artists Which Is on Exhibit Here,” Wisconsin State Journal, 3/14/1926, p.23 (“Music and Art Page”); see also: “Eleven Chicago Artists Exhibiting at Madison,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/16/1926, p.12. (Weisenborn’s portrait of Grierson was illustrated in the Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World about 1925 [exact date and page number not available], Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1216.)
[xliv]“Many Attend Art Exhibit Opening; Paintings by Chicago Artists Are Displayed at the Coliseum,” Evansville Journal, 5/1/1922, page number unknown, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1171.
[xlv]The tour was to include works by about twenty modern Chicago artists and would be shown in London, Paris, Warsaw and Vienna, see: “Our Moderns Go Abroad,” in “News of the Art World,” supplement, Chicago Evening Post, 7/29/1924.
[xlvi]Clark S. Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists; the Exhibition Record, 1917-1944, (Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Press, 1984), pp.14, 64, 569 and 594.
[xlvii]Op. Cit., Marlor, pp.14, 64, 569 and 594.
[xlviii]“Newark Shows Work of Seven Chicagoans,” unidentified Newark newspaper clipping of April 1926, Archives of American Art reel 1229, frame 1926; see also: “Museum Shows Artists’ Work; Selected Paintings Hung in Library Exhibition Room,” Newark Star-Eagle, 4/19/1926, p.4.
[xlix]Op. Cit., Marlor, pp.64, 569 and 595.
[l]Op. cit., “Weisenborn, Rudolph,” index card from the exhibition records of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
[li]“Rudolph Weisenborn,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/2/1926, p.6. One of the works was illustrated in the 3/9/1926 issue, p.16. His portrait of Chicago artist James Cady Ewell was illustrated in the 3/16/1926 issue, p.12.
[lii]“Exhibit by Weisenborn,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 6/15/1926, p.6.
[liii]Marguerite B. Williams, “Here and There in the Art World; Ray’s Film and Modern Art,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 9/14/1927, p.16; Regina Shapiro was illustrated. Weisenborn had been chosen by the New York-based Mindlins, operators of the Playhouse, because they found him to be “the most outstanding of the Chicago artists whose work we have seen” and “the modern spirit of his paintings is peculiarly fitting to the type of motion pictures being shown in the Playhouse.” Shown on the Playhouse screen during the Weisenborn exhibition were Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Man Ray’s Of What Are the Young Films Dreaming?
[liv]“Playhouse Will Open Exhbition Room,” Chicago Daily News, 8/31/1927 (a clipping is in Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, vol.53, p.145).
[lv]Op. cit., Williams, “Here and There in the Art World,” p.16.
[lvi]“Exhibit by Weisenborn,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 6/15/1926, p.5.
[lvii]Samuel Putnam, “Our Independents Invade Cabarets,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 11/16/1926, pp.4 and 5; Weisenborn’s Interior was reproduced on p.4.
[lviii]“Weisenborn Quits as President of No-Jury,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/14/1926, p.1.
[lix]“Neo-Arlimusc Art Group Born,” unidentified Chicago newspaper clipping, 12/[?]/1926, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1274.
[lx]Fritzi Weisenborn, quoted in: op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 5/4/1935, p.11.
[lxi]R.A. Lennon, “Modern Artists Not Scornful of Chicago,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 10/15/1927, p.5.
[lxii]The IHAP library has extensive files on the organization.
[lxiii]Construction was reproduced, with a caption, in: The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/28/1926, p.8.
[lxiv]Samuel Putnam, “Neo-Arlimusc Idea,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/21/1926, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1274.
[lxv]Jacob Zavel Jacobsen, “Our Little Group of Serious Talkers,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 1/18/1927, pp.8 and 12.
[lxvi]“What is Neo-Arlimusc?”, Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 1/14/1927, p.8.
[lxvii]“Neo Arlimusc,” a fund raising letter sent by the Arts Club to its members, dated 10\13\1927, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1276.
[lxviii]Op. cit., Putnam, Chicago Evening Post, 12/21/1926.
[lxix]Archives of America Art microfilm 856, frame 0623.
[lxx]It is not clear how much remodeling was actually done; Weisenborn’s ambitious design for the remodeling was published in: Blanche Mathias, “Neo Arlimusc and Its Moment of Now,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 11/22/1927, p.5.
[lxxi]Op. cit., Mathias, Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 11\22\1927, p.5.
[lxxii]Samuel Putnam, “Nudes Too Tame—Devoid of ‘Kick’—Must Go; Neo-Arlimusc Show Lacking in ‘Salt’,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 4/19/1927, pp. and 12.
[lxxiii]Clarence J. Bulliet, “German Expressionist Added to Local Group,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 6/28/1927, p.2.
[lxxiv]“Neo Arlimusc,” unidentified Chicago newspaper clipping, 6/[?]/1927, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1287.
[lxxv]Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 7/26/1927, p.8.
[lxxvi]Op. cit., Lennon, “Modern Artists Not Scornful of Chicago,”p.5. The painting described was probably Chicago (1924).
[lxxvii]“Neo Arlimusc,” Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 10/14/1927, p. 8.
[lxxviii]Letter to Lloyd C. Engelbrecht from Helmut von Erffa, 3/22/1973 (in the author’s files). On von Erffa in Chicago, see also: op. cit., Engelbrecht, “Association of Arts and Industries,” 1973, pp. 138-140 and 151-152
[lxxix]Brooks, H. Allen, The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), p.328. Brooks mistakenly gave the date as 1925; see op. cit., Engelbrecht, “Association of Arts and Industries,” 1973, pp. 117 and 151.
[lxxx]“Neo Arlimusc,” Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 11/4/1927, p.7.
[lxxxi]“Neo Arlimusc,” Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 11/11/1927, p.7.
[lxxxii]An announcement is in Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1300; see also: “Neo Arlimusc,” Chicago Evening Post Literary Review, 11/4/1927, p.7; and idem, 11/11/1927, p.7.
[lxxxiii]“Modernists to Offer Midnight ‘Alley Oop’,” Chicago Daily News, 11/22/1927. It is interesting to note that one of Rudolph’s friends, John Grierson, became a documentary filmmaker [see: Terence A. Senter, “Moholy-Nagy in England: May 1935 – July 1937” (M.Ph. thesis, Unversity of Nottingham, 1975), p.7 et passim], as did Rudolph’s son, Gordon.
[lxxxiv]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment on the Seven Arts,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 2/14/1928, p.8.
[lxxxv]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment on the Seven Arts; Meier-Graefe Comes and Goes,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 2/28/1928, p.8.
[lxxxvi]“Neo Arlimusc,” unidentified Chicago newspaper clipping, 3/[?]/1928, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1309.
[lxxxvii]Op. cit., “Neo Arlimusc,” unidentified Chicago newspaper clipping, 3/[?]/1928.
[lxxxviii]The class, “limited to a small group of artists and students,” met Thursday evenings, according to brief notice in: Chicago Daily News, 4/19/1928, p.19.
[lxxxix]Op. cit., Gordon [Fritzi Weisenborn], Chicago Times, 3/24/1940, p.5-M. In her essay, covering pages 4-M and 5-M, Frizi described how the adventurous intellectual scene of the Near North Side of her youth had been replaced by a tamer “Bohemia with a haircut.”
Weisenborn had continued to serve occasionally as a juror.[i] He served on a “jury of selection,” along with Clara MacGowan (1895-1983) of Northwestern University, Dr. Edward F. Rothchild and Ben I. Morris, for the first annual exhibition by Jewish artists of Chicago at the Covenant Club in 1928.[ii]
Also in 1928, another attempt was made to liberalize the Art Institute’s annual exhibition of American painting, by electing a jury that was a mix of modernists and conservatives, but with modernists in the majority.[iii] Weisenborn’s previous showings at the Art Institute had been in the Chicago and vicinity and in the watercolor exhibitions; now, for the first time, he was in the more prestigious American paintings exhibition. Moreover, he was “Awarded Honorable Mention for an architectural subject” for his uncompromising, non-objective Chicago (1924),[iv] a work Weisenborn noted “was submitted several times before to shows at the Art Institute, but was always rejected.”[v] Weisenborn had once been quoted about the painting for a Chicago newspaper:
“I assure you this was not a birdseye view of Chicago. It was my personal reaction to this modern dynamic metropolis. It was the only way I could have expressed my emotions about Chicago. And I assure you, they were very different from the vast forces I encountered out West.”[vi]
The painting known as The Chicagoan, of 1926 (72 by 47.5 inches; owned by the Weisenborn family),[vii] marks a turning point in Weisenborn’s figurative work and in the way he related figures to the surrounding environment. It is instructive to compare The Chicagoan with a related drawing, Artist Approaching the Gallery of Living Artists, undated but surely made at about the same time, that is, while Weisenborn was still hoping to establish “a gallery of living artists.”[viii] Absent from both is the mirror-like realism of the 1924 Darrow portrait, but also absent is the non-objective quality of Chicago, painted during the same year. In the latter work Weisenborn depicts himself as an artist (identifiable from his trademark ten-gallon hat), in the former approaching an art gallery with paintings under his arm, in the latter bringing the armful of paintings into a Chicago cityscape. In both works the cityscape includes recognizable scenes and abstract forms suggesting the city, but in The Chicagoan the forms have become both less precise and bolder. And in both works the space is configured from disparate elements. Weisenborn once described The Chicagoan:
“My conception was of a Life sized figure moving through the skyscrapers and the mechanized dinamics [sic] of our Chicago Loop, plus the river, plus its bridges, plus the symphonies of our smoke-throbbing blues…This painting was an integration of elements interrelated to a conflict punch. There was a conscious lack of representational material.”[ix]
The Chicagoan was chosen for the 1929 annual American exhibition at the Art Institute, but unlike Chicago (1924) in the previous year’s showing, it did not win a prize.[x]
Blue Tree of 1926,[xi] shown earlier at the Randolph Theater, is in a way oddly comparable to Artist Approaching the Gallery of Living Artists and The Chicagoan. A tree dominates the picture in the much the same way as the artist does in the other two works, and the balance of the picture is taken up by blue-dominated shapes suggesting sky and landscape, including the bare-mountain landscapes seen in the west.
Weisenborn’s efforts at agitation and organization had eloquent and enthusiastic support from Clarence J. Bulliet (1883-1952), a critic who was a thoughtful, perceptive and sympathetic observer of modern art and who conveyed his enthusiasm for much of what he saw in brilliant, highly readable prose. He also took modern art seriously in mass-circulation publications at a time when many were still convinced that modern art was some kind of hoax or the work of “wild men,” or at least the work of innocent artists who had been duped. Bulliet served as “Director” (there was a separate “Editor”) of the Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, a weekly Tuesday newspaper supplement published from 1924 to 1931. From time to time, Bulliet’s coverage of modern art was supplemented by articles by Samuel Putnam, who was also a translator of French literature, and John Grierson (1898 - 1972), who, as noted above, was also a filmmaker; all three wrote sympathetically about Weisenborn’s work. The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World was available to subscribers who were not also subscribers to its sponsoring newspaper, and it was the largest art publication in the United States at the time, with more pages than, e.g., Art News (then also a weekly). When the Post was sold to the Chicago Daily News in September, 1932, Bulliet then became a critic for that newspaper.[xii]
Bulliet had considered Weisenborn to be “the generalissimo of Chicago radicals,” until he retired from “active battle for ‘the cause’”[xiii] and “…laid aside the diabolic robes of priest of the Black Mass in Chicago art circles.”[xiv] As a result, Bulliet noted, Weisenborn had begun to “let his emotions have fuller sway in paint.”[xv] At Weisenborn’s one-person exhibition that opened March 4, 1930, at the Chester Johnson Galleries in Chicago, Bulliet observed “greater ease and flexibility in handling his brushes,” and added: “Heretofore the intellect guided every stroke—in the show at Johnson’s there is evidence that his emotions have broken out of their iron restraints.” The review was illustrated by Cliffa, 1928 (sold at auction by the Don Treadway Gallery, Cincinnati and Chicago, November 23, 1997, item 590), a seated nude next to a kitchen table with vegetables in inverse sizes: a green pepper of “normal” size is dwarfed by a large purple onion, but both are dominated by a gigantic head of garlic.[xvi] Interior was also illustrated, a week later.[xvii]
The Chester Johnson Galleries had developed into an especially prestigious place to show; generally only out-of-town artists with established reputations were shown. But Weisenborn’s triumph was marred by unusually vituperative comments by Eleanor Jewett in the Chicago Tribune. Of course, if one takes the long view, this was somewhat ironic, because, as detailed below, Jewett was to become a strong supporter of Weisenborn’s work. “It is one of the most revolting shows that has been offered in Chicago for some time,” began Jewett’s Thursday review of Weisenborn’s exhibition at the Chester Johnson Galleries; she added that in his figures, “Instead of flesh, Weisenborn presents us with entrails.”[xviii]
Bulliet was moved to attack Jewett’s review, and speculated that one of her passages, “A nude female fearfully foreshortened has raw red saucers for breasts,” might have actually, but mistakenly, been a reference to a picture by another artist. A painting by George Josimovich (1894-1986), he thought, might have been shown to Jewett in a gallery storeroom, and taken by her to be a work by Weisenborn.[xix] Be that as it may, Cliffa is dominated by a nude female figure that might just as well have provoked Jewett’s wrath.
But Jewett went beyond her review to blast Weisenborn in a more general article appearing the Sunday following her Thursday review, she proclaimed: “…no more brutalized painting could be found than in the show at the Chester Johnson galleries of canvases by Weisenborn,” and she even attacked Weisenborn personally, insisting “…one can conceive that Weisenborn is brutal at soul.” Even more blatantly she wrote, comparing Weisenborn’s work to another painter she disapproved of, Emil Ganso (1895-1941, best known for his erotic works): “…whereas Weisenborn is repulsive, Ganso is only irritating.”[xx]
The story does not end there. In December, 1930, Weisenborn’s works were shown in the assembly hall of the Chicago Women’s Aid, a Jewish women’s club. Critic Inez Cunningham wrote a long and sympathetic narrative describing a type of well-to-do and open-minded woman who might have purchased something from the Chester Johnson exhibition, but for a critic, “that snake in the garden of Eden,” who condemned the artist. The potential purchaser was swayed by “the power of print.”[xxi]
“Some time ago Rudolph Weisenbrn was given a show at the Chester Johnson gallery. Weisenborn is a sincere painter; the intellectual structure of his work is sound as a bronze bell; for many years he has labored in his own particular manner, echoing unfalteringly the uphill route, avoiding the morasses of imitation and the swamps of sensationalism. Chester Johnson recognized all this else he would never have given him an exhibition. Johnson’s reputation as a dealer needs no words in Chicago…But along came a critic and used adjectives which splattered mud not only upon Weisenborn but upon his dealer. The potential customers ran out—we are nothing in America if not moral…Lawyers called upon Mr. Weisenborn offering their services free to sue for libel, but Weisenborn is no publicity hound. None the less incalculable harm was done to his artistic reputation among those acquainted with his work and with the man, not to mention the harm done his dealer and the grief his wife felt...”[xxii]
Cunningham appeared to be personally touched by the gesture made by Woman’s Aid, one she called “poetic vindication,” because: “The purity of Jewish women is famous. The pictures of Mr. Weisenborn hang in their assembly hall for a month. These pictures are no better and no worse artistically than they were when they hung at the Johnson gallery, but their morality is vindicated to the innocent.”[xxiii]
It could be asked, if there were no organizational ties, after 1928, and no group activity other than teaching, why did Weisenborn stay in Chicago? Over the years, two of his closest artist friends left Chicago, and not only that, they moved to New Mexico, adjoining Weisenborn’s beloved Colorado. Raymond Jonson (was the first; he moved to Santa Fe in 1924,[xxiv] and to Albuquerque in 1949.[xxv] Ramon Shiva moved to Santa Fe in c.1939.[xxvi] Weisenborn visited them on several occasions, and much later in his career, spent the summer of 1953 in Santa Fe.[xxvii]
Earlier in 1924 Weisenborn had already become somewhat discouraged by the Chicago art environment. He was quoted at length in an article in a Chicago newspaper, and what emerged was he considered Chicago provincial in matters concerning art, and claimed: “Many great visual artists, American as well as foreign, are appalled at our provincial art condition.” He went on to cite some of those who had left, including his recently departed modernist-artist friend, Stanislaw Szukalski.[xxviii]
Evidently, in spite of the artistic provincialism, Weisenborn nonetheless felt nourished by the Chicago environment. Many of his works, perhaps the majority, depended on the human and physical environment of Chicago, including his sensitive portraits of the city’s intellectuals, and his cityscapes based on the dynamism of Chicago’s buildings and traffic. Also, he was sure to have been impressed with the success Szukalski had in getting his work published in Chicago, particularly in the case of two extensively illustrated monographs, the largest such publications ever of the work of a Chicago artist published in Chicago;[xxix] he must have harbored a hope for similar success.
Still another reason Weisenborn stayed in Chicago might have been the support he received in the press; Bulliet covered dozens of exhibitions for Chicago newspapers in which Weisenborn showed. In addition Bulliet wrote about Weisenborn on several occasions in Art Digest which, although published in New York, had a predilection for covering art in Chicago, because of the Chicago background of its publishers.[xxx] But nowhere did Bulliet write any extended criticism of Weisenborn’s body of work or of any of his individual works; moreover, in his 1936 book, The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures, Weisenborn was not included. The only Chicago painter included was the now long since forgotten Salcia Bahnc (1898-after 1959).[xxxi] The unstated message was clear: not many Chicago painters were accomplished enough to move beyond its provincial environment, and Weisenborn was not one of them. Thus the numerous short notices heaping praise on Weisenborn’s work, such as one of 1941 hailing Weisenborn as one of the few modernists “who achieved anything worthwhile on this side of the Atlantic,”[xxxii] eventually began to ring hollow. But Weisenborn had no way of anticipating that Bulliet’s support would be so attenuated.
Although Bulliet had noted in 1930 Weisenborn’s “…later pictures rap as violently at the heart as at the head,”[xxxiii] the painter was still cerebral enough to continue the intellectual momentum built up during his organizing efforts of the 1920s. A lecture at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago, “Abstract Form in Realistic Art,” was given February 19, 1932.[xxxiv]
Weisenborn offered a series of seven lectures in his studio on successive Saturday evenings beginning September 26, 1931. The series title was “How I Look at Art,” and the subjects included “Revolution in Art,” “The Bridge between El Greco and Cezanne,” “The Subtlety of Cubism,” “The Complete Expression of Picasso,” and “The Mystery of Space.”[xxxv]
A new direction in Weisenborn’s work was his murals. His first mural was probably the abstraction, Machine Movement, painted in 1933 for the Century of Progress Exposition held in Chicago in 1933 and 1934.[xxxvi] This was a decoration for the west interior wall of Pavilion four of the General Exhibits Building.[xxxvii] It is important to note that for Weisenborn and his many viewers, Machine Movement was seen in the context of a fair that was an experimental ground for color. Many of the buildings were windowless, with areas of flat wall surfaces; these were painted in color schemes designed by Joseph Urban in 1933 and Shepard Vogelgesang in 1934.[xxxviii] Each scheme featured large, unbroken areas of pure color. Moreover, color experiments were made with giant searchlights equipped with color filters; sometimes the searchlights were aimed at the sky, sometimes on fair buildings, and sometimes on jets of steam or on smoke from aerial bombs.[xxxix] Surely no sensitive visitor, artist or layman, went away from the fair without thinking of new possibilities for using color.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Weisenborn became a part of the Federal Art Project.[xl] The first of Weisenborn’s federally-funded works to be publicly shown appeared at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago from July 1 through August 8, 1935.[xli] Weisenborn showed Worker, a decorative panel.[xlii] This was to be one of a number of showings of Weisenborn’s work at the Renaissance Society.[xliii]
Around 1936 or 1937 he had moved his home and studio to 674 Irving Park Road, where he would remain the rest of his career.[xliv] The studio was in a former restaurant located in the lower level of a large apartment complex. The tile-floored dining room was used by Weisenborn as his own studio, and a divider made it usable also for lectures and as a teaching studio. Adjacent rooms were used by the family for cooking and sleeping.[xlv]
In 1937, Weisenborn became a member of New York-based American Abstract Artists,[xlvi] organized by intrepid modernists who welcomed as new members increasing numbers of artists who had begun their careers in Europe. However, Weisenborn does not seem to have been very active with the group. It was with his showings at the Katharine Kuh Gallery in Chicago that he was seen for the first time in the context of international modernism. Kuh operated her gallery in the elegant art deco Diana Court Building,[xlvii] from the autumn of 1935 through the spring of 1941.[xlviii] She showed the biggest names in European modernism including Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Moholy-Nagy and Kandinsky, along with a select group of American modernists. Kuh showed Weisenborn in a two-person show with Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977) in April, 1937,[xlix] and in a one-person show in April, 1941,[l] when he exhibited twenty oil and tempera paintings, including Portrait of Herman Spertus,[li] discussed below.
In 1937 Weisenborn began working in the mural program of The Illinois Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (usually simply called “WPA”) Federal Art Project, the successor to the Art Project of the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission, directed by artist Increase Robinson. The muralists for the Illinois Art Project were chosen from the painters in the easel division.[lii] Weisenborn’s murals for the WPA were all created with oil on canvas (with the exception of Abstraction—Fight Against Soil Erosion, discussed below), rather than the older method of painting on wet plaster. His first commission was for three murals for Crane Technical High School, 2245 Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. Each mural measured five by eight feet; one was called Electricians,[liii] another was called Boilermakers, Pipe Fitters, and Architects, and the other was called Steelworkers.[liv] They proved to be short-lived. Although they had been “…enthusiastically accepted by…Mrs. Kate Brewster (president of the Chicago Public School Art Society) and others,”[lv] one Crane principal accepted them reluctantly and eventually put them on the walls of the refectory. His successor, a man named Roy F. Webster, had them removed. The best explanation he could give, when questioned by Fritzi Weisenborn, was that he just didn’t like them.[lvi] Although the Crane murals can now be known solely from black-and-white photographs, some idea of their impact can be gauged from accounts of critics. John and Mollie Thwaites wrote:
“They are painted in oil on canvas by an easel painter, but it does not matter. As soon as you look at the three sections in the Crane school you see that they have the geometric, the architectonic base which such art has had from Giotto and Uccello to Orozco and Siqueiros.”[lvii]
Another set of murals, Satirical Musical Comedy, for the Great Northern Theater, was also created in 1937.[lviii] At the time the Great Northern was the site of a WPA Federal Theater Project. One mural was eight feet, four and one half inches by six feet, eleven inches; the other was four feet ten inches by eleven feet three inches. The Great Northern no longer stands, and the whereabouts of the murals is unknown. The location of one mural, Stock Yards, has not been identified, but a cartoon for it was shown at the Art Institute in 1938.[lix]
Weisenborn was nothing if not creative in locating settings for his works. He installed his own exhibition, with the help of some friends,[lx] in February 1938, in a former automobile showroom on the ground floor of the art deco 333 North Michigan Avenue Building (Holabird & Root, architects, 1928),[lxi] located just to the south of the Chicago River. Artist and critic Mitchell Siporin described the view of the gallery from the Michigan Avenue bridge, from which one could “see a large portion of the show.” He went on to point out that Weisenborn was “avowedly experimental in each picture,” while maintaining “his intensely personal idiom,” and proclaimed: “The Weisenborn Retrospective is aesthetically and historically an occasion of prime importance in the Art life of America.”[lxii] Eighty-seven works were shown, including oils, temperas and drawings, ranging in dates from 1922 through 1937; more than half were borrowed from private collections, mostly in Chicago and its suburbs, but eight were loaned by Grierson, then living in London.[lxiii] Thwaites was one of three speakers who presented a series of lectures. He was British Vice Consul in Chicago, as well as a critic for Parnassus, Magazine of Art, and Axis (London); his lecture, presented on February 28, was called “Realism and Abstraction in the Work of Rudolph Weisenborn.” On February 16, Clara MacGowan, Assistant Professor of Art at Northwestern University, gave a lecture on “Rudolph Weisenborn, His Place in Modern Art.” On February 23, George Frederick Buehr, a membership lecturer at the Art Institute, talked about “How to Enjoy Abstract Painting.”[lxiv]
The only extant school mural by Weisenborn, Contemporary Chicago, was completed in 1939 for the Nettlehorst School, 3252 North Broadway.[lxv] It measures seven by twenty-three feet, and was restored and stabilized in 1996.[lxvi] Contemporary Chicago is a challenging work. Although its roots can be seen in Cubism and Vorticism, Weisenborn went beyond these “isms” with his innovative colors, bold outlines, sculptural rendering of figures with planar surfaces, and spatial relationships. Moreover, he built up a very thick impasto, not usual in Cubism, and not usual in mural painting. If one wants to use a stylistic term for Contemporary Chicago, “machine age” would not be far from the mark. It seems like a style because similar motifs were developed in architecture and interiors, home appliances, automobiles and railroad trains, and fine arts, especially sculpture and mural painting.[lxvii] There is a biographical element in the picture: it is divided into four segments, and the right-of-center segment shows Weisenborn himself, wearing his ten-gallon hat, on horseback, with a bull and a steer and a corral. Below that is a triangular area suggesting a slice of one of his signature abstract paintings. The right-hand portion shows a worker in an assembly line, with smokestacks in the background.[lxviii] The left-hand portion is the smallest, and shows an elegantly dressed woman, whose fashionable blue shoes contrast with the heavy work shoes of the assembly-line worker. The left-of-center section shows a sailboat in Lake Michigan, with the skyscrapers of the Loop nearby, and a pair of small airplanes playfully maneuvering overhead. As an ardent fan of Western films,[lxix] and the father of two school-age sons, Weisenborn was aware that a favorite pastime for school children was going to see Western movies. The no-longer-young artist had something to share with his youthful viewers.
Sometimes the Illinois Art Project artists received commissions from sponsors in other states. Weisenborn was commissioned to do a three-dimensional diorama, Abstraction—Fight Against Soil Erosion, 1937, for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Knoxville. No longer extant, the diorama was over seven feet long.[lxx] Some artists worked in Project studios, which were large, spacious rooms, and a photograph of Weisenborn working on the diorama shows him in one such studio.[lxxi] One critic noted that “Rudolph Weisenborn’s allegiance to the cube and plane has not interfered with his bouncing sense of humor.”[lxxii] The diorama was borrowed from its owners and shown in the foyer of the American Art Today Building at the New York World’s Fair in 1940, with the title Reclamation of Eroded Farm Land.[lxxiii] It was also shown at the Art Institute of Chicago (along with cartoons for two murals, Steel Workers and Stock Yards).[lxxiv] His methods of creating the diorama, with the aid of assistants, are described in an undated press release.[lxxv]
The diorama is the only known sculpture on which Weisenborn worked. He might have made student sculptural pieces in Denver, but if so, they are lost. It is worth noting that Weisenborn was very innovative; he used color on three-dimensional forms,[lxxvi] anticipating sculptural practices now widespread but not in general use until three decades after his diorama was made.[lxxvii]
Weisenborn and other artists were featured in a series of one man shows as well as a group exhibits in the Room of Chicago Art at the Art Institute. One exhibit such featured abstract painting and sculpture opening December 31, 1942.[lxxviii] Kuh later became a curator at the Art Institute.
The most important of Weisenborn’s patrons was Herman Spertus (born 1901). A native of Ukraine, he moved to Chicago, where he started a business with his younger brother, Maurice. It was called Metalcraft, and it was the first firm to mass produce metal frames, primarily aimed at amateur camera owners who would want to frame photographs. The firm’s first and biggest customer was F.W. Woolworth, the famed chain variety-story operator.[lxxix] After his business began to prosper, Spertus found time to pursue his interest in art. Following classes at the Art Institute, he began to study with Weisenborn, and to think of himself as an artist as well as a manufacturer.[lxxx] This led to Weisenborn’s Portrait of Herman Spertus of 1940 (owned by Spertus’s daughter, who lives in New York). A large painting, about four by five feet, Fritzi Weisenborn described it thusly:
“The Portrait of Herman Spertus is a complete combination of the sitter and the artist. Spertus is one of those individuals who has responded in spirit to this modern age in which we live. He lives in a modern house and works daily among modern machinery. Weisenborn has placed him in this world, and also by placing a brush [sic; it appears to be an engraver’s burin, or perhaps a pen knife] in his hand, symbolizes the man’s responsive emotion to the world of esthetics.”[lxxxi]
One can identify the artist’s burin, the machinery from Metalcraft, and, curiously, what appears to be a pink penis-in-a-frame, in the upper left corner of the portrait, symbolizing Herman Spertus as a father. That still leaves unexplained the blue-green planar form that dominates much of the surface.[lxxxii] In spite of the seeming abstractness of the rendering, the round, soulful eyes of Herman Spertus look very much like contemporary photographs of him.[lxxxiii] Other commissions from Herman Spertus included a portrait of his wife, Sara Spertus, a watercolor;[lxxxiv] it, and the portrait of her husband, were shown at the Art Institute in 1943, but in separate exhibitions.[lxxxv]
The most important commission was for a mural, Our Fighting Navy (7½ by 9 feet), for Spertus’ office, also exhibited at the Art Institute.[lxxxvi] Numerous sketches were made by Weisenborn as he visited the aircraft carrier Sable, stationed in Lake Michigan for training purposes; facsimiles of some of the drawings were shown with the mural.[lxxxvii] Frank Holland, of the Chicago Sun, noted: “Color, while strong and brilliant, is well controlled and a definite part of the design, not just something put on top of it.” Holland went on to hail the work as “...without doubt the finest thing of the artist’s career.”[lxxxviii] Our Fighting Navy is on a long-term loan from Spertus to Northwestern University; it is housed in the James L. Allen Center.[lxxxix]
Bulliet reported on a new organization “of progressive artists,” the Artists’ League of the Midwest, which was to have its first exhibition in Chicago on February 23, 1947, in the gallery of the Board of Jewish Education, 72 East 11th Street. Weisenborn was a charter member of the organization that included among others several early and ardent Chicago modernists such as Fred Biesel (1893-1953) and Gustaf Dalstrom (1893-1971).[xc]
In 1946 and 1947 the Washington-based American Federation of Arts circulated an exhibition selected from the Art Institute of Chicago’s 57th Annual American Exhibition of Water Colors and Drawings; included was Weisenborn’s Control in White (location unknown). There were seven bookings, including the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum in Louisville (November 1-28, 1946), the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (December 29, 1946-January 19, 1947) and the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (February 9-March 23, 1947).[xci]
Fritzi Weisenborn once summarized that her husband’s work was to be found in collections in London, Glasgow, Paris, and Munich,[xcii] but it is difficult to establish the details of Weisenborn’s European reputation. On the cover of a Munich cultural magazine, Prisma, in 1947, a work identified as Chicago was,[xciii] in reality, the image of a painting (and a related silk-screen print), Portrait of the Poet, Selwyn S. Schwartz; the painting and the print were first shown, as mentioned above, at Riccardo’s Studio Restaurant in Chicago on April 23, 1948.[xciv] Portrait of the Poet, Selwyn S. Schwartz is an example of Weisenborn at his most monumental: the poet appears almost to be a work of architecture. Also in Prisma was an article by John Thwaites that was a translation of an article he had written about an exhibition of American painting at the Tate Gallery.[xcv] Thwaites owned a copy of the silkscreen version of Portrait of the poet[xcvi] and may have loaned it to Prisma.
Meanwhile, a new generation was protesting the lack of balance in the Art Institute’s Annual exhibits for Chicago area artists. Peter Selz chaired a student committee of the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society who put together a summer, 1947, exhibition “designed to present a more balanced and true representation of local art than is achieved by the Art Institute’s current Chicago annual.”[xcvii] Weisenborn showed an abstraction called Air Conditioned, “painted after a number of trips over Chicago in an open plane,” an attempt to capture “the pull and stress as well as the forms and patterns of the earth from above.”[xcviii]
The 58th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, held at the Art Institute November 6, 1947 through January 11, 1948 proved to be a showcase for this work. Curated by Katharine Kuh and Frederick A. Sweet, and known as “Abstract and Surrealist American Art,”[xcix] the show contained important works by artists such as Alexander Calder (1870-1945), Milton Avery (1885-1965) and Jackson Pollack (1912-1956). Although Weisenborn’s entry, Metropolis, was not awarded a prize it, was widely illustrated.[c] Frank Holland described it as a “strongly designed tempera.”[ci] The exhibition proved to quite controversial and brought a substantial crowd. Holland reported that the exhibition “is simply packing them in,” and added that “Last Sunday saw the galleries absolutely filled from the opening minutes until closing time.”[cii] Holland had found the Abstract and Surrealist American Art exhibition to be “an amazing and thrilling display.” He added:
“There is more color, imagination and just plain good painting on view than has been apparent at an American show in more years than I wish to contemplate. I have seen every American show since 1921; none was as exciting as the present show.”[ciii]
Critic C. J. Bulliet was uncharacteristically cautious. He pointed out the exhibition “breaks sharply with the 57-year-old tradition of attempting to present a cross-section of what is being produced in studios the country over,” and argued: “It represents a small and comparatively unimportant sector of American art…”[civ] Agreeing at least with Bulliet’s main conclusion were several laymen quoted by a reporter, Don Bresnahan, although some laymen were more open than was Bulliet,[cv] as was Weisenborn, whose opinion was also sought by Bresnahan. Weisenborn hailed the exhibition as “a milestone in creative painting.” He maintained that: “This is a new art, an American art. These paintings are raw and full of energy, like our stockyards, our Loop, our L.”[cvi]
The following year, Holland found the 59th American Exhibition an anticlimax to the “exciting abstract and surrealist painting and sculpture” of the previous year. Holland wrote that “312 items in all - most of which are quite ordinary.” Nonetheless Holland found a few works to praise noting: “Rudolph Weisenborn is represented by the strongest abstraction in the show, The Yellow Mask, (location unknown) a casein.”[cvii]
The last mural of Weisenborn’s career was a part of a series of murals in Riccardo’s Restaurant and Gallery, 437 North Rush Street. In 1947, Weisenborn was one of seven artists who began work on a canvas mural for the restaurant’s bar, representing one of the seven arts; Richard (“Ric”) Riccardo, owner of the restaurant, painted one of the murals himself and the artists he commissioned were, in addition to Weisenborn, Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (1897-1983) and his twin brother Malvin Marr Albright (1897-1983 sometimes known as “Zsissily”), Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992), William Samuel Schwartz (1896-1977) and Vincent D’Agostino (1898-1981).[cviii] All of these artists, including Riccardo himself, had worked on the Illinois Art Project of the WPA.[cix] Weisenborn’s mural was called Literature;[cx] two preliminary sketches have been identified.[cxi] A preview of the completed murals was held for the press on May 18, 1948.[cxii] The bar and restaurant today have been closed and the murals removed to another site,[cxiii] but the setting for the murals, including the palette-shaped bar, can be seen by passers-by through a window. Weisenborn first had work on display at Riccardo’s April 23, 1948, when he showed Portrait of the Poet—Selwyn S. Schwartz (location unknown), a work of 1945. Shown were the original painting, seventy by forty-one inches in size, and a smaller “full color silk-screen reproduction.” Ralph Bellamy was listed as an owner of a silk-screen copy.[cxiv] Another silk-screen, Sunshine and Moonglow (multiple edition, Weisenborn family), was shown at the Palmer House in 1950 (see below).
[i]His belief in sitting upon juries did not prevent him from continuing to exhibit in shows such as the annual Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists, where in 1932, his entry Mrs. Montgomery, was featured in the Chicago Evening Post, 6/7/1932, Art Section, p.8.
[ii]“Jewish Arts Club,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 2/28/1928, p.5. For further documentation see undated clipping from the Chicago Times in the Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1465.
[iii]“Art War Flares, Moderns on Top,” 10/24/1928, p.6, and “Modern Victors at Art Exhibit,” 10/25/1928, p.6, both in the Chicago Daily News.
[iv]Lena M. McCauley, “Jury Scored for ‘Shattering Faith’,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 10/10/1928, pp.1,4,11; and Catalogue of the Forty-First Annual American Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Art Institute of Chicago, October 25 to December 16, 1928, (Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, 1928), pp.14 and 31. The painting was illustrated in the catalogue The Emergence of Modernism in Illinois, 1914-1940, (Springfield: Illinois State Museum, 1976), unpaged.
[v]Quoted in: op. cit., “Art War Flares,” p.6.
[vi]Quoted in: The Chicago Herald and American, 8/24/1924, p.1.
[vii]Reproduced , with a date of 1926, in The New Art Examiner, Vol. 17, No. 5, January, 1990, supplement (“Chicago Artist Pages”), page 19A (in an advertisement for the Gilman/Gruen Gallery); in op. cit., Illinois State Museum, Springfield, The Emergence of Modernism in Illinois, front cover; and in Judith A. Barker and Lynn E. Springer, Currents of Expansion: Painting in the Midwest, 1820-1940, the St. Louis Art Museum, February 18-April 10, 1977, (St. Louis: St. Louis Art Museum, 1977), pp.146-147 (an implausible date of 1929 is given on page 146, evidently because it was shown at the Art Institute that year).
[viii]Reproduced in op. cit., Kruty, “Declaration of Independents,” p.86.
[ix]Rudolph Weisenborn, notes for an autobiographical sketch, quoted in op. cit., Hey, p.241.
[x]Op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, p.940.
[xi]Reproduced in Sue Ann Prince, editor, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, plate 10; an illustration of Blue Tree, identified only as a landscape, appeared in the Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/9/1926, p.9.
[xii]On Bulliet see: Engelbrecht, “Association of Arts and Industries,” 1973, pp.181-190 et passim. See also: Sue Ann Prince, “Clarence J. Bulliet: Chicago’s Lonely Champion of Modernism,” Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 26, Nos. 2 and 3, 1986, pp.21-32, and Prince, “Of the Which and the Why,” in Sue Ann Prince, editor, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde, pp.103-117.
[xiii]Op. cit., Bulliet, Apples and Madonnas, 233-234.
[xiv]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Weisenborn Caught in Swirl of Emotion,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/4/1930, p.4.
[xv]Op. cit., Bulliet, Apples and Madonnas, 233-234.
[xvi]Op. cit., Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/4/1930, p.4. Cliffa was later known as Kitchen Symphony. According to West Weisenborn (telephone interview with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, 1/10/1999), the model was Cliffa Carson, a family friend from Iron Mountain, Michigan. West recalled her efficiency in the kitchen, e.g., her ability to slice bread so that each slice was identical to the others.
[xvii]Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/11/1930, p.12.
[xviii]Eleanor Jewett, “Gerald A. Frank Wins $50 Award from Municipal Art League,” Chicago Tribune, 3/6/1930, p.17 [the review followed a brief unrelated news item].
[xix]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment on the Seven Arts…Of Rudolph the Fearful,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/11/1930, p.6.
[xx]Eleanor Jewett, “French Writer Investigates Modernism; Finds Mad Men Paint as Well as Normal Ones [and] Many Shows Seem to Prove This Claim,” Chicago Tribune, 3/9/1930, part E, p.3.
[xxi]Inez Cunningham, “Sketch of a Picture Buyer and Her Fear of Buying; Weisenborn Showing at the Woman’s Aid,” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/2/1930, p.12.
[xxii]Op. cit., Cunningham, Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/2/1930, p.12.
[xxiii]Op. cit., Cunningham, Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/2/1930, p.12.
[xxiv]Op. cit., Raymond Jonson to Mrs. M.J. Sparks, May 5, 1970; “Raymond Jonson,” in: Illinois State Museum, Springfield, The Emergence of Modernism in Illinois, unpaged; and Ed Garman, The Art of Raymond Jonson, Painter, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,1976), pp.2 and 177-178.
[xxv]Op. cit., Garman, The Art of Raymond Jonson, p.182.
[xxvi]Shiva’s first address in Santa Fe was shown jointly with Chicago in Charlotte Ball, editor, Who’s Who in American Art, Volume III, (The American Federation of Arts, 1940), p.587.
[xxvii]Oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded May 16, 1997, by West Weisenborn; and op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery.
[xxviii]“Hits Chicago Art Welcome,” Chicago Herald-Examiner, 9/21/1924, [page number not available; a copy is in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, Vol. 48, p.126].
[xxix]Stanislaw Szukalski, The Work of Szukalski, (Chicago: Covici-McGee, 1923), and idem, Sculpture and Architecture; Szukalski Projects in Design, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929). Szukalski’s career did not receive much benefit from these publications; by the time the second one appeared, he had already returned to Poland, taking with him nearly all of his work (most of which was later destroyed in the bombing during World War II). He later moved to California. http://szukalski.com/about.htm, accessed 12/27/2014.
[xxx]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Chicago, Bulliet and the Peyton Boswells,” Art Digest, 11/1/1951, p.40.
[xxxi]Clarence J. Bulliet, The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures (Chicago: Covici-Friede, Publishers, 1936), pp.121-124 and plate 197. Bulliet family history [IHAP Library] draws a love affair connection between Bahnc and Bulliet.
[xxxii]Op. Cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 4/12/1941, p.15. Bulliet had earlier made the comment that Weisenborn was the “only painter Chicago has produced who has done anything really worth while in the difficult and dangerous field of pure abstraction…” C. J. Bulliet, in “Artless Comment,” “Sixteen Significant Chicago Painters, Chicago Daily News, 5/20/1933, Art and Artists section, p.17. His Chicago was chosen for this show in 1933 at Findlay galleries by Bulliet.
[xxxiii]Op. Cit., Bulliet, Apples and Madonnas, 234.
[xxxiv]The Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago, Announcements for February, [1932}, folder, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2400, frame 0146; the date on the announcement is unclear, but evidently the lecture was given on 2/19/1932. See also: Joseph Scanlon, editor, A History of the Renaissance Society; the First Seventy-Five Years, (Chicago: Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago, 1993), p.139.
[xxxv]A copy of an announcement is in the Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1149.
[xxxvi]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery; “The Work of Rudolph Weisenborn,” Inland Architect; the Magazine of Inland Area Building and Planning, January 1958, p.7. Illustrated in: Mitchell Siporin, “The Weisenborn Retrospective,” The Chicago Artist [published by the Artists Union of Chicago], Vol. 1, No. 6 (February, 1938), p.2, and in a brochure: “The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts…1934 Summer Session,” unpaged. A copy of the brochure is on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856; Machine Movement is illustrated on frame 1143.
[xxxvii]Op. cit., “The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts,” unpaged, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frames 1143-1146.
[xxxviii]Lenox R. Lohr, Fair Management, the Story of A Century of Progress Exposition; a Guide for Future Fairs, (Chicago: The Cuneo Press, Inc., 1952), pp.74-76.
[xxxix]See: op. cit., Engelbrecht, “Association of Arts and Industries,” 1973, pp.170-171.
[xl]Letter to Inez Cunningham Stark from G. B. Stephenson, 6/18/1935, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2401, frame 0338, and Federal Emergency Relief Administration, The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F. E. R. A., submitted by the Work Division, (New York: Federal Emergency Relief Administration, 1935), pp.[iii], . See also: George J. Mavigliano and Richard A. Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois 1935-1943, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), p.137.
[xli]University of Chicago, Weekly Calendar, Vol. 40, No. 3, 6/29/1935. The Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago, Exhibition of Paintings and Designs Made for Illinois Art project [of the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission] by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, from July 1 through August 8…, broadside, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2401, frames 0333-0334. “Exhibition of Chicago Art to Open Today at U. of C.,” Chicago Tribune, 7/1/1935, p.21. Op. cit., Scanlon, A History of the Renaissance Society, pp.140-141.
[xlii]Typed listing, “Exhibition of Works Produced for the Illinois Art project,” Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2401, frame 0336.
[xliii]Weisenborn showed in a total of six group shows at the Renaissance Society; see op. cit., Scanlon, A History of the Renaissance Society, pp. 140-141, 143-146, 150 and 177; and Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2401, frames 1411-1429. See also: Frank Holland, “Society Opens Exhibition of Chicago Art,” Chicago Sun, 7/20/1947, p.23; the 1947 exhibition is discussed below.
[xliv]Jewett mentions his address on Rush in 1935 and then on Irving Park in 1937. “October Brings Brisk Revival of Art in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, 10/13/1935, part 8, p.9, and “Benton Exhibit Is Worthy of Public Notice,” Chicago Tribune, 10/31/1937, part 8, p.5.
[xlv]Oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded May 16, 1997, by West Weisenborn.
[xlvi]John R. Lane and Susan C. Larsen, Abstract painting and Sculpture in America, 1927-1944, (Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, in association with Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1983), p.36.
[xlvii]Holabird & Root, architects, 1929, no longer extant. Interior views are in: Stuart E. Cohen, Chicago Architects, (Chicago: The Swallow Press, Inc., 1976), figs.53-54; photographs of the gallery are in: op. cit., Berman, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde…, one of c.1938, p.163, and one of November 1940, p.157.
[xlviii]Op. cit., Berman, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde…, pp.155-169.
[xlix]C. J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries: Abercrombie, Weisenborn,” Chicago Daily News, 4/3/1937, Art, Antiques and The Artists section, p.4R. See also: John and Molly Thwaites, “Rudolph Weisenborn at the K. Kuh Gallery, Chicago,” Magazine of Art, June 1937, Vol. 30, No. 6, June, 1937, pp.389-390.
[l]In op. cit., Berman, The Old Guard and the Avant-garde…, a date is given as March, 1941, on p.169, but the timing of the reviews suggests a slightly later date: Fritzi Weisenborn, “Plastic Painting ‘Speaks’,” Sunday Chicago Times Magazine, 4/6/1941, p.11-M; Edith Weigle, “Institute Style Revue to Show Art Influence,” Chicago Tribune, 4/18/1941, p.22; and Clarence J. Bulliet, “The Divine Rage of Rudolph,” Chicago Daily News, 4/12/1941, Art, Antiques & Interiors Section, p.15.
[li]Illustrated in op. Cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, Sunday Chicago Times Magazine, 4/6/1941, p.11-M; op. cit., Bulliet, Chicago Daily News, 4/12/1941, p.15; and “Rudolph Weisenborn,” Pictures on Exhibit, Vol. 4, April 1941, pp.23 and 34.
[lii]Op. cit., Mavigliano Richard Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois, 1935-1943, 1990, pp.15-18 and plate 11. (Mavigliano and Lawson made no mention of the earlier art project set up by the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission.)
[liii]No published illustration of Electricians has been found.
[liv]Op. cit., Mavigliano and Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois, p.144; and John and Mollie Thwaites, “Seeing the Shows in Chicago…Five New Panels by Rudolph Weisenborn,” Magazine of Art, Vol. 30, No. 9, September, 1937, pp.576-578 [Boilermakers, Pipe Fitters, and Architects is illustrated on p.576].
[lv]Fritzi Weisenborn, quoted in: “Another W.P.A. Mural Disappears,” Art Digest, Vol. 17, No. 20, 9/1/1943, p.17; Steelworkers is illustrated; it shows a crew of steelworkers erecting a steel-frame skyscraper. Steelworkers is also illustrated in an undated clipping from an unidentified Chicago newspaper, Debs Myers, “The Case of a School [missing words] Murals—Real-Life Mystery! Suspense!,” Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1466.
[lvi]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, Art Digest, 9/1/1943, p.17
[lvii]Op. cit., Thwaites, Magazine of Art, September 1937, p.577.
[lviii]Op. cit., Thwaites, Magazine of Art, September 1937, pp.576 and 578; Satirical Musical Comedy is illustrated on p.576.
[lix]Op. cit., Magazine of Art, September, 1938, p.531.
[lx]Op. cit., Siporin, The Chicago Artist, February, 1938 p.2; the elegantly printed catalogue, Retrospective Exhibition of the Paintings and Drawings of Rudolph Weisenborn, February First to March First , a folder with six unnumbered pages, listed a number of sponsors, as well as others, such as Kuh and Moholy-Nagy, who were listed as persons “The Sponsors with to thank”; Library of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pamphlet box P-05500. Moholy had recently arrived in Chicago from London, and one can only surmise that Grierson, a close friend of Moholy’s in London, had spoken to him about Weisenborn’s planned exhibition and thus Moholy was disposed to supply some valued service for the exhibition.
[lxi]The building later housed the Tavern Club [now closed] with murals by another artist featured in the forthcoming book A History of Illinois Painters 1850-1950, John Warner Norton (1876-1934).
[lxii]Op. cit., Siporin, The Chicago Artist, February, 1938 p.2.
[lxiii]Op. cit., Retrospective Exhibition of the Paintings and Drawings of Rudolph Weisenborn.
[lxiv]An announcement of the three lectures is reproduced on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1149.
[lxv]Op. cit., Mavigliano and Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois, pp.19 and 156; and John McDonough, “Art’s Great Pageant: the WPA Murals of the ‘30s…”, Chicago Tribune Magazine, 12/10/1995, pp.30-31 and 41.
[lxvi]Peter L. Strazz, “Preserving Bits of History in WPA Murals,” Skyline, 10/17-23/1996, sec.1, p.1.
[lxvii]See, e.g., Richard Guy Wilson, Dianne H. Pilgrim and Dickran Tashjian, The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941, (New York: The Brooklyn Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1986).
[lxviii]The right-hand portion of the mural is closely related to a 1938 painting, Industry. That painting was included in an exhibition in the Block Gallery at Northwestern University, “Thinking Modern: Painting in Chicago, 1910-1940,” held January 18 to April 5, 1992. There was no catalogue, but the painting was reproduced in the announcement brochure cover.
[lxix]West Weisenborn remembers going to Western films with his father, and that his father always sat in the first row, evidently to make the Western scenery in the backgrounds assume the scale he remembered from the west (telephone interview, West Weisenborn with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, 6/26/1998). Op. cit.,“Exhibit at Riccardo’s—Weisenborn First Abstract Painter,” sec.2, p.5. “B” pictures and triple features are references to the numerous low-budget Western films made in Hollywood, in contrast to a relatively small number of high-budget Western feature films.
[lxx]Archives of American Art microfilm reel 1110, frames 0147 and 0148; a detail was published in: Shepard Vogelgesang, “Your Country Gives the Artist Work,” Chicago Times, 10/24/1937, p.16.
[lxxi]Op. cit., Archives of American Art microfilm reel 1110, frame 0147; The Chicago Artist, volume 1, number 8 (February, 1938), front cover (available on microfilm reel 856, frame 1415).
[lxxii]Op. cit., Gardner, Magazine of Art, 9/1/1938, p.531.
[lxxiii]Holger Cahill, “American Art Today ...National Panorama of the WPA Projects,” Art News, Vol. 38, Supplement 51, 5/25/1940, pp.50-51. The diorama was illustrated on p.51.
[lxxiv]See the introductory essay included in a mimeographed folder along with a check list of works shown at an exhibition at the Palmer House Gallery, March 30 through April 23, 1950, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1385; and op. cit., Gardner, Magazine of Art, 9/1/1938, pp.530-531 and 550. Gardner illustrated a sketch, and the completed mural, on page 530.
[lxxv]Press release of four typed pages, with a (typed) signature of Rudolph Weisenborn, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 0013-0016, undated but probably 1940.
[lxxvi]Op. cit., press release of four typed pages, with a (typed) signature of Rudolph Weisenborn, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 0016.
[lxxvii]In 1964 Weisenborn also made a large related painting, TVA, measuring 60 by 72 inches. Op. cit., Rosenstone Art Gallery, Bernard Horwich Center, Rudolph Weisenborn, a Retrospective, unpaged. It was illustrated in: Edward Barry, “Artist of Any Era; Weisenborn: Restless, Curious Iconoclast,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 11/7/1965, p.69.
[lxxviii]Op. cit., “Chicago’s Own,” p.18; Dorothy Odenheimer, “Abstract Art—A challenge for 1943,” Chicago Sun, 1/3/1943, p.24; Clarence J. Bulliet, “Around the Galleries ...Eight Abstractionists,” Chicago Daily News, 1/2/1943, p.18; and idem, “Around the Galleries ...Abstractions of War,” Chicago Daily News, 1/9/1943, p.6.
[lxxix]Elliot B. Lefkovitz, A Passion for Life; the Story of Herman and Maurice Spertus, (Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1994), pp.10 and 13-15.
[lxxx]Op. cit., Lefkovitz, A Passion for Life, pp.41-43.
[lxxxi]Op. cit., Pictures on Exhibit, April 1941, p.34; the same passage, with minor changes in wording, appeared in: op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, Sunday Chicago Times Magazine, 4/6/1941, p.11-M
[lxxxii]For more on the work see, op. cit., Engelbrecht, “The Association of Arts and Industries,” 1973, p.205.
[lxxxiii]E.g., op. cit., Lefkovitz, A Passion for Life, photograph facing p.35.
[lxxxiv]Sara Spertus is illustrated in: Marilyn Robb, “Chicago,” Art News, February 1950, Vol. 48, No. 10, p.53.
[lxxxv]Op. cit., Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record…, p.940.
[lxxxvi]Op. cit. Art Digest, 1/15/1943, p.9.
[lxxxvii]Op. cit., Art Digest, 1/15/1943, p.9; op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery; and oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded May 16, 1997, by West Weisenborn. Many of the sketches were microfilmed by the Archives of American Art and appear on microfilm reel 856.
[lxxxviii]Frank Holland, “Navy Masterpiece Shown by Rudolph Weisenborn,” Chicago Sun, 7/22/1945; Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1393.
[lxxxix]http://alumni.kellogg.northwestern.edu/documents/KelloggArtBroch-8.23.pdf, accessed 12/27/2014.
[xc]Clarence J. Bulliet, “New Artist League Schedules Exhibit,” Chicago Daily News, 2/15/1947, p.11, and “Progressive Artists Unite,” Art Digest, 2/15/1947, p.11.
[xci]Letter from George G. Thorp to Rudolph Weisenborn, TLS, 8/1/1946 and 5/2/1947; the letter, with a one-page enclosure, is on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 1334, 1335 and 1336, respectively.
[xcii]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery.
[xciii]Prisma, Vol.1, No.5, April, 1947, front cover and frontispiece; Portrait of the Poet, Selwyn S. Schwartz is mis-dated to 1942.
[xciv]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, “News Release—April 23rd .”
[xcv]John Thwaites, “Die amerikanische Malerie der Gegenwart,” Prisma, Vol. 1, No. 5, April 1947, pp.15-16, frontispiece and plates I through IV. [translated: The Chicago artist Rudolph Weisenborn paints in a different manner than [John] Marin, since he immediately expresses a feeling of greatness which is monumental, even raw.] [Stuart Davis and Weisenborn show another aspect of surface and light. They place hard, screaming colors next to each other, making you aware of the obtrusive surface and the unforgiving light; you even think you hear the noise.] Translated from German by the author and Klaus Mladek.
[xcvi]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, “News Release—April 23rd .”
[xcvii]Op. cit, Holland, Chicago Sun, 7/20/1947, p.23. “Art Calendar,” Chicago Sun, 6/6/1947, p. 19; and Representative Works by Chicago Artists, July 12-August 8, 1947 [presented by] The Student Committee of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 2402, frames 1559-1561.
[xcviii]Op. cit, Holland, Chicago Sun, 7/20/1947, p.23.
[xcix]Op cit., Abstract and Surrealist American Art; Fifty‑eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture.
[c]Op cit., Abstract and Surrealist American Art; Fifty‑eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture; Edith Weigle, “Meet the Moderns,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 12/14/1947, p.12; The Cherry Circle, Chicago Athletic Association, November 1947, p.39. See also: Letter to Rudolph Weisenborn from Edith Weigle, 1/16/1948, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 0034.
[ci]Frank Holland, “American Show Well Attended,” Chicago Sun and Times, 11/16/1947, p.50.
[cii]Op. cit., Holland, Chicago Sun and Times, 11/16/1947, p.50.
[ciii][Frank Holland], “Institute Show Called Amazing,” Chicago Sun and Times, 11/9/1947, p.12.
[civ]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Exhibit a Nightmare; Witches’ Orgy Covers Walls at Art Institute,” Chicago Daily News, 11/5/1947, p.21.
[cv]Don Bresnahan, “House Paint Expert, 81, Brushes Off Surrealists,” Chicago Sun and Times, 11/16/1947, p.32. The pictures accompanying Bresnahan’s story appeared on p.39, under the caption: “Lowdown on Higher (?) Art.”
[cvi]Quoted in op. cit., Bresnahan, Chicago Sun and Times, p.32. (L is local slang for elevated rapid transit; Loop is the local term for either downtown Chicago or, more specifically, the loop that the L makes that helps to define downtown.)
[cvii]Frank Holland, “Excepting Graves, Feininger Art, American Exhibit Proves Mediocre, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/7/1948, p.8X.
[cviii]“Thanks to Riccardo 7 Ex-WPA Artists Sign $100,000 Contract,” Chicago Daily News, 1/14/1947, p.6; “Get Paid to Paint What They Please,” Chicago Daily News, 2/15/1947, [page number not available], Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1328; and Irv Kupcinet, “Kup’s Column,” Chicago Times, 1/14/1947, p.27.
[cix]Op. cit., Mavigliano and Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois, pp.112, 114, 117,131, 133 and 137.
[cx]See: “Minestrone, Martinis and Truth,” Chicago Sun-Times, 8/2/1959, [section number not available], p.4 [Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1459], where all of the murals are illustrated; see also: Clarence J. Bulliet, “New Bohemia,” Art Digest, Vol.22, No. 11, 3/1/1948, p.20.
[cxi]One of Weisenborn’s sketches for the mural (charcoal, nineteen by twenty-five inches) can be seen on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 0683 and 0684; part of another can be seen in a photograph with the caption, “Rudolph Weisenborn ...Discussing Sketches for His Mural with Ric Riccardo…,” Art Digest, Vol. 22, No. 16, 5/15/1948, p.11.
[cxii]The invitation for the press can be seen in Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 1272 and 1273.
[cxiii]Art collector Seymour Persky purchased the murals and then lent them to the Union League Club. They were later removed from the club and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2006, and again in 2007 at the Chicago History Museum. See the PAFA exhibition catalogue Art In Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism, curator Robert Cozzolino, who authored the essay for the IHAP on Ivan Albright.
[cxiv]Fritzi Weisenborn, “News Release—April 23rd ,” Archives of American Art, microfilm 856, frame 1371; a copy of the general invitation [with opening day misdated] is in the Library of the Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet box P-05500.
Weisenborn’s first showing in New York since 1940 was at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery, January 27 through February 15, 1947. Metropolis (1946, Illinois State Museum) and Selma,[i] a striking semi-abstract blocky nude[ii] were shown plus eight others. A critic for the New York Times wrote:
“Rudolph Weisenborn has been better known in Chicago than in New York and his current exhibition at the Levitt Gallery should go far to insure his recognition here. Such abstractions as Metropolis and Suspension with their great thrusting rhythms are strikingly decorative and at the same time convey a kind of urban architectural claustrophobia. And Southwest with its brilliant color has captured something of the feeling of an Indian dance. This is powerful and persuasive work.”[iii]
A writer for the New York Sun found Weisenborn’s “treatment of form originally stemmed from cubism, and from there he progressed to a bold, vital style of his own,” and noted it was easy to recognize “a city of steel girders and skyscrapers in his Metropolis.”[iv]
A follow-up one-person exhibition at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery took place May 3 through 29, 1948, when twelve paintings of 1947 and 1948 were shown, including at least two abstract paintings, Speed[v] and Metropolitan Blues (casein, location unknown).[vi] The exhibition was extended through June 5 because it had “proved so popular.”[vii] The New York Sun was again supportive, and an unnamed critic found the canvases to be “perfect symbols of the terrific dynamic force of this machine age.” The critic proclaimed: “Better decoration than such canvases as Speed and The Mighty Michigan for the offices of our vast production plants can scarcely be imagined.”[viii] An unnamed critic for the New York World-Telegram was less sympathetic however: “little originality and less poetry—unless you find poetry (and some do) in the glitter of neon lights or the rush of traffic, both of which his pictures recall.”[ix]
Weisenborn also participated in a group show at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery, “The Arts Work Together—Architecture, Design, Mosaic, Painting, Sculpture Integrate Modern Building,” seen from November 5 through December 6, 1947. Verna Wear, the gallery’s director curated a joint showing of the work of architects, landscape architects, interior designers and fine artists. The idea was that fine artists should collaborate with others during the design process so that, in Wear’s words, “Painting and sculpture no longer appear as after thoughts to otherwise completed buildings but as having developed with the structure from the beginning of the plans.”[x] Models and plans were shown of buildings,[xi] some completed, some under construction, and others were “offered as workable ideas.” Presumably Weisenborn’s contribution fell into the latter category: murals for an industrial plant exhibition building, proposed by the Chicago firm of Schweikher & Elting.[xii]
The start of the 1950s saw numerous one man and group exhibitions for Weisenborn and the criticism was often favorable, extolling the many varied virtues of his works.[xiii] Involved also in the interested community at large, Weisenborn gave a demonstration entitled “We Paint Abstractly” for the La Grange Art League, on March 16th at the Y. M. C. A.[xiv] La Grange is a southwest Chicago suburb. An intriguing group show that Weisenborn participated in during February, 1950, “Equity Comes to Chicago,” was an exhibition of the Artists Equity Association in the galleries of the Associated American Artists at 846 North Michigan Avenue.[xv] Bulliet pointed out that: “Radical and conservative artists rub shoulders in the friendliest manner…” and was fascinated that: “Extrem[es] like Rudolph Ingerle, painter of mountains as the tourists see them, and Rudolph Weisenborn, Chicago cubist, hang on the same wall.”[xvi] Eleanor Jewett praised Weisenborn and William S. Schwartz as sharing “…the honor of having contributed the most decorative and pleasing landscapes.[xvii] Also, Holland wrote that “...a brilliantly painted, handsome abstraction, Fragment in Blue (location unknown), by Rudolph Weisenborn [is] the best picture included.”[xviii]
Probably the best indication of a career long achievement by Weisenborn was the acquisition of his Provincetown No.4, 1950, by the Art Institute of Chicago.[xix] By this time, the museum had long ceased acquiring works by local artists, preferring instead to vindicate New York’s derogatory classification of Chicago as a second city, by looking elsewhere for its American collections, this in itself a provincial attitude at a museum that was trying overly hard to not be a provincial museum. It remains to this day the only major museum in the world that has turned its back on art of its local community. The piece was the only Weisenborn work, and one of a very rare few by Chicago artists that had been in collection of the Art Institute, and has since been deaccessioned.[xx] Copeland C. Burg (1895-1961) hailed the acquisition and credited the Art Institute with showing “excellent taste and judgment” and proclaimed the purchase “wiped out the dark night of many years, in which the institute collection of contemporary American painting has gone without an example of the work of this splendid artist.”[xxi]
A highlight of Weisenborn’s numerous one man exhibitions during the 1950s was a show of works chosen by Chicago art critics at the Gallery of Werner’s Books, 338 South Michigan Avenue, from December 3, 1951, to January 25, 1952. Included were twenty-two oils, fourteen caseins and nine drawings, selected by Frank Holland of the Chicago Sun-Times, Eleanor Jewett of the Chicago Tribune, Marilyn Robb of Art News, Clarence J. Bulliet of the Chicago Daily News, and Copeland C. Burg of the Chicago Herald-American.[xxii] The liveliest comment came from Copeland C. Burg, who praised Weisenborn as “one of the important figures in American art” who “reveals himself with undiminished power.” He went on to proclaim:
“Only Weisenborn can make the walls shake and only he can make a viewer actually quiver in his boots…That big, beautiful painting, Creation of Eve, is our favorite. Its wonderful shapes really do go back to Genesis. Standing in front of it one can see the whole world unfolding. In it are man’s futility, his triumph, life and death, past and future.”[xxiii]
In a follow-up review Burg added that Weisenborn’s exhibition “shows his progress from student days to top standing in the entire country.”[xxiv] Bulliet added an interesting insight: in commenting on Weisenborn’s portrait of Samuel Putnam, stating Putnam was “the discoverer of Weisenborn.”[xxv]
One intriguing possibility of the exhibition at Werner’s Books remained unfulfilled. Edward G. Robinson (1893‑1973), one of the most famous art collectors of the Hollywood film community,[xxvi] had been urged by Ralph Bellamy to see the exhibition during a visit to Chicago. His schedule did not permit, but he wrote a note to Weisenborn from his Chicago hotel regretting he could not visit the exhibition but ended with hope: “I shall have the pleasure of meeting you and looking at some of your works.”[xxvii] It is unknown if this came to pass.
A profusion of exhibitions in galleries that usually must sell pictures in order to survive would seem to indicate Weisenborn’s works were selling well. Katherine Kuh verified this in 1952, when she was working as a curator at the Art Institute. She reported there were a number of new collectors buying modern art, almost all of it being work by New York or European painters, and noted:
“…as a rule the only Chicago artist represented in these collections is Rudolph Weisenborn, who is in some measure responsible for the upsurge in Chicago buying since several of the most ardent new collectors once studied with him.”[xxviii]
Kuh may have alluded to the students Weisenborn had so skillfully taught for over two decades. A recent exhibition by thirty-one of Weisenborn’s students at Riccardo’s Studio Gallery was an ample example.[xxix]
The final quarter-century of Weisenborn’s life included at least four summers spent in Provincetown on Cape Cod, in 1949, 1950,[xxx] 1951 and 1952;[xxxi] and at least one in Santa Fe, New Mexico (the summer of 1953 was spent in Santa Fe).[xxxii] There was also a series of one-person shows held in small Chicago galleries and a 1953 exhibition in Albuquerque.[xxxiii] The Jonson Art Gallery of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, was directed by and named for Weisenborn’s painter friend, Raymond Jonson (1891-1992), then a member of the University’s faculty. Weisenborn’s exhibition took place September 13 through 22, 1953, and consisted of twenty paintings and three charcoal portraits,[xxxiv] “completed this year and placed on display for the first time;”[xxxv] the charcoal portraits included one of Santa Fe writer and Indian rights activist Oliver LaFarge (1901-1963) (locations unknown).[xxxvi]
Another intriguing group exhibit occurred in February 1956. A showing of fifty-eight self-portraits by fifty-seven artists was organized by Jennie Purvin for Mandel Brothers department gallery.[xxxvii] One of the last group shows Weisenborn participated in was held in August 1956, at the House of Arts, 541 North Michigan Avenue. Among Weisenborn’s pictures was The Mirror, described by Frank Holland as: “…a powerfully designed canvas of recognizable subject matter - a woman artist painting her own portrait in a style that I’m afraid looks exactly like that of Weisenborn himself.”[xxxviii]
In 1956, he served on the prize jury for the American Jewish Arts Club, showing in the Todros Geller Gallery in the Jewish Education Building at 72 East 11th Street. Weisenborn’s fellow juror was Frank Holland. They agreed the top prize should go to Sheldon Berke for his American Scholar, which had recently been rejected by the jury for the annual exhibit by Chicago artists at the Art Institute.[xxxix]
Probably the very last of the group exhibitions Weisenborn participated in very effectively served to vindicate his earlier distrust of art jurors. In 1957, instead of its traditional Chicago and Vicinity show, the Art Institute provided the prize money and some of the expenses for a large art show held at Navy Pier, without a jury of admission, an extension thirty-five years hence of the first Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists exhibition. Each exhibitor had only to pay an entrance fee of $2.50 per work shown. There were 2,672 works by 1,534 artists in an exhibition that lasted less than two weeks from February 15 through 26, 1957. Weisenborn showed two works, one of which, Figures in Space, won the William H. Tuthill prize of $100. The show was vast and due to the nature of self-selection, varied. The jurors included the Art Institute’s Daniel Catton Rich, Xavier Gonzalez, Joseph Shapiro, Mario C. Ubaldi and John E. Walley.[xl] Their shrewd critical insight was best exemplified by the $750 Pauline Palmer Prize to Richard Hunt, then only twenty-one,[xli] who went on to become one of Chicago’s best-known and most accomplished artists.
The strength of the no-jury concept was also demonstrated by a European tour of the works of 53 artists chosen from the Navy Pier show; Weisenborn’s Figures in Space (location unknown) was included. The traveling exhibition was seen in France in a castle near Cannes, and in Arras, Rouen and Amiens, as well as in the German cities of Hamburg, Frankfort, Essen, Munich and Regensburg.[xlii]
A large retrospective Weisenborn exhibition of about sixty works, dating from 1928 through 1957, opened November 4, 1957 at the Frank Ryan Galleries, 1716 North Wells Street.[xliii] In February, 1958, an exhibition of Weisenborn’s works was displayed in the offices of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.[xliv]
Two one-person shows in the 1960s marked the end of Weisenborn’s career. The first of these included twenty-two works and took place in the Rosenstone Art Gallery of the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center, at 3003 Touhy Avenue, on Chicago’s northwest side, from November 10 to December 1, 1965.[xlv] At the opening Weisenborn gave a short talk on abstract art,[xlvi] followed by a talk by Harry Bouras, “A Homage to Weisenborn.”[xlvii] Critic Franz Schulze commented:
“Last month’s show was a rewarding reminder that he has always painted as he was moved to paint, independent of the winds of vogue. In so doing he has represented an integrity and a stalwartness of purpose that Chicago contemporary art is the richer for.”[xlviii]
The second of these final one-person shows took place in November 1967, at Gallery 235, located at 235 East Ontario Street It was preceded by a “Special Preview Sale” on October 31 and a 4:00 p.m. “Surprise 86th Birthday Party” on the same day.[xlix]
After the death of his wife, in 1968, Weisenborn gave up painting,[l] and spent most of the remaining years of his life in nursing homes. He died March 15, 1974, in Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital, in Chicago.
Two intriguing canvases were included in the memorial retrospective exhibition of Weisenborn’s works at the Gilman Galleries, 277 East Ontario Street, Chicago, May 3 to June 30, 1974. Abstract, 1961, and The Canyon, 1963,[li] indicate a movement toward abstract-expressionism. Of course there were many avenues through any of which Weisenborn could have become aware of the Abstract Expressionists, but it is intriguing to consider that his friend, Herman Spertus, had become personally acquainted with key New York artists, such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Jackson Pollack (1912-1956) and Franz Kline (1910-1962), during some of his frequent visits to New York.[lii] Moreover, some young Chicago collectors had begun buying paintings by de Kooning and Kline by the early 1950s, and some of these collectors also bought paintings by Weisenborn.[liii]
A slight interest in Weisenborn outside Chicago survived his death. In 1977 one of his paintings was included in a major exhibition in St. Louis surveying the history of painting in the Midwest.[liv]
In 1978, a documentary film on Weisenborn was produced and directed by Ron Clasky. Included were interviews with Bouras, Spertus, Gordon Weisenborn and Jack Ellis.[lv] It was shown at 9:25 p.m., on May 31, 1980, on public broadcasting, WTTW (channel 11), in Chicago.[lvi] It was also screened on April 29, 1993, as part of a presentation in the Harold Washington Library in connection with a lecture by Spertus, “Weisenborn’s Windy City: the Life and Art of Rudolph Weisenborn.”[lvii]
Without a doubt “Weisenborn is an artist whose paintings are ripe for in depth retrospective viewing.”[lviii] Such an exhibition should take place in the Art Institute the epicenter of art in Chicago.
[i]The checklist can be seen on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1322.
[ii]Selma (location unknown) was illustrated in: op. cit., Reed, Art Digest, 11/15/1947, p.20, and on the invitation, Library of the Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet file P-05500, and Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1322. According to West Weisenborn (telephone interview with Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, 1/10/99), the model was the painter’s daughter-in-law, the former Selma Revson, wife of Gordon.
[iii]Howard Devree, “Many and Diverse; One-Man Shows Include Work by a Score of Contemporary American Artists,” New York Times, 2/2/1947, section 2, p. 7.
[iv]Helen Carlson, “Marked Contrasts in Current Shows… Mortimer Levitt Gallery,” New York Sun, 2/7/1947, p.23; other reviews included, “Rudolph Weisenborn,” Art News, Vol.45, No. 12, February 1947, p.47, and “Rudolph Weisenborn, First New York Show…,” Pictures on Exhibit, February 1947, p.20.
[v]Illustrated in a flyer for the Mortimer Levitt Gallery, illustrating Speed, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet file p-05500.
[vi]Illustrated in: “Artist Gives Buyer a Four-Way Choice,” Chicago Sun-Times, 5/5/1948, p.11.
[vii]Norine Foley, “The Town Crier,” Chicago Daily News, 6/1/1948.
[viii]Helen Carlson, “Paintings and Prints ...Mortimer Levitt Gallery,” New York Sun, 5/7/1948, p.25. The paintings are unlocated.
[ix]“Weisenborn’s Works,” New York World-Telegram, 5/11/1948, p.20; see also: “Weisenborn, Pioneer,” Art Digest, Vol. 22, No. 16, 5/15/1948, p.11; and “Rudolph Weisenborn,” Art News, May 1948, Vol.47, No. 3, p.49.
[x]Verna Wear, announcement, New York, 1947, “The Arts Work Together” Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frames 1356 and 1357.
[xi]Howard Devree, “The Arts Integrated; Artists and Architects Join in Projects,” New York Times, 11/9/1947, section 2, p.12 X. See also: Judith Kaye Reed, “Integrating the Arts,” Art Digest, Vol. 22, No. 4, 11/15/1947, p.17.
[xii]Op. cit., Wear, announcement, 1947.
[xiii]Portraits some of semi-abstract nature at Riccardo’s Restaurant and Studio Gallery from 3/1 to 3/31/1950. Eleanor Jewett of the Tribune found the colors “loud and cheerful” and offered the opinion that Weisenborn “is not afraid to let his emotions run away with him.” Eleanor Jewett, “Art to Please Every Taste Now on Exhibit,” Chicago Tribune, 3/19/1950, part 7, p.4; Frank Holland, “Critic Hails Collection of Portraits in One-Man Show by Weisenborn,” Chicago Sun-Times, 3/12/1950, sec.2, p.17; Marilyn Robb, “Chicago,” Art News, Vol. 48, No. 10, February, 1950, p.53. A painting of his wife Fritzi was among those shown: the picture appears in op. cit., Kruty, The Old Guard and the Avant Garde, p.81, as part of a photograph showing Weisenborn at work and his wife, seated, striking a pose. (Kruty refers to her as an “unidentified woman.”). The gallery of the Palmer House Hotel showed seventeen caseins and oils, as well as one silk-screen print, from March 30 to April 23, 1950. For criticism see: Copeland C. Burg, “Weisenborn Art Exhibit Praised,” Chicago Herald-American, 4/8/1950, p.16; Clarence J. Bulliet, “Art in Chicago: Season for Veterans,” Art Digest, Vol. 24, No. 14, 4/15/1950, p.26; and Eleanor Jewett, “Art by 4 Men on Display…,” Chicago Tribune, 4/3/1950, part 3, p.4, and idem, “April Offering Many Exciting Art Exhibitions,” ibid., 4/9/1950, part 7, p.6; see also, op. cit., the check list and introductory essay for an exhibition at the Palmer House Gallery, March 30 through April 23, 1950, Archives of American Art, microfilm reel 856, frame 1385. An exhibition at the Gordon Gallery, 217 West Madison Street, “a new gallery which has the decided distinction of not charging artists for sales,” showed twenty-four of Weisenborn’s oils, caseins, charcoal and pen-and-ink drawings from 10/2 to 10/28/1950. Frank Holland, “Art,” Chicago Sun-Times, 10/15/1950, sec.2, p.19; and Copeland C. Burg, “Weisenborn Painting Exhibit Pleases Critic,” Chicago Herald-American, 10/17/1950, p.27 (not in all editions, but found in the City/Turf edition); the invitation is in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet box P-05500, and on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1397. Riccardo’s Restaurant and Gallery was the scene of another Weisenborn show in March, 1951; Copeland C. Burg, “1-Man Show Exciting,” Chicago Herald-American, 3/13/1951; Eleanor Jewett, “Two Artists’ Works Make Worthy Show,” Chicago Tribune, 3/10/1951, part 2, p.5; Art Digest, Vol. 25, No. 11, 3/1/1951, p.34. A well-reviewed one-person showing of recent works was at the House of Arts, 541 North Michigan Avenue, in May 1956. Frank Holland, “Weisenborn Show Heads Lengthy List of Spring Exhibitions,” Chicago Sun-Times, 5/20/1956, sec.2, p.10; Frank L. Hayes, “Weisenborn’s Art Shows Old Gusto,” Chicago Daily News, 6/1/1956, p.20, Hayes called him the “dean of Chicago abstractionsists”; and Eleanor Jewett, “Circus Comes to Life in New Art Exhibit,” Chicago Tribune, 5/9/1956, part 3, p.6.
[xiv]“Modern Art for Program; La Grange Artists to Hear Talk on Abstract Art,” La Grange Park Citizen, 5/35/1950, page number not known; a clipping is on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1386.
[xv]Frank Holland, “Van Gogh Exhibit Lifts Art Activity,” Chicago Sun-Times, 2/12/1950, sec.2, p.18.
[xvi]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Extremists Side by Side at Equity Exhibition,” Chicago Daily News, 2/10/1950, p.27. See also: Bulliet, “Art in Chicago,” Art Digest, Vol. 24, 2/15/1950, p.17.
[xvii]Eleanor Jewett, “Chicago Area Art Shown in 2 Exhibitions,” Chicago Tribune, 2/19/1950, part 7, p.4.
[xviii]Op. cit., Holland, “Van Gogh Exhibit, sec.2, p.18.
[xix]Op cit., Jewett, “Two Modernists’s Works Acquired for Art Institute,” Chicago Tribune, 5/12/1951, part 2, p.5.
[xx]Eleanor Jewett, “Various Clubs Pose Queries on Today’s Art,” Chicago Tribune, 5/20/1951, part 7, p.4. Sale 2469, Christies Interiors, 4 - 5 October 2011.
[xxi]Copeland C. Burg, “Art Institute Buys Weisenborn Painting,” Chicago Herald-American, May, [day not available] 1951, in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks. It is touching to realize how much this event meant to Weisenborn: he made a point of being photographed in 1955 for a Chicago newspaper while he was looking at the painting with his famous friend, actor Ralph Bellamy. The picture is labeled in
[xxii]Frank Holland, “Works in Exhibit Selected by Critics,” Chicago Sun-Times, 12/9/1951, sec.2, p.8; Copeland C. Burg, “Weisenberg Exhibition Thrills Art Lovers,” Chicago Herald-American, 12/9/1951, p.41; “Retrospective Exhibition,” Art News, Vol. 50, No.9, January, 1952, p.50; Clarence J. Bulliet, “Art in Chicago,” Art Digest, Vol. 26, No. 6, 12/15/1951, p.14; and idem, op. cit., “Weisenborn Show Reveals Power, Energy of Painter, 70,” Chicago Daily News, 12/7/1951, p.26.
[xxiii]Op. cit., Burg, Chicago Herald-American, 12/9/1951, p.41.
[xxiv]Copeland C. Burg, “Weisenborn Art Exhibit to Close,” Chicago Herald-American, 1/14/1952, p. 4.
[xxv]Op. cit., “Weisenborn Show Reveals Power, Energy of Painter, 70,” p.26.
[xxvi]Robinson, Jane, Edward G. Robinson’s World of Art, (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).
[xxvii]Edward G. Robinson to Rudolph Weisenborn, typed letter, signed, on Hotels Ambassador stationery, 1/2/1952, Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 0035.
[xxviii]Katharine Kuh, “Chicago’s New Collectors,” Art Digest, Vol. 20, No. 16, 5/15/1952, p.5.
[xxix]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Thirty-One Students of Rudolph Weisenborn,” Chicago Daily News, 2/2/1951; Art Digest, Vol. 25, No. 9, 2/1/1951, p.34; Copeland C. Burg, “Art of Weisenborn’s Pupils Exciting Show,” Chicago Herald-American, 2/6/1951. For related interest see also, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, (Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1947), pp.35 and 93.
[xxx]Frank Holland, “Art,” Chicago Sun-Times, 10/15/1950, sec. 2, p.19. November, 1950, brought an exhibition, “Abstractions by Weisenborn, Including the First Showing of Recent Paintings of Provincetown,” at the Well Of the Sea Gallery in the Hotel Sherman. Marilyn Robb, Art News From Chicago ...Provincetown Abstract,” Art News, Vol. 49, No. 7, November, 1950, p.52; “Abstractions by Weisenborn, Including the First Showing of Recent Paintings of Provincetown,” invitation in Library of the Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet box P-05500.
[xxxi]Clarence J. Bulliet, “Weisenborn Show Reveals Power, Energy, of Painter, 70,” Chicago Daily News, 12/7/1951, p.26.
[xxxii]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery.
[xxxiii]Op. cit., Fritzi Weisenborn, press release of 1953 for an exhibition at the Jonson Gallery.
[xxxiv]Picture caption, Albuquerque Journal, 9/6/1953, p.17.
[xxxv]“Chicago Artist Opens Exhibit,” The New Mexican (Santa Fe), 9/6/1953, section A, p.5.
[xxxvi]The portrait was illustrated in: op. cit, The New Mexican, 9/6/1953, p.5; and in the Albuquerque Journal, 9/13/1953, p.17
[xxxvii]Weisenborn was the only artist with two self-portraits both illustrated in Frank Holland, “How 57 Artists View Themselves,” Chicago Sun-Times, 2/12/1956, sec. 2, p.5; the Chicago American showed four of the self-portraits, including Weisenborn’s, with photographs of each artist: “Artists Make All Pictures Lovely—Except Own,” Chicago American, 3/30/1956 in Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1452; and Eleanor Jewett, “Portraits of Artists Are Amusing,” Chicago Tribune, 2/12/1956, part 7, p.8.
[xxxviii]Frank Holland, “Stunning Progressive Works Shown Here,” Chicago Sun-Times, 8/12/1956, sec. 2, p.5. The Mirror is illustrated. A related painting, with an altered background, is known as Portrait of Helen Brown; Helen Brown was a student of Weisenborn’s. Telephone interview Lloyd C. Engelbrecht with West Weisenborn, 7/30/1998. This variant, thirty-six by forty-eight inches, was offered for sale by the Papillon Gallery, Los Angeles, via the Internet, in January 1999, with a date of 1956 and a slightly erroneous title, Portrait of Martha Brown. It is possible The Mirror is the same painting by a different title.
[xxxix]Frank Holland, “Berke Ranked Tops in Jewish Club Show,” Chicago Sun-Times, 2/26/1954, sec. 2, p.6.
[xl]Edith Weigle, “Tell Winners in Free-For-All Pier Art Show,” Chicago Tribune, 2/12/1957, part 1, p.3. Weisenborn was photographed showing his prize-winning painting. Another of his paintings shown was reproduced in: Edith Weigle, “Modern Art for You, the Jury,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, 2/17/1957, p.24.
[xli]Op. cit., Weigle, “Tell Winners,” part 1, p.3.
[xlii]Edward Pell, “Chicago Artists Abroad Win French Critics’ Praise,” Chicago American, 9/7/1958, p.31. Weisenborn’s Figures in Space was illustrated.
[xliii]Edith Weigle, “The Wonderful World of Art,” Chicago Tribune, 11/3/1957, part 7, p.2. See also: Edith Weigle, “Modernist Has Exhibit of 60 Works,” Chicago Tribune, 11/8/1957, part 2, p.3; and caption for Portrait of a Young Girl, The Booster, 11/13/1957. The Booster may be hard to find; the item cited is on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1456.
[xliv]“Art: the Work of Rudolph Weisenborn,” Inland Architect, January, 1958, pp.6-; Metropolitan Blues (location unknown) was illustrated on p.6.
[xlv]Op. cit., Rosenstone Art Gallery, Bernard Horwich Center, Rudolph Weisenborn, a Retrospective, unpaged; see also: Op. cit., Barry, Chicago Tribune Magazine, 11/7/1965, pp.68-69.
[xlvi]“The Father of Abstract Art,” Northtown News, 10/27/1965, page number not available, but reproduced on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1463.
[xlvii]Op. cit., Northtown News, 10/27/1965.
[xlviii]Franz Schulze, “Flora, Fauna, Weisenborn,” source not determined, December, 1965; a copy of a clipping is on Archives of American Art microfilm reel 856, frame 1470.
[xlix]A copy is in the Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, pamphlet box P-05500.
[l]Oral history of Rudolph Weisenborn, recorded May 16, 1997, by West Weisenborn.
[li]Reproduced in a folder announcing a memorial retrospective exhibition of Weisenborn’s works at the Gilman Galleries, 277 East Ontario Street, Chicago, May 3 to June 30, 1974. The works are unlocated.
[lii]Op. cit., Lefkovitz, A Passion for Life, pp.42-43.
[liii]Op. cit., Kuh, “Chicago’s New Collectors,” p.5.
[liv]Op. cit., Barker, Currents of Expansion: Painting in the Midwest, pp. 146-147, 160, 176 and 188. Shown was The Chicagoan (1929), illustrated on pp.46-147.
[lv]A copy of the film is in the Harold Washington Library.
[lvi]Chicago Sun-Times, “TV Prevue,” 5/25/1980, p.52.
[lvii]Printed announcement of the Chautauqua Chicago Series at Harold Washington Library Center, dated 4/29/1993; a copy is in the IHAP files.
[lviii]Op. cit., Engelbrecht, p. 204.