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Society for Sanity in Art founded in 1937

As early as 1923 there was strife between the modern and conservative contingent of artists and a struggle to control the juries for annual shows at the Art Institute of Chicago. The earliest call for “sane” art may have been by Eleanor Jewett when she stated “Much of the modernist painting is destined for the scrap heap…The single sane avenue left open to us is a dispassionate investigation of ways and means by which both the conservative and the modernist painter may have a fair chance to get his work before the public.”[1] As anti-modernist sentiment went, the Society for Sanity in Art was founded rather late. Members were against both abstraction and social realism. Founded by Josephine Hancock Logan (Logan Prize Art Institute of Chicago) in response to Doris Lee’s Logan Prize winning painting Thanksgiving Day, at the Art Institute of Chicago, American Annual, her first reason for bringing this organization into being was “to help rid our museums of modernistic, moronic grotesqueries that were masquerading as art.” Mrs. Logan was astounded when she learned that the most popular painting at the Art Institute, as voted by patrons, Song of the Lark, by Jules Breton, had been moved to storage by Director Robert Harshe, who claimed it wasn’t good enough for the museum. The Chicago Tribune added to the controversy when the newspaper announced they would publish an image in color in their March 1 issue.[2] Her second reason for founding the organization was “an endeavor to reestablish authentic art in its rightful position before the public.” Its membership was nationwide. Members felt it reflected a sincere indignation for then prevailing art trends against indiscriminate use of color, disregard for subject matter, distortion of nature and human form and lack of structure in composition. Art critics from the Chicago Daily News[3] and New York Times blasted her for what they viewed as almost Fascist attempts to control art and creativity.[4] Yet reviews were printed for the 1938 and 1939 shows.[5] The first catalogue of work for the Society featured on the cover Claude Buck’s painting Girl Reading, which five years earlier had garnered multiple prizes at the annual exhibit of Chicago artists at the Art Institute.[6] A branch of the organization was opened in San Francisco, which featured an exhibition of local likeminded artists in 1940 and 1942, and 1945.[7]


[1]Eleanor Jewett, “Chicagoans Find New Ways of Judging Pictures,” Chicago Tribune, 2/7/1932, part 8, p.5. See also “Sane Paintings at Club Show Win Approval: Refuse to Retreat Before Modernism,” 2/13/1932, p.13.

[2]Josephine Hancock Logan, Sanity in Art, (Chicago: A. Kroch, 1937). Marcia Winn, “’Song of Lark’ Is Stilled at Art Institute,” Chicago Tribune, 1/18/1936, p.1. Marcia Winn, “Harshe’s Caged Lark To Appear On Tribune Page,” 2/2/1936, part 1, p.11.

[3]For early criticism of the movement see: C. J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment: American Brand of Naziism?,” Chicago Daily News, 3/27/1937, Art, Antiques and The Artists section, p.4R.

[4]For a summary of criticisms against Logan see: “Josephine Logan, Militant Leader of the Right, Presents ‘Sane’ Art,” Art Digest, Vol. 13, 10/1/1938, p.7.

[5]See for example C. J. Bulliet, “Artless Comment,” Chicago Daily News, 5/6/1939, Art and Music Section, p.18.

[6]See Eleanor Jewett, “See Art Trend in Honors Given to ‘Girl Reading’: Claude Buck's Work Gets Three Awards,” Chicago Tribune, 3/17/1932, p.15.

[7]Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by The San Francisco Chapter of The Society For Sanity In Art, Inc., (San Francisco: San Francisco Branch Society for Sanity in Art, Inc, 1940). The exhibition ran from August 10 to October 6. Exhibition of painting and sculpture by the San Francisco Chapter of the Society for Sanity in Art Inc. at the Calif. Palace of the Legion of Honor: San Francisco, (San Francisco, The Society, 1942). This exhibition ran from November 1 to December 31.

Society for Sanity in Art Cover
Josephine Hancock Logan
Society for Sanity in Art catalogue back cover
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