Art Institute of Chicago

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Ivan Albright: Centenary of Artist's Birth


The work of Ivan Albright (1897-1983), a singular figure in American art and one of Chicago's most original painters, is being shown in its most complete exhibition to date at The Art Institute of Chicago this spring. Ivan Albright explores the full range and wondrous vision of this 20th-century American original with more than 120 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. The retrospective, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Albright's birth, runs through May 11, 1997, in Galleries 271-273 of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Building. A smaller version of the exhibition travels to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for a showing June 10-September 7, 1997.

Ivan Albright has been known and admired by many, but his place in American art has never been thoroughly explored. This examination of Albright's life work will enable the public to see for the first time the full depth and breadth of his achievement. The Art Institute, a place of great importance to Albright, is a logical and appropriate organizer for the exhibition, particularly as the holder of the largest number of Albright paintings in any museum, and the repository of his notebooks and scrapbooks.

The works of Ivan Albright are hidden treasures in the history of 20th-century art. Visitors to the Art Institute can often be found crowding around his paintings, spellbound by his unusual still lifes, character studies, and self-portraits. These haunting compositions draw the viewer in, leading to fascinating discoveries of intricate detail, opulent color, and multiple vantage points. Although the friendly, elfin Albright was far from morbid himself, his artistic vision was highly idiosyncratic. He was fascinated by the passage of time and transience of matter, particularly the creative force of decomposition: "It matters little whether I paint a squash, a striped herring, or a man. The space, the light, the motion, the position have one thing in common, decay," he said.

Ivan Albright was born into a creative family in North Harvey, Illinois, on the southern edge of Chicago. His father was a popular painter, his mother a university graduate (in 1888), and his identical twin brother Malvin was also a sculptor and painter. Over the years, the Albright family had homes and studios in several towns around Chicago, including Hubbard Woods (now Winnetka) and Warrenville.

Albright achieved probably his greatest celebrity when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the protagonist for the 1945 MGM film The Picture of Dorian Gray. The dramatic revelation of Albright's gruesome depiction of Oscar Wilde's anti-hero is a climactic high point of the film.

Ivan Albright was a highly skilled artist. He painted and sculpted; he drew in charcoal, graphite, India ink, and colored pencils; he worked in watercolor, gouaches, and metal point; he tried many techniques of printing; he even carved his own frames. He wrote about art; he composed poetry.

All were elements of an exceptional artistic presence and vision. Albright continued to work until just days before his death; his final effort was a drawing on a copper plate for a haunting self-portrait printed posthumously, which is included in the exhibition.

The Art Institute of Chicago published a book in 1997 to memorialize the exhibition.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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