Alice Kellogg Tyler (1862–1900)

Alice Kellogg Tyler. Photograph, circa 1890-95, estate of Alice Kellogg Tyler, courtesy Williams & McCormick American Arts, Columbia, Missouri

One of six daughters of a Chicago doctor, Alice Kellogg Tyler began her art training in 1879 in her native city at the Academy of Fine Arts (renamed the Art Institute of Chicago in 1882) and soon was assisting with instruction. She also won the school’s highest prize, a certificate for three months’ tuition. Among her classmates was Arthur B. Davies, with whom she formed a close, perhaps romantic, relationship that ended when he married another woman, in 1892. By 1887, Tyler was teaching at the Art Institute and painting in a shared downtown studio. That year, she departed for Europe, traveling in England and on the Continent and making copies of noted paintings in museums. In Paris she studied at the Académie Julian, the Académie Colarossi, and the private atelier of American expatriate painter Charles Lasar. Tyler’s letters home provide a useful record of American students’ shared experience of study in Parisian art schools in the late nineteenth century. Her French instructors, who were fashionable portrait and figure painters, recognized her talent, and her works were included in the 1888 and 1889 Paris Salon exhibitions and at the Exposition Universelle of 1889. In Paris, Tyler’s acquaintances included many leading American artists and figures in the Chicago art community; in addition to Lawton Parker, they included Pauline Dohn, one of a group of Chicago women with whom she shared studio and living space.

In 1889, Tyler returned to Chicago with her major painting The Mother, which established her reputation in the United States. It was exhibited in the 1891 annual show in New York of the Society of American Artists, to which the artist was elected—the only “Westerner” and the first Chicagoan so honored. Tyler taught classes in her studio, at Jane Addams’s Hull House, and at the Art Institute. She was active in the Palette Club, a women artists’ organization, serving as president in 1891, 1892, and 1895 and exhibiting in its annual shows. She was selected to paint a mural for the Woman’s Building at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and her paintings were displayed there and in the important international art exhibition at the fair’s Palace of Fine Arts. The following year, she married Orno Tyler, a Chicago businessman and amateur artist. Unlike many women artists of her day, she did not abandon professional work following her marriage; rather, it marked the beginning of her participation in the Art Institute’s annual exhibitions. When Tyler succumbed to diabetes, at age thirty-seven, Chicago sculptor and art writer Lorado Taft hailed her as the “choicest spirit” of “Western art.”[i]

Tyler was adept in oils, watercolors, and pastel; she also made several etchings and at least one monotype print. She painted portraits and figural works as well as landscapes. In the 1890s, she was among the first Chicago artists to adopt the rapid on-site execution, loose brushwork, and bright color and light of impressionism, with which she experimented in many small, intimate works. As these have emerged into public view since the 1980s, Tyler has received increasing recognition.

[i] Lorado Taft, “A Memory,” Chicago Record-Herald, Feb. 14, 1901.

Alice Kellogg Tyler, House in a Landscape, dated 1896 (verso)
Oil on canvas, 7¼ by 10½ inches

Alice Kellogg Tyler, House in a Landscape, dated 1896 (verso)

A modest country house sheltered among trees is the subject of Alice Kellogg Tyler’s intimate landscape painting on panel. Glimpsed from across an expanse of open ground and beyond a large tree that frames the scene at the left, the dull-yellow structure with its red-roofed front porch almost blends into its surroundings. Tyler painted in rough, obvious brushstrokes that record her quick, on-the-spot execution and convey her close familiarity with her subject. Indeed, it is her family home on the seventy-acre farm owned by the Kellogg family in Evergreen Park, now a southern suburb of Chicago. Tyler listed the village as her place of residence even after her marriage in 1894 to Orno Tyler. Painted two years later, this landscape was a momento for her sister Mabel, who like Alice had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Both Mabel Kellogg Rich and her son John served as models for Alice’s figural works. On the back of the panel on which she painted their family home, Alice inscribed a poem and dedication that suggests the sisters’ shared affection for the place:

A little glimpse of home my dear
As seen through loving eyes
And if the tear drops come my dear
And though thy tongue be dumb
I’ll join in thy surprise
For [?]  Mabel
Feb 8’96
from Alice

This work is one of a group of small-scale paintings retained by John, Alice’s favorite nephew, until his death in 1974. Their appearance on the art market in the 1980s sparked renewed interest in an artist little known since her premature death in 1900. This and other landscape paintings demonstrate that even as she executed dark-toned conventional studio portraits and figural works in the 1890s, Tyler was also experimenting on a small scale with the broken brushstrokes, out-of-door painting practice, and spontaneous effects of impressionism. This modern mode appealed to many of her artistic contemporaries in Chicago, especially following impressionism’s “official” American debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. In portraying her family home, Tyler found an apt subject for impressionist informality and immediacy.