George Ames Aldrich 1872–1941
A descendant of early New England colonists, George Ames Aldrich was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and received a college-preparatory education. He later claimed to have studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—one of numerous biographical “facts” that have never been substantiated. He did briefly attend New York City’s Art Students League, studying under such prominent artists as Kenyon Cox, William Merritt Chase, and John Twachtman. In 1894, Aldrich made his first trip abroad. In later accounts, he named as his teachers in Paris numerous renowned artists, notably James McNeill Whistler. He made illustrations for several English and American magazines and newspapers. In northern France Aldrich began painting the rural village and river scenes that would become his artistic mainstay. In subject, style, and composition these were deeply influenced by—indeed sometimes deliberately imitative of—the works of landscape painter Fritz Thaulow. Aldrich insisted he had been Thaulow’s pupil during the last two years of the Norwegian artist’s life, between 1904 and 1906, but this too is unsubstantiated.
Before 1910 Aldrich made several long stays in France, where he married fellow artist Eugenie Wehrle. He moved to Chicago in 1917 and the following year made his debut with four paintings in the Art Institute’s annual “Chicago and Vicinity” exhibition. Aldrich traveled and painted widely in the 1920s, going both west to the Great Plains and east to various New England coastal locales. He was never as prominent in the art scene in Chicago as in smaller cities in Illinois and Indiana. Aldrich frequently exhibited his work in clubs, libraries, hotels, and similar venues in such regional centers as Rockford, Aurora, and South Bend, where he won the faithful support of local collectors. In 1922, the then-divorced artist married a native of South Bend, where he resided until returning to Chicago in 1926. In Indiana, he added Juday Creek and the St. Joseph River near South Bend to his narrowing repertoire of landscape subjects, still dominated by the romantic French village images he had first painted decades earlier. He also painted several views of Chicago and industrial scenes, one of which garnered a prize in the annual Hoosier Salon exhibition in Chicago in 1929.
By that date, Aldrich’s reputation was at its height both in Indiana and in Chicago. He won a host of awards at the Hoosier Salon, the Art Institute, and the Chicago Galleries Association, where he was featured in a solo show in 1927; the following year, the City of Chicago purchased one of his Gloucester, Massachusetts, harbor scenes for its municipal art collection. Even before the privations of the Great Depression, however, Aldrich lived a precarious existence due to alcoholism and mental illness. Painting to the last, he died at age sixty-eight, leaving a legacy of some one thousand works.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD