Jessie Pixley Lacey 1863–1957
Jessie Pixley Lacey taught for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago but little is known of her work as an artist. Born in Charlotte, Michigan, Lacey enrolled in 1887 at the Art Institute’s school, where she won honors in the following two years. She went to Paris in 1895 for instruction in private ateliers and at the popular Académie Julian, sharing a studio with her friend Minerva Chapman. Lacey made additional visits to Europe over the next five years, traveling in Britain, France, and Italy. During that period, she was most active as an exhibitor in Chicago venues, notably the Art Institute’s annual exhibitions. In 1895 the “foreign sketches” she exhibited in the annual show of the Palette Club, a women artists’ organization, were praised as demonstrations of the modern style that the “promising young artist” had recently acquired abroad.i Her work was included in the world’s fairs in Omaha in 1898 and St. Louis in 1904 as well as in the prestigious Paris Salon exhibition of 1900. Lacey’s local reputation as a painter was perhaps at its height in 1902, when eleven of her works were displayed in the Art Institute’s annual exhibition for Chicago artists, including several images of subjects she found in the picturesque French coastal town of Étaples. Lacey, noted the Chicago Chronicle, “has been one of the especially honored ones in the institute, not only by having had her pictures purchased but by having had more paintings accepted by the jury than is the fortune of most of the exhibitors.”ii
Lacey resumed her studies at the Art Institute in 1908 and then took a position there as a teacher, remaining for some three decades. She was active in several Chicago artists’ organizations, notably the Art Institute’s alumni association, of which she was vice-president between 1918 and 1924, and she also served on exhibition juries. Although few of Lacey’s paintings are extant, titles of her exhibited works indicate that she painted landscapes and genre works as well as portraits. In a questionnaire completed for the Art Institute in 1918 she described herself as a figure and portrait painter, and she may also have painted miniatures, for she was a juror for the Chicago Society of Miniature Painters’ annual exhibition of 1919. By that date, Lacey’s own productivity as a painter had evidently declined, for the 1912 “Chicago and Vicinity” show marked her final appearance in an Art Institute annual exhibition. Lacey lived in north-suburban Evanston at least as early as 1897, and she also briefly maintained a downtown studio in the new Fine Arts Building, in 1899 and 1900. One of the first tenants of Evanston’s Orrington Hotel when it opened in 1923, Lacey died there at age ninety-three.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
i “In the Art Studios,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 15, 1895.
ii “Notes on Current Art,” Chicago Chronicle, Feb. 24, 1902.