Untitled Landscape with Figure

Like Normandie Sunset, also in the Schwartz Collection, this painting follows George Ames Aldrich’s perennially successful landscape formula, featuring a rustic cottage on the bank of a stream, its rippled surface suggesting rapid flow. The composition’s high horizon, the gently rounded stream banks, and the soft, complementary hues create a sense of shelter, comfort, and calm, offering an idealized fantasy of timeless rural life. While the foreground is relatively shadowed, the distant meadow and trees glow with warm midday light. Aldrich often enlivened such scenes with a female figure: here, she stands on crude steps by the riverbank. She holds a stick-like object, perhaps a makeshift fishing-rod, angled down toward the water, and seems to fix her attention on its surface, where circular ripples hint at the prospect of a catch. With her old-fashioned costume—a simple blue dress and domestic white cap—the young woman is an accessory of the pastoral setting rather than its focus.

Aldrich’s almost obsessive reiteration of the formula seen in this work reflects his targeted consumers, the newly affluent middle-class managerial workers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists (and their spouses) in prospering regional cities, from South Bend, Indiana, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Impressed by the artist’s abundantly flaunted (if unsubstantiated) East Coast and European credentials, they aspired to the status of knowing collectors, seeking safety in conventional artistic values. Works such as this canvas satisfied their ideal of the framed original oil painting as representational yet manifestly “artistic,” its subject matter offering a release from quotidian reality and its color scheme soothing and harmonious. Complementing the consciously tasteful décor of well-appointed period-revival houses then spreading across the American suburban landscape, Aldrich’s “livable pictures” would “enrich and enoble the home environment,” according to a contemporary admirer.i

Few of Aldrich’s many landscape paintings bear a date, and their lack of variation makes them difficult to assign to a particular period of his career. Like Normandie Sunset, this work was most likely made in the 1920s—the decade of Aldrich’s most prolific activity and greatest success—as suggested by the rather mannered treatment of the distant massed trees and broad, loose brushwork; by the early Thirties, Aldrich’s landscape paintings would manifest a somewhat more muscular and simplified treatment of natural features.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

i Lincoln J. Carter Jr., “Fine Paintings by G. Ames Aldrich in Middle West Homes,” and “Woman’s Club Hears Art Critic from Illinois,” undated clippings in Aldrich scrapbook of clippings and ephemera, 36/A22 and 40/A37, collection of Peter Lundberg, quoted in Wendy Greenhouse et al, The Art of George Ames Aldrich (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013), 23.

The Old Wharf, Boothbay Harbor

Seen from the shore through a screen of trees, Boothbay Harbor on the Maine coast appears in its modern in-season character as a popular tourist resort in Florence White Williams’s The Old Wharf, Boothbay Harbor. The wharf itself is represented by a weathered wooden structure set on pilings over the water. Gathered about it are small sailboats and rowboats, the fair-weather craft of vacation-time leisure. The rippling cool blue surface of the calm harbor bespeaks the beneficent conditions of a fine summer day. The almost-square format of the balanced composition, in which trees on the right and the building on the left frame the view, contributes a sense of comforting stability.

Like Williams’s benign, pleasing subject matter, her vigorous brushwork and bright color were among the hallmarks of an early twentieth-century impressionist manner that was widely practiced among Chicago’s landscape artists in the early decades of the twentieth century and favored by middle-brow, urban American consumers, including many in artistically conservative Chicago. For them, impressionism signaled a modern but “sane” practice that embraced evidence of artistic process while adhering to a solidly representational effect. Like John F. Stacey in his Gloucester, Massachusetts, views, Williams pictured Boothbay Harbor from the perspective of a seasonal tourist, with grubby evidence of the locale’s longtime fishing industry carefully elided. Rather, the old wharf anchors the setting in a romantic idyll of Old New England as a site of settled tradition and sanitized national heritage—a popular fiction in an era of whirlwind change. As the Chicago Tribune’s conservative art critic Eleanor Jewett observed, “A tendency toward romancing runs through [Williams’s] pictures.”i

In the late 1920s, the period to which this painting probably dates, Williams reached the height of her modest success as a Chicago-based landscape painter. In 1928, the Chicago Galleries Association held a solo exhibition of her works that included a painting entitled The Old Wharf, likely this work, among other images from Boothbay Harbor. Williams also painted the shoreline scenery of nearby Monhegan Island as well as the Indiana Dunes and New Hampshire lakes. Boothbay Harbor held a special place in her career, however, for she had spent a season studying there with Henry B. Snell, co-founder of the Boothbay Studios summer school in 1921. By that date, picturesque Boothbay Harbor was already a popular destination for artists.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

i Eleanor Jewett, “Chicago Canvases at Institute,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 12, 1928.

Train Yard

Dwarfed by the inhospitable structures crowding the urban landscape, a man and woman with a white-clad child between them cross in front of a railway car in P. R. McIntosh’s Train Yard. Truncated at the far right, a steaming locomotive underscores the vulnerability of mere pedestrians in the inhumanly scaled landscape of modern industry. The buildings toward which the family moves offer no access, an opening to the left is cast in shadow, and the sky itself, glimpsed through wreaths of smoke, is almost eclipsed. A sign advertising ENARCO, a trademark for the grease and oil products made by the National Refining Company, reinforces the industrial character of the setting. Only the cheerful tints of the smaller structures near the center of the image relieve this otherwise dreary scene.

Just in his late twenties when he painted this work, McIntosh had recently moved from a teaching job at Ohio State University to Peoria, Illinois, where he had a joint appointment as director of the Peoria Art Institute and art instructor at Bradley Polytechnic Institute (now Bradley University). In September 1927, the Peoria Public Library held an exhibition of his paintings that featured recent Peoria city scenes, possibly including this work. A notice in a Bradley student newspaper described McIntosh as an artist “of the modern school” whose recent works “convey a feeling of pulsating vitality. He has purposefully omitted detail in order to more fully make use of [the] beauty of color.”i

This painting was also distinctly modern in its subject-matter. American artists had been picturing the contemporary urban and industrial scene since the turn of the twentieth century, typically in celebratory terms. Well before the Great Depression, however, more progressive artists introduced an element of critical commentary into their interpretations, often focusing on the city’s seedier side by highlighting decaying and purely utilitarian structures, as well as its working-class and immigrant social scene. Among the pioneers of such imagery were the New York-based artists known as the Ashcan School. Three members of the group were influential guest instructors at the Art Institute of Chicago when McIntosh was a student there, and his interest in urban imagery may reflect their example. Train Yard, with its notes of gay color oddly contrasting with the loneliness of the setting, blends gritty realism with fantasy, however. It suggests the alienating effects of the dehumanized industrial landscape, at the same time acknowledging its potential for accidental beauty and subtle mystery.

Wendy Greenhouse, Phd

i “Art Instructor Displays Work,” Bradley Tech, Sept. 22, 1927.

Untitled (The Thoughtful Fisherman)

Its original title unknown, this painting by Edward James Dressler focuses on a fisherman who sits quietly in a modest rowboat as he awaits his catch. With a practical straw sunhat shielding his bearded face, the man props his chin in one hand in a gesture of patient idleness. His craft is anchored among the reeds in a narrow stream bound by a rustic fence at the upper left. The water’s placid surface reflects a high overcast sky that diffuses a cool silvery light over the verdant scene. The stream’s curving banks, the boat, an oar sloping into the water, and the fisherman’s slender pole form a series of contrasting diagonals that play off against the brushy softness of the trees and grasses filling out the idyllic country setting.

During Dressler’s brief career he was highly respected in Chicago as a painter of landscapes in watercolors as well as oils. His work was largely divided between scenes painted on the city’s agrarian outskirts and images of the more spectacular and varied landscapes of Northern California and the Southwest, to which he made several excursions. “A potent charm of his performances is the fact that he rarely vexes by the introduction of figures into his compositions,” according to one reviewer.i This painting is perhaps exceptional in its focus on a figure, yet it is characteristic of Dressler’s work in its cool hues and evocation of saturated atmosphere. When painting near Chicago, another reviewer noted, the artist “awaits the time when soft, friendly clouds obscure the sun, and tells with a vibrating voice of things which to some induce a feeling of gentle melancholy. . . . He delights in moist green meadows, low, flat stretches of prairie, basined with shallow pools wrapt in mysterious silence.”ii These preferences reflected Dressler’s embrace of a current trend in American art in the late 1890s, when many American painters working in northern France and Holland sought to capture the region’s peculiar color and light. Dressler himself never visited Europe, but he would have seen the results in the work of such Chicago contemporaries as Pauline Dohn (Rudolph) and Charles Corwin, among others.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

i “Art,” Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1897; see also “Art,” Chicago Times-Herald, Mar. 19, 1899.
ii Untitled clipping, Chicago Times-Herald, Apr.10, 1898, in AIC Scrapbooks, vol. 9, 154.

Savoy

Verging on an abstract composition, William S. Carter’s Savoy presents the forms of tall modern urban buildings fractured into planes of bright color. Glowing with nighttime illumination, they create an enticing spectacle contemplated by an approaching couple whose heads frame the view. At the right, a man in profile turns to speak to his companion, a woman seen only from behind. The buildings are emblazoned with signs reading “Savoy,” “Lenox,” and “Theresa”—names that evoke the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. From the 1910s through the 1930s, it was a black cultural mecca renowned for its entertainment, especially jazz music and popular dance, which appealed equally to blacks and whites. One of Harlem’s most important performance venues was the Savoy Ballroom: opened in 1926 on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets, it was soon touted as the world’s finest ballroom. The high-rise Hotel Theresa on Seventh Avenue (today’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard) was a whites-only luxury establishment that became a vibrant center of African American life after it was desegregated in 1940.

Carter probably painted Savoy shortly after returning home from his only recorded visit to New York, in 1941. During his brief stay there, this jazz and dance aficionado likely attended performances at the famed Savoy. He also toured art galleries, and at the Downtown Gallery he was invited to contribute a work to the “American Negro Art” exhibition, a benefit for a fund for African American artists, which opened in early December. As Carter later recalled, he quickly purchased materials and set about making a painting to show.i Hung alongside paintings by such luminaries as Henry Ossawa Tanner and Archibald J. Motley Jr., Carter’s Purple Plum was among those “of especial merit” in the display, in the view of New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell.ii

Savoy demonstrates the influence of Cubism. Throughout his career, Carter both experimented with modernist distortion and worked in a solidly representational manner. This image is less a picture of the city as Carter saw it than a montage of its famous place-names and soaring skyline that captures the excitement of New York and of Harlem for the struggling Carter. The name Savoy equally evokes the artist’s hometown, however. The year after Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom opened, its equally lavish namesake opened in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. It too quickly became a prominent destination for jazz performances, public dances, sports matches, and other entertainments, as well as community meetings, and Carter attended many events there. Moreover, beginning in 1939, Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom hosted many of the Artists and Models Balls staged to benefit the South Side Community Art Center, which opened in 1940 and played an important role in the development of Carter’s artistic career. He was among a host of African American artists who designed sets, costumes, and decorations for the balls.

Wendy Greenhouse, Phd

i William Carter, interview by Toni Costonie, Nov. 3, 1988, transcript, 98-99, African-American Artists in Chicago Oral History Program, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
ii Edward Alden Jewell, “Negro Art Display Put on Exhibition,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 1941.

The Spirit of Alleghany

Compressed into a vertical format that accentuates the dramatic contrasts of heights and valleys, Carl Wallin’s composition presents a fantasy landscape in which mountain and rocks, rendered in muted tones of dull browns, subtly reveal themselves to be composed of the forms of human bodies. The steep hills’ rounded contours and the sinuous curves of a river winding through a placid valley below mimic the sensuous figures of the nude or partly draped women who cluster at lower right to comprise a rocky outcropping. Strong outlining of the landscape features and the eccentric interpretation of cloud forms add to the dream-like effect of Wallin’s image, which evokes a natural world animated by living spirits.

This work is probably the painting Wallin exhibited as The Spirit of Alleghany in the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1928 annual “Chicago and Vicinity” exhibition. The title sheds little light on the locale ostensibly depicted, for Alleghany and its alternate spelling, Allegheny, are names associated with many places, from Alleghany County and the town of Alleghany, in southwestern New York, to the vast Allegheny mountain range, which runs through four eastern states, and western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. The name’s Native American origin invites romantic associations with Indian creation legends and nature-oriented spirituality. No other potentially site-specific title for a Wallin painting survives, and the artist’s travel to the eastern U.S. is undocumented. The image itself is highly generalized and idealized, forthrightly the product of the artist’s imagination rather than a document of direct experience or a specific locale.

The Spirit of Alleghany is one of many “symbolic representations” Wallin made in which clouds and other natural forms take human shape. i “I call them fantasies,” Wallin explained, “and that is what they are. They are born in my mind.”ii In the 1920s, an era in which many Americans and American artists were captivated by new developments in psychology, alternate modes of spirituality, and mysticism, several Chicago artists experimented with escapist fantasy and the female figure presented in exotic or dream-like settings complemented by a hint of eroticism. These include Claude Buck, Gerald Frank, and Indiana Gyberson, as well as Louis Grell, one of two painters with whom Wallin shared a well-received three-person exhibition at the Chicago Galleries Association in 1935. Wallin’s nature-oriented imagery is distinctive, however. Trained as an artist in his native Sweden, possibly under a decorative painter, his firm outlines and cool, diffused color evoke a Nordic sensibility, while his subject matter may reflect the influence of the nature-worship of Norse paganism. Wallin’s awareness of Sweden’s mythic past may well have been conditioned by the fame of the Vårby Hoard of Viking treasure, which was unearthed in the artist’s hometown in 1871, just a few years before his birth.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

Eleanor Jewett, “Art Notes,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 31, 1935.
ii Wallin quoted in “Fantasy Has Its Rewards in Art Show,” Southtown Economist, Feb. 24, 1933.

House in a Landscape

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 on 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 Chicago businessman Orno Tyler. Painted two years later, this work was a memento 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. In the 1980s the appearance of these works on the art market sparked renewed interest in an artist little known since her premature death in 1900. Untitled (House in a Landscape) is one of several paintings that demonstrate that even as Tyler executed dark-toned conventional studio portraits and figural works in the 1890s she was also experimenting on a small scale with the broken brushwork, 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.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

Untitled (East Gloucester from Rocky Neck)

Set in the picturesque town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, John Stacey’s landscape looks from the peninsula of Rocky Neck across Smith’s Cove toward residential East Gloucester and the low ridge known as Banner Hill. Under a fair-weather sky, the clustered wood-frame houses are bright patches of color under the full sun of midday, with the prominent white wall of one structure near the composition’s center balanced by notes of red on either side. Stacey chose a moment of low tide: the exposed piers of a dock at left and weedy mud interrupting the glassy surface of the water at lower right impart a note of calm, yet the fresh color and lively brushwork animate the prosaic scene.

Its original title unknown, this painting is contemporary with two other Stacey paintings of Gloucester Harbor, Gloucester and Untitled (The Pier, Gloucester). While those images position the viewer close to the water, looking from Rocky Neck across the harbor, Untitled (East Gloucester from Rocky Neck) focuses instead on the quiet enclave of East Gloucester, likely the site of the summer residence Stacey shared with his wife, fellow artist Anna L. Stacey. By 1909 the two were part of a seasonal colony of painters, many of whom lived and worked in East Gloucester and on Rocky Neck itself. In picturing Gloucester, Stacey followed an established mode that combined impressionist technique and nostalgia for an idealized Old New England. Banner Hill typically provided a popular vantage point for painting the harbor; less commonly pictured, however, was Rocky Neck itself, with Banner Hill in the distance. Turning his back on Gloucester’s busy fishing harbor, Stacey here presents an image of East Gloucester as a site of settled domesticity.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

Untitled (The Pier, Gloucester)

This landscape painting by John F. Stacey presents a view directly across the harbor at Gloucester, Massachusetts, along the length of a narrow wooden jetty leading to a passenger ferry. The boat, its funnel smoking, seems about to depart, leaving a few figures scattered on the pier. The relatively strong color of the jetty contrasts with the muted tones of the buildings across the water, reduced in the hazy distance to a patchwork of harmonious pastels. There, the slender verticals of the masts of moored vessels are a faint reminder of Gloucester’s workaday character as a fishing port. On the pier and aboard the ferry, the brightly colored clothing of some of the figures suggests the town’s alternate character as a popular summer tourist destination.

Gloucester was also a well-established artists’ haunt. Just after the turn of the century, it attracted a group of landscape painters practicing the kind of modified impressionism that Stacey himself had recently adopted. He and his wife, figure painter Anna L. Stacey, initially visited Gloucester in 1905. John Stacey showed his first painting of a Gloucester subject in the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1906 annual exhibition for Chicago artists. The following year, the Staceys spent “an industrious summer” painting on Cape Ann. In Gloucester, “Mr. Stacey has built a ‘summer shack’ on a point overlooking the sea,” according to Chicago newspaper accounts.i The couple returned for several more summers before 1913. Among the many works Stacey painted there is Gloucester, a view of a fishing pier in the harbor, and Untitled (East Gloucester from Rocky Neck), which looks toward the near shore.

The original title of this work is unknown. In the 1909 Chicago artists’ annual show at the Art Institute Stacey exhibited a painting titled The Little Giant Landing, East Gloucester, and in the following year’s show one of his eight exhibited works was The Ferry Landing—Rockyneck. The Little Giant was a pilot boat that ferried passengers from Gloucester town across to Rocky Neck, a peninsula near East Gloucester where several artists lived. Thus, either title could designate this painting.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD

i “Art,” Chicago Evening Post, Oct. 5, 1907; “Chicago Women Artists and Their Studios,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 4, 1909.

Gloucester

Its original title unknown, this painting by John F. Stacey pictures the fishing harbor at Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the benign glow of early light. The dark tones of nearby dockside buildings and their broken reflections in the water are set against the muted forms of buildings on the far shoreline; these are rendered by discrete patches of varied soft pastel tints. The short, sloping pier extending over the water links middle ground and distance. A church steeple and the scattered masts of a few moored fishing vessels underscore the delicate play of vertical and horizontal forms of the wharf pilings and the clapboard surfaces of buildings in the middle distance. Anglers fishing from the landing provide the only hint of animate life in the quiet scene.

Beginning in 1905, John Stacey and his wife, fellow painter Anna L. Stacey, spent several productive summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a popular destination for both tourists and artists. Having recently adopted the impressionist method of painting out-of-doors, Stacey probably made this work from the vantage point of a nearby wharf. Here and in Untitled (The Pier, Gloucester), the harbor’s typical bustling activity is downplayed by distance and an intervening scrim of hazy light. The weathered dockside fishing shacks evoke a tourist’s idyllic image of the town without revealing the more prosaic realities of its fishing industry.

Wendy Greenhouse, PhD