Ivan Albright Self-Portrait (1934)Donnell, C. G. (1997) Ivan Albright. Chicago, Illinois: Art Institute of Chicago.
Ivan Albright’s 1934 self-portrait is his first ever known painted self-portrait (of many to be created throughout his life.) It was made as part of the PWAP’s easel painting project. He personally requested it be presented to his alma mater, New Trier Township High School in Winnetka Illinois. It has remained in the school’s collection, though it is not currently on display.
“Due to the value of the Albright painting, we cannot display it securely in our high school buildings. We regularly loan it to art museums, most recently DePaul’s” – Nicole Ziegler Dizon, Director of Communications and Alumni Relations at New Trier Township High School
This painting is an interesting artifact because it defied the conservative expectations for paintings produced for the New Deal. The painting depicts a leisurely Albright lounging at his unorganized dining table, smoking a cigarette. “Albright demonstrated in this engaging painting why he and the federal arts projects were not a comfortable match”. (Donnell. 1997) This painting has been included in many exhibitions such as an exhibition of Albright’s medical drawings in 1972 at the University of Chicago (see image), an exhibition of New Deal Art in Lake County Illinois in 1988 (see link for pamphlet), and most recently DePaul’s Re: Chicago exhibition in 2012.
Albright’s 1934 Self-Portrait led to a private commission for another self-portrait in the same style and very similar composition, which was completed in 1935. This piece now belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago, where a large collection of Albright’s work can be found; it is also not currently on display. This second portrait is probably better known than the original. It includes more detail and color in the still-life objects in front of Albright, more folds in the tablecloth, and a more disheveled older appearing Albright holding a wine glass instead of a cigarette.
Albright served briefly in World War I as a medical drawer, illustrating wounds and surgeries. While he insisted on multiple occasions that his work during the war had no effect on his later art, he admitted to being fascinated by the sights and experiences, once stating, “We are a weak machine, made to do weak things in a weak way. The Body is our tomb.” It seems that this experience had at least some influence on Albright’s unique style in depictions of his models as much older than they were in reality and often appearing to be decaying. In one of his most famous paintings, Into the World there Came a Soul Named Ida, he transformed beautiful 20 year old model into a portrait of aging and despair.
Albright completed another work, The Farmer’s Kitchen, for the PWAP from 1933-1934. This painting fit the expectations for government funded art in that it depicts a hard-working regular American, while it also allowed Albright to show weariness and deterioration in the woman’s figure and expression. This piece is housed in the Smithsonian Institution.
Primary Sources http://gallery.clcillinois.edu/pdf/newdealart.pdf - A pamphlet from a 1988 exhibition of New Deal Art in Lake County Illinois, which included Albright’s 1934 painting http://www.renaissancesociety.org/site/Exhibitions/Intro.Ivan-Albright-Studies-of-Wounds.191.html?printable=1 - information about exhibition of Albright’s work for 1972 Exhibition of Medical Drawings http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu/db.xqy?one=apf1-00097.xml - A photograph of Albright in front of his self-portrait at the 1972 Exhibition of Medical Drawings at the University of Chicago Photographs of inscription and frame: New Trier Township High School District 203- courtesy of Renée Mosley- Communications and Alumni Relations Personal correspondence with New Trier Township High School District 203 via Nicole Ziegler Dizon, Director of Communications and Alumni Relations Secondary Sources Donnell, C. G. (1997) Ivan Albright. Chicago, Illinois: Art Institute of Chicago.
Project originally submitted by Emmaline Edie on March 11, 2014.
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