Ivan Albright

Portrayer of Darkness and Decay

Gazette Article by:Barbara Joyce
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1997

Longtime Winnetka residents may remember the large log cabin that once stood at 1258 Scott Avenue. The scale and style of this house stood apart from the stucco, brick, and frame homes of the neighborhood. In a similar way, the work of its famous occupant—artist Ivan Albright—also stood apart.

A painter who magnified decrepitude, Albright’s canvases depict men and women overworn by the world. Their flesh is heavy and mottled; stubble sticks out on their chins or kneecaps. Their foreheads are furrowed and eyes encircled.

Albright combined his messages of decay and regret in several titles of his paintings, such as That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door) and Fleeting Time, Thou Hast Left Me Old.

The darkness evident in his work seems incongruous with Albright’s background. Even within his family—his father and twin brother were artists—he stands apart.

Twins Ivan Le Lorraine and Malvin Marr were born in 1897 to Clara and Adam Emory Albright in North Harvey, Illinois. Their father, who specialized in impressionistic, sunny paintings of children, designed their log house in Hubbard Woods. The family moved into “Log Studio” in 1910. (The house was demolished in the late 1970s.)

The boys attended New Trier High School. In the 1915 yearbook their photographs are captioned, “The Albright Twins: Two heads are better than one.”

After two years of floundering in college, the twins enlisted in the Army during World War I. Ivan worked as a medical draftsman, documenting soldiers’ wounds.

After returning to the United States the twins enrolled at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1923 Malvin received a degree in sculpture and Ivan one in drawing, painting, and illustration. They both studied for another year in Philadelphia and New York.

Back in Illinois Ivan’s art soon began to move in the direction that would distinguish him. He started to use non-professional models for his portraits. He entered hundreds of juried exhibitions and won numerous awards.

In 1943 Ivan received the commission that put him briefly into the national spotlight. He contracted with MGM to paint the Picture of Dorian Gray for the movie of the same name. Albright’s macabre rendering brought him great media publicity.

A bachelor until the age of 49, Albright married Josephine Medill Patterson Reeve, a newspaper heiress, in 1946. They had four children—two from her previous marriage and two of their own. The marriage ensured Albright’s financial stability. He continued to paint and travel extensively throughout his life. He made a final etching, a self-portrait, just a few days before his death in 1983 at his home in Woodstock, Vermont.

From February to May of this year, The Art Institute of Chicago sponsored an Ivan Albright exhibition. The retrospective displayed more than 120 of his works. It reinforced the opinion that Albright sought not to beautify but to communicate the ravages of life on body and spirit.

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9 Responses to “Ivan Albright”

  1. J Dryer January 17, 2018 at 3:08 PM #

    For an in-depth essay on Ivan Albright and his career please visit the Illinois Historical Art Project http://www.illinoisart.org

  2. January 6, 2019 at 12:04 AM #

    I lived around the corner on Asbury Ave. 1970-76. My friends and I (ages 5-10). Were always amazed by that house and it was the largest one on the block. Once while on a school field trip about Winnetka history, the bus drove past the home and the teacher told us a little about the house; if I recall correctly, the logs were trained in specially from the northwest states (where I now reside). There was a small swimming pool in the east back yard that I saw filled and used perhaps twice. The residents only seemed to ever use the east side entrance, never the front (facing north on Scott) or the west (on Lake) entrances. The windows facing Scott and Lake were always covered by off-white interior drapes and curtains, and much of the exterior of the house and yard, particularly the west and south sides, were weather worn and not well maintained. This gave the whole place a spooky look and inspired many tales of it being inhabited by vampires, witches, and other creepy characters. The recent show “Dark Shadows” seemed to help the matter.
    We often played along the outer edges of the property and in the patch of woods adjacent on the southwest border, but never went too close to the house. When kids from out of the neighborhood came by that didn’t know the house, we would take them on the short trail the began at the south end of that wooded patch (on Asbury) while walking slowly and telling them scary stories of the creepy people in the old house at the end of forest. The trail led into trees that became thick with smaller trees and we’ed have to push our way through to the end. We’ed peer through the last few yards of trees, showing the house to the new kids without quite leaving the cover. Got most of them fairly scarred and creeped out. A few turned and ran. Always fun for us.
    About winter/spring of 1978, a developer bought the property. House was emptied and while on a visit back that summer, a few of my friends from the neighborhood later told me that they went into the house a few times before it was demolished. They said that some of the first floor rooms were nicely fitted/trimmed and seemed rather luxurious, particularly the main dining room that still contained a great chandelier and gorgeous old wall paper.
    I was disappointed that that the house was gone. Three new homes now occupied that property and another on the formerly wooded patch.

    • January 7, 2019 at 9:34 PM #

      Hi Andrew, Thanks so much for your comment. It’s great to hear about your memories of the Albright house. I agree that it’s too bad the house is gone. It sounds like it was such an interesting place.
      Rachel Ramirez, Curator

    • October 18, 2019 at 12:14 AM #

      I had to laugh when I read this. I am one of the former inhabitants and I also got “scared and creeped out” living there. But I can assure you that it was not inhabited by “vampires, witches, and other creepy characters.”

      Actually, the logs were shipped in from Canada, and there was no wallpaper in the living room. It was gigantic…two stories and held several different areas of furniture (and a juke box and giant Hawaiian statue made out of some kind of natural fiber. There were chandelliers.. a couple sets, and long Hawaiian patterned curtains. What you saw from the outside was the curtain lining. The logs were all visible in that room.

      We did rarely use the “Front” door, which was on Lake (and had an appropriately creepy large raven-looking knocker on it) since there really wasn’t parking there, and the driveway was on Scott.

      The inside was quite lovely. There was a library, a formal dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom with bath downstairs, that was mostly used by a live-in housekeeper, and then another guest bath. Upstairs were four bedrooms, two baths, a sun porch and a little balcony overlooking the giant living room. I think by the time you went by most all of us were gone except my mother, but before that the pool was put to very good use and enjoyed by many. I was sad to see it torn down. I had hoped it would have been sold to someone who wanted to keep it. Creepy as it was, it was still quite a house!

    • September 13, 2021 at 11:08 AM #

      Thanks for this memory, Andrew! I lived at 1311 Scott and walked by the log cabin every day, often leaving my leggings in the split rail fence, since my mom wanted me to wear them, and I didn’t want to! I just finished a zoom with a 70th year reunion from Hubbard Woods School mates, and we discussed the log cabin. We looked up Ivan Albright, and we found your comments!
      Laury (Porte) Franks

  3. SK April 8, 2019 at 10:42 PM #

    I grew up in Hubbard Woods In the mid sixties and through the seventies and shared the same experience as the previous commenter. There was a historical sign and reference to a “trail” adorned with what I guess was a Native American chief. At the time I thought it looked Hawaiian. The stories of the mysterious occupants were very boo radley. I never saw the pool filled.

    I was also seriously depressed when I saw that it was bulldozed and replaced by three suburban houses 🙁 would have loved to see the interior.

    I took many field trips to the Art Institute and Albright’s paintings were the highlight. I had no idea he grew up there until I was doing a report and ran across a picture in a book in the New Trier library. My favorite artist grew up in my favorite house. Blew my mind. I later learned that the head of the NT art department knew him and had some great stories.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane aka Scott street in winnetka.

    • October 18, 2019 at 12:16 AM #

      It was Hawaiian. It said Hawaiian Visitors Land Bureau. My father had been traveling back and forth to Hawaii where he had business. We even had “luaus” in the large living room, complete with hula girls and fire dancers!

  4. June 14, 2019 at 9:59 PM #

    Thanks for this information. It seems I have unknowingly traveled the same route as Ivan Albright…from Scott Avenue, Winnetka to Woodstock Vermont. There the similarity ends.

  5. Charlene October 18, 2019 at 2:44 AM #

    And I also lived there (that’s my sister replying above). I absolutely loved the house and was really disappointed. When my mother sold it to a developer. She tried unsuccessfully to get it listed as an historical place.
    I moved out to go to college in Cali and then moved on to live in Hawaii. I had a lot of wild high school parties there and we were known for playing a lot of Beach Boys on the jukebox.
    Sadly my mother ended up living alone in that huge house and just couldn’t keep the upkeep. I visited Winnetka many years ago and was sad to see what that corner looked like now.

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