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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Albert Krehbiel

Circling the Wagons

Accomplished student, respected artist, and professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, Albert Krehbiel left his mark in Illinois. Born in Denmark, Iowa, Krehbiel moved to Chicago in 1902 to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1903 he was granted a scholarship to study at the Académie Julian in Paris under neo-classical painter Jean Paul Laurens. While attending the Académie, Krehbiel became the first (and only) American to be awarded four gold medals, as well as the coveted Prix de Rome. He traveled throughout Europe for another two years where he was exposed to Impressionism, a style that would influence his later work.

Krehbiel returned to Chicago in 1906 and took a teaching position at the Art Institute. Shortly after, he was commissioned to design and paint a mural for the Chicago Juvenile Court, and then won a competition to design and paint eleven wall murals and two ceiling murals at the Illinois Supreme court in Springfield. Until completion in 1911, Krehbiel taught only summer sessions at the Institute. He resumed teaching full-time in 1911 after buying a barn next to his property in Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago, which he turned into a studio.

After purchasing this property, Krehbiel took advantage of the Midwest’s natural beauty and changed direction in his painting, straying from his neo-classical education to focus on outdoor scenes and landscape. It was at this time when elements of Impressionism began to appear in his work, particularly in the bright hues he incorporated and the importance he placed on painting the outdoors only in natural light.

Impressionism became even more present in his work in the following years. Although Krehbiel, his wife and children began spending their summers, beginning in 1918 and continuing into the early 1920s, at an art colony in Santa Monica, CA, his time and main focus was spent producing works for the Santa Fe Art Colony in Santa Fe, NM, of which he was an exhibiting member and respected artist. Here, he presented vibrant illustrations of the Southwest skies and landscape.Chicago Elevated Train

In 1926, while teaching at the Art Institute, Krehbiel helped establish the Chicago Art Institute Summer School of Painting in Saugatuch, MI. He opened his own summer school, the AK Studio, shortly after. His school was intended to focus on the landscape of the Midwest, especially the forests and rivers that he himself had come to love. After the founding of the summer schools, Krehbiel began to paint cityscapes, as well; the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Chicago River being his most repeated subject matters. His cityscapes were defined by their blocks of solid, bright colors.Michigan Avenue Bridge

From this American Impressionist phase, Krehbiel moved on to focus on the human form, using the models from his drawing classes to create synchromistic and abstract figures. Krehbiel had been greatly inspired by a Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Art Institute in 1940. He expanded his media to chalk, pastels, and watercolor and used them to continue this new direction for both figure drawing and land and cityscapes. Some of his new and colorful geometric forms even verged on cubism. He called these compositions “Picasso…par AHK”, intended only for himself and his friends.

Albert Krehbiel died of a heart attack on June 29, 1945 after an astounding 39 years of teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago and 32 years at the Armour Institute of Technology. He was known for his incessant painting, braving the elements of the Midwest year-round to capture the wild forests and rivers as well as the streets of Chicago, his style evolving from neoclassical to Impressionist to synchromistic. During his lifetime, his work was exhibited in Paris at both the American Art Association and Salon des Artistes Francais in 1905, the Museo Nacional de Pintura Y Esculturs in Madrid in 1906, as well as three exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and thirty-two at the Art Institute of Chicago to name only a few.

Works cited:

Written and researched by Alexandra Nilles.

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