Ivan Le Lorraine Albright is one of the most original, and perhaps most odd, artists of the 20th century. As an artist he considered himself to be an individualist, uninfluenced by the waves of Impressionism, abstract art, and later pop art that evolved during his life. His work is all his own, incomparable to his contemporaries. Though the well known styles used to categorize the work of other artists of Albright’s time are not be applicable to his art, all of his work is linked by the constant representation of the passage of time. This theme is presented in the most morbid and detailed images of aging and decaying flesh, using dark and sickly shades of yellow, as well as an abundance of grays, white, and black. Hyper-realism and magic realism are the two styles most often used to describe his work.
Ivan Le Lorraine Albright began his artistic training at a very young age. His father began to teach him and his identical twin brother, Malvin, to draw at the age of eight. Born outside of Chicago in 1897, Ivan stayed in the Midwest to study architecture at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois. In 1918 one of his paintings was displayed at a watercolor exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. During WWI, Albright was stationed in an army hospital in Nantes, France from 1918-1919. While there, his duty was to paint detailed watercolors of soldier’s wounds. He was also exposed to and became fascinated with X-rays; no doubt this was a very influential experience for the work he would become famous for.
Upon his return home, Albright was granted three scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago and had decided that painting was what he really wanted to do. In 1927, he set up a studio with his brother and father, and his unique style began to emerge after many years under art instruction that ultimately had no personal effect on him or his style. In 1931, Albright had his first solo museum show at the Art Institute of Chicago. Even if the public found his subject matter disturbing, his work was still universally revered for his technical mastery and microscopic detail.
In 1941, Albright won the Temple Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy, and then received the 1942 prize for best picture at the Artists for Victory show at the New York Metropolitan Museum. Albright gained major public recognition in 1939 when he and his twin brother were hired by MGM studios to paint the portraits for their production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. For his work, Albright was paid $75,000, and, even more importantly, his uniquely morbid and grotesque work became well known.
Albright is known best for his still lifes and portraiture. Only in his portraits and self-portraits are traces of outside influence, as his formats are similar to those of Rembrandt and Goya. His work overall, beyond the grotesque subject matter, is also defined by his use of multiple light sources, warped perspectives, and highly praised attention to detail. From his paintings of still lifes and models, Albright sought to create feelings of tension, conflict, and constant movement, usually using his background to create this effect. In addition to his model portraits and still lifes, Albright is also well known for the self-portraits that he painted consistently throughout his career, continuously studying and painting the aging in his face.
As the pop art and minimalist movements came into being in the 1950s, Albright began to be seen as somewhat of a traditionalist, if only for his subject matters. In 1964, the Art Institute of Chicago held a very successful retrospective exhibition of Albright’s work, celebrating his fascinating interpretation and forward presentation of aging in a style that no one had done before and has not been copied since. At one point in his career, Albright stated, "I hope to control the observer, … to make him feel tossed around in every direction, to make him realize that objects are at war. Everything in the canvas is fighting. I want to give a feeling of frustration." It is from this unique intention in combination with uncensored images of mortification that has solidified Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s place in the history of art.
Researched and written by Alexandra Nilles.
Self Portrait in Georgia, 1967
Oil on panel; 20 x 16”
Poor Room--There Is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever without End (The Window)
1942-43, 1948-55, 1957-63
Oil on canvas; 48 x 37 in.
That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door)
Oil on canvas; 97 x 36 in
Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida
Oil on canvas; 55 x 46 in.
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Attractive China Plate from early Qing Dynasty
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