Off and running we rounded the corner and there before us:
Ivan Albright, 1931
That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do
Eerie? Powerful? Detailed? All of the above and more. It repels and attracts. It holds your attention and it stays in your mind. We were intrigued and mesmerized. How did I not know this piece and this artist. We worked our way around several other works of his but kept returning to this one; my husband and I both had slightly differing, albeit very personal, interpretations of the story conveyed.
Albright was born, a twin, in 1897 in Illinois and died in 1983 in Vermont. He is one of the few artists whose family actually wanted him to paint (of course he rebelled) and through them he was independently wealthy. Read more here and here. This piece, which is huge (see below) was begun in 1931 and finished in 1941, it won several awards and, as the story goes, as he was unable to part with it for less than $125,000 (in the 1940's??) he had to decline the top purchase award and settle for second place.
me gazing at the incredible detail
often referred to as "magic realism"
Albright never titled a piece until it was completely finished and
often his titles read like lines of poetry
(some examples are: "Heavy the Oar to Him Who is Tired, Heavy the Coat, Heavy the Sea,"
and "I Drew a Picture in the Sand and the Water Washed It Away")
"Into the World There Came A Soul Called Ida"
Albright actually had a beautiful young model sit for this portrait which makes it even more poignant. Perhaps since he was not paying rent with lovely depictions of flowers, he could afford to make huge statements with his work. His very personal style dealt with the transience of time and matter and shows a deep regard for realistic detail in the style of the Old Masters. More here.
So did we see anything else in this unbelievable museum? of course we did. But I think meeting Ivan Albright for the first (and very memorable) time will always be the best thing I learned that day. So, let me ask of you: If and when you visit Chicago, will you please, on my behalf, pay homage to "That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do?" Ask for it by the official title Albright gave it....and let me know if the Institute has fixed their search engine!!
Respect Fully Yours,