Ivan Albright was a singular twentieth-century American artist, who painted in a distinctive macabre style. Born in North Harvey, Illinois, Albright would spend most of his life in Chicago. His father, Adam Emory Albright, was an artist who had studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Albright received drawing instruction from his father as a child, and later studied architecture at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois. During World War I, Albright served in the army as a medical illustrator at an army hospital in France where he honed his skill and interest in capturing gruesome features of the human body. He sketched soldiers’ horrific wounds and disfiguring injuries that were the result of advancements in weapons technology and military strategy. Albright later became chief draftsmen with the American Expeditionary Force Medical Corps. After the war, Albright and his twin brother, artist Malvin Marr Albright, traveled France and briefly studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nantes.
Albright returned to Chicago in 1919 and pursued a career as a painter. He enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and the National Academy of the Fine Arts in New York. In 1927, Albright established a studio with his brother in Warrenville, Illinois, where they worked for two decades. Albright painted in a unique modern figural style, which is sometimes described as Magic Realism, however he avoided classification of his art. With painstaking detail, Albright captured the human body and the effects of decay and decomposition. Portraits of individual figures and still lifes were painted with exaggerated features and garish lighting. His work conveys the artist’s fascination with morbid subjects that he first explored during World War I.
The present work, Maker of Dreams, is a haunting portrait of the artist’s identical twin brother, a sculptor who went by the name of Zsissly. Albright’s brother wears a cap, lambskin jacket, and holds a mallet, the classic attribute for sculptors. In fact, the painting was originally titled, Man with a Mallet. The arresting composition employs Albright’s characteristic palette of warm, brown tones and the unforgiving light source that casts deep shadows on the sitter’s skin and clothing. Albright’s use of light and shadow are described in the Art Institute of Chicago retrospective exhibition catalogue, “Light moves across the surface of the figure and penetrates the folds of his jacket, suggesting the flickering illumination that characterizes the art of El Greco, whose technique and spiritual expressiveness much interested Ivan in these years. The earthy palette, the sitter’s pose, and the serious tone of Maker of Dreams recall a number of images of meditating saints by the great Mannerist. Steeped in these associations, Maker of Dreams portrays the artist as an ascetic and suggests that artworks can become revelatory expressions of spiritual states.” (Courtney Graham Donnell, et al, Ivan Albright [Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, Distributed by Hudson Hills Press, 1997] no. 8)
Maker of Dreams was originally in the collection of Senator William Benton, who was a personal friend of the artist. Senator Benton had an eclectic collection of twentieth century American paintings, including many social realist masterworks by Jack Levine and Reginald Marsh. The majority of his collection now comprises the works in The William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Maker of Dreams, circa 1928
Oil on canvas
30 x 22 inches
Signed lower left
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., acquired directly from the artist on September 17, 1946
Senator William Benton, acquired from the above
Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford CT, donated by the above in the late 1950s
Returned to Senator Benton in 1969 in exchange for another Ivan Albright painting, I Slept with the Starlight in my Eyes
Charles Benton, son of the above and by descent The Charles Benton Trust