Ivan Albright

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Ivan Albright
Ivan Le Lorraine Albright

(1897-02-20)February 20, 1897
DiedNovember 18, 1983(1983-11-18) (aged 86)
EducationArt Institute of Chicago
The National Academy of Design
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts[1]
Known forPainting, Drawing, Poetry
MovementMagic Realism
Spouse(s)Josephine Medill Patterson

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (February 20, 1897 – November 18, 1983) was an American magic realist painter and artist, most renowned for his self-portraits, character studies, and still lifes. His dark subjects combined with his technique have called him to be referred to as "master of the macabre".[2]


Ivan Albright and his identical twin brother, Malvin, were born in 1897 near Chicago in North Harvey, Illinois, to Adam Emory Albright and Clara Wilson Albright. Their father was a landscape painter, and came from a family of gunsmiths whose original name was "Albrecht". Both enrolled in The Art Institute of Chicago, where Ivan studied painting and Malvin sculpture. Ivan particularly admired the work of El Greco and Rembrandt.

Adam Albright moved his wife and sons to Warrenville, Illinois in 1924.

Albright attended Northwestern University, but dropped out and took up studies in architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During World War I he did medical drawings[1] for a hospital in Nantes, France, which may have influenced his later style. After working in architecture and advertising briefly, he took to painting full-time. After living in Philadelphia through most of 1925 and 1926, he returned to Illinois, where he had his first show in 1930.

Style and technique[edit]

It was not until the 1930s that Albright developed a consistent technique for his works. The technique included creating numerous detailed drawings, creating his own color palette and painting with hundreds of little brushes. Albright's time-consuming technique not only allowed for detailed depiction of the physical deterioration of objects and people, but enabled him to incorporate a multitude of slight shifts in point-of-view and highlight the relationships between the objects. Albright’s combination of extreme realism with a violent and lurid color palette led art critics to categorize his work with the works of American Magic Realists.


The detail in Albright's paintings meant they often took years to complete, which made him possessive of them. During the Great Depression, he charged 30 to 60 times what comparable artists were charging, with the result that sales were infrequent. He relied on the support of his father and took odd carpentering jobs. An early painting of his, The Lineman won an award and made the cover of Electric Light and Power, a trade magazine. However the stooped and forlorn portrayal of the subject caused controversy among the readership, who did not consider such an image representative. The editors later distanced themselves from Albright's work.

Albright moved to Woodstock, Vermont in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he served as a lecturer at Dartmouth College. His last visit to his old home town of Warrenville, Illinois was in 1978. The city declared his visit Ivan Albright Day with a full day of festivities, and his biographer presented Albright with a newly published book on his works. The library featured a large display of photographs from Albright's years spent in Warrenville.

Albright was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1979.[3] He remained an active artist until his death. He created over twenty self-portraits between 1980 and 1983, many after a stroke. He died in 1983.

The Ivan Albright Collection of archival materials, held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago, includes photographs, scrapbooks, sketches, notebooks, a film, and other materials documenting his life and career. On the 100th anniversary of Ivan Albright’s birth, February 20, 1997, the Art Institute of Chicago opened a major show of his work.[4]


Ivan Albright, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943, oil on canvas, 215.9 × 106.7 cm, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

Themes through Albright's works include death, life, spiritual vs. physical, and the effects of time. The titles of his works were similarly complex. He would not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities before deciding on one. For example, a painting of a window is titled 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). The painting is generally referred to only by these last two words. Another painting, And Man Created God in His Own Image, had the words in the title reversed into God Created Man in His Own Image when it toured the Southern US to avoid controversy.

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door) (1931-41)[edit]

One of his most famous paintings, titled That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), took him ten years to complete and won top prize at three major exhibitions in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia in 1941. The prize at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earned him a $3,500 purchase award towards the painting and its place in the permanent collection, but Albright set the purchase price at $125,000. Instead he took First medal, allowing him to keep the work. This painting is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago.[5]

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1943)[edit]

In 1943, Albright was commissioned to create the titular painting for Albert Lewin's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. His naturalistic, exaggerated depictions of decay made him suited to create the image of the corrupted Dorian. His brother was originally chosen to do the beginning, uncorrupted painting of Gray. However, the painting used in the final film was from Henrique Medina. When changes to Medina's painting were needed to show Gray's fall, Albright painted them. His painting of the corrupted Dorian Gray currently resides in the Art Institute of Chicago.[6]

Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida (1929-30)[edit]

This painting is a grotesque depiction of a woman who (based on the title) is named Ida.[7] Within this painting there are several references to the idea that the human body is weak and that we are all trapped within our physical forms. There appears to be a conflict happening between the soul and the body.[8] The figure is seated in a room that is cluttered and in a state of disrepair. She is looking into a hand mirror with a look of sadness on her face. One reading of this is that she is sad because of her age and lack of beauty.[7] Some people believe she is an old actor or possibly a prostitute.[8] Ida is akin to many of Albright's other works due to the dead and decaying look of the figure as well as the deeper (and often dark) meanings that are hidden within.


Albright was the father-in-law of future United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright through his son Joseph Medill Patterson Albright's marriage to her until their divorce in 1982.


  1. ^ a b "Oral history interview with Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, 1972 Feb. 5". Oral History Interviews. Archives of American Art. 2011. Retrieved 16 Jun 2011.
  2. ^ Flesh: Ivan Albright at the Art Institute of Chicago
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  4. ^ Graham Donnel, Courtney (1997). Rossen, Susan F. (ed.). Ivan Albright (exhibition catalog). Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago. ISBN 9780865591424.
  5. ^ "That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door)". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
  6. ^ "Picture of Dorian Gray". artic.edu (online art catalog entry). Art Institute of Chicago.
  7. ^ a b "A Master of the Flesh and Painter of the Soul". Hyperallergic. 2018-08-04. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
  8. ^ a b Lee, Elizabeth (2015). "Ivan Albright's Ida and the "Object Congealed around a Soul"". American Art. 29 (3): 104–117. doi:10.1086/684922. ISSN 1073-9300. S2CID 192620547.
  • Croydon, Michael (1978). Ivan Albright. New York: Abbeville Press. ISBN 0-89659-003-8.
  • Sweet, Frederick A. (1964). Ivan Albright: a retrospective exhibition. Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago. OCLC 83781666.

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