During the course of research, new research threads are opened. Many times, a random find in the archives only raises a puzzling question that remains unanswered for a decade or longer.
A letter dated March 9, 1955, from the director of Allerton House to a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago referenced the long term loan of The Sacred Grove by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes to Allerton House. This bibliography entry was filed with the annotation “Think AIC said ‘No.” There was never evidence to suggest the painting was installed at Allerton House.
Until a vintage post card, circa 1960, recently acquired in an on-line auction provided the answer to one such lingering puzzle of Allertonia (facts related to Robert Allerton).
Two post cards were acquired in this auction. One card shows the Oak Room.
The other shows the Pine Room. Green plaid curtains decorate the windows in both rooms. Large conference tables dominate the decor.
Puvis de Chavannes was a French painter and famed muralist who died in 1898, the year when Robert Allerton from his artistic rite of passage to Europe where he studied painting in Munich and Paris. While Robert abandoned his dream to become an artist and painter, Frederic would continue to pursue an art career as painter and muralist. Bartlett drew great inspiration from the works of de Chavannes in his own murals at Chicago’s Second Presbyterian Church and elsewhere in the city.
The 1906 Sketch Book review of these murals, then yet unfinished, directed approving praise from the great de Chavannes on these works. Given that de Chavannes deceased in 1898, such praise must have been implied from the grave or the writer was seriously misinformed.
If Robert were living at his Monticello Estate, the the 1955 loan request would not seem presumptuous. According to Chicago architect and friend of the Allerton’s, Richard Pratt, the loan of articles from the Art Institute to members of its Board of Directors was not unusual. Mr. Pratt detailed extensive loans of objects to architect David Adler, who was a very close friend of Robert Allerton. But the request for the loan of the painting didn’t originate from Robert, nor was it for his private residence.
When this vintage post card came up for on line auction, this 1955 letter not only sprang to mind but an audible laugh of disbelief escaped.
Did the Art Institute of Chicago have any idea that a 19th century oil painting would be subjected to cigarette smoke in a confined space as the Pine Room? Did the Art Institute of Chicago have any idea that this painting would be unusually exposed to vandalism, theft, damage or environmental damage from humidity and sunlight?
Obviously, the Art Institute DID loan the painting. Does the AIC continue to loan works to members of the Board of Directors? When did this practice end?
Seeing the de Chavannes on display at Allerton also brought to mind the thought of the naivete or ignorance of the general public about public gifts, such as Robert Allerton Park. It was perhaps this naivete that lead to the loss of so many Allerton objects. Perhaps if the Puvis de Chavannes painting had disappeared like so many items, public attention might have focused sooner toward protection and preservation.
The Puvis de Chavannes remains in the ownership and control of the Art Institute of Chicago. The inserted photo was taken in 2009. At one of the last visits to the AIC, the painting was off exhibit.
The question as to how long was the painting on loan to Allerton House sounds like a reason for another Field Trip Day to Chicago.