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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, mysterious works include some of the most meticulously executed paintings ever made, often requiring years to complete.

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 Albright and his identical twin brother, Malvin, were born 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 master gunsmiths, whose original name was "Albrecht". The brothers were inseparable during childhood, and throughout much of their young adulthood. Both enrolled in The Art Institute of Chicago, a coin-flip deciding that Ivan would study painting and Malvin sculpture. Ivan particularly admired the work of El Greco and Rembrandt, but was quick to develop a style all his own.

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, morbid work that probably influenced his later style. After working in architecture and advertising briefly he was pushed away by commercialism and took seriously to painting. After living in Philadelphia through most of 1925 and 1926, he returned to Illinois, where he began to achieve some substantial success, having his first show in 1930.

Style and techniqueEdit

It was not until the 1930s that Albright developed a meticulous and 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.[2]

American Magic RealismEdit

The term, Magic Realism, came from the book "After Expressionism: Magic Realism: Problems of the Newest European Painting’’ by Franz Roh. The style Roh described was taken on by Italian and German painters, and soon reached the United States. American Magic Realism is exemplified by the eerie and unnatural realistic artworks by some American artists in the 1940s and 1950s. Magic realist subject matter is not overly supernatural or extraordinary, but rather it attempts to showcase the mundane through an overly exaggerated and abnormal viewpoint.[3]


Among Albright's typically dark, mysterious works are some of the most meticulously executed paintings ever made, often requiring years to complete. Lace curtains or splintered wood would be recreated using brushes of a single hair. The amount of effort that went into his paintings made him quite possessive of them. Even during the Great Depression he charged 30 to 60 times what comparable artists were charging, with the result that sales were infrequent. In order to survive 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 his stooped and forlorn portrayal caused controversy among the readership, who did not consider such an image representative. The editors later distanced themselves from Albright's work.

Albright focused on a few themes through most of his works, particularly death, life, the material and the spirit, and the effects of time. He painted very complex works, and their titles matched their complexity. He would not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities, more poetic than descriptive, before deciding on one. Such an example is 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 last two words actually describing the painting (it was as such the painting is generally referred). Another painting, And Man Created God in His Own Image, was called God Created Man in His Own Image when it toured the South. One of his most famous paintings, which took him some ten years to complete, was titled That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), which 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 and a place in the permanent collection, but, not willing to part with the work for less than $125,000, Albright took the First medal instead, allowing him to keep the painting. Albright was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1942.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright, 1943, oil on canvas

In 1943 he was commissioned to create the title painting for Albert Lewin's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. His realistic, but exaggerated, depictions of decay and corruption made him very well suited to undertake such a project. His brother was chosen to do the original uncorrupted painting of Gray, but the painting used on the film was from Henrique Medina. Ivan made the changes in the painting during the film. This original painting currently resides in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Albright was a prolific artist throughout his life, working as a printer and engraver as well as a painter. He made his own paints and charcoal, and carved his own elaborate frames. He was a stickler for detail, creating elaborate setups for paintings before starting work. He was obsessive about lighting to the point that he painted his studio black, and wore black clothing to cut out potential glare.

Later in life Albright lived in Woodstock, Vermont. His last visit to his old home town of Warrenville, Illinois was in 1978. The city declared Ivan Albright Day, and honored Albright with a full day of festivities. Albright's biographer, Michael Croydon,[4] was on hand to present the newly published, richly illustrated book called Ivan Albright. The library featured a large display of photographs from Albright's years spent in Warrenville. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1979.[5]

Despite much time spent traveling the world, he never stopped working. Albright made over twenty self-portraits in his last three years, even on his deathbed, drawing the final ones after a stroke. He died in 1983.

On the 100th anniversary of Ivan Albright’s birth, February 20, 1997, the Art Institute of Chicago opened a major show of his work. Appears the Man, a photograph of Ivan Albright and his most famous work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago.

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.


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; however, the couple divorced a year before his death. Albright remained with his family in Chicago for sixty-six years until moving to Woodstock, Vermont in search of a quiet lifestyle. In the 1970s, he served as a lecturer at Dartmouth College, and remained an active artist until his death in 1983.


  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. ^ "EBSCOhost Electronic Journals Service".
  3. ^
  4. ^ "".
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  • Art Institute of Chicago 1964 Ivan Albright; a retrospective exhibition organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art.
  • Michael Croydon 1978 Ivan Albright. Abbeville Press, New York. ISBN 0-89659-003-8
  • Rossen, Susan F. (ed.) 1997 Ivan Albright. [Chicago]: Art Institute of Chicago; New York: Distributed by Hudson Hills Press.

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