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dark and mysterious works....

31 October 2008 31 comments

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright (1943)

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (February 20, 1897 - November 18, 1983) was a magic realist painter and artist, most renowned for his self-portraits, character studies, and still lifes.
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 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.
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.

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, 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.
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 Warrenville Gallery located at the Warrenville, Illinois City Hall.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered one of the last works of classic gothic horror fiction with a strong Faustian theme. It deals with the artistic movement of the decadents, and homosexuality, both of which caused some controversy when the book was first published. However, in modern times, the book has been referred to as "one of the modern classics of Western literature."

thanks to SHARON HART for her insights on this subject


31 comments: to “ dark and mysterious works.... so far...

  • Lilly 31.10.08

    That was very interesting - his painting looks extremely detailed and complex too. I love how he had a healthy self esteem in repsect of his talent and work and charged such high prices during the depression. Well done other than the fact he had to eat. Then again considering the time he must have taken to do such detailed work no doubt deserved a high price. I love to find out about how artists started their careers - true artists are just born to be I guess. It is a shame sometimes that so many of them did not get the true rewards while they were alive and became much more famous in death. I also love how he called his paintings such long and intricate names - he was surely a very complex soul I bet. And how could you indeed part with a painting that took 10 years to do. I would have trouble doing that even if I was finger painting. Do you get attached to your work Kim? Thanks for the education. I enjoyed that post very much!

  • Kim 31.10.08

    hi Lilly...
    this painting has fascinated me ever since the day dot...and thanks to Sharon...I was introduced to the artist by way of one of her posts...
    I love the titles too ...and I know exactly how he feels...
    painting is a very emotional process and there have been many paintings that I would have loved to have kept...
    two in particular...The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Mr Wonderful (a Portrait of my Dad)...both gifts to my Mum....
    so I can still see them as much as I like
    I suppose it is a little depressing when I paint over a portrait....but in the long run I usually end up with a better work :)so seeing the painting disappear under the brush so to speak is not an easy choice and usually one I can deliberate over for weeks...even months or years..eek
    lol ..I wouldn't want to part with a painting (even a finger painting) painted over ten years either!!

  • Anonymous 31.10.08

    I think this is the picture that was used in the 1945 film, the film was in black and white and when the picture came on it was in colour, it scared the you know what out of me, mind you I was about eight, but it was the fact it jumped into colour.. But beside that it is a fantastic piece of artwork, not one I would have on my wall, but saying that ;)

  • Kim 31.10.08

    yes I saw the original film too and it terrified me.... Karen...
    I had nightmares for years afterwards :0
    especially seeing it in that attic...
    it's a mesmerizing piece of artwork...and makes you wonder how many people nowadays would have to hide their portrait in the attic or basement if there was any truth to the story :)

  • durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit 31.10.08

    Hello Kim,

    This is a very exhaustive, informative and educational post.

    I read Oscar Wilde's book about Dorian Gray in High School and had imagined what he must have looked like as described in the story.

    When I saw the film years later on classic Hollywood movies shown on TV, the painting was way beyond what I had imagined it to be. But I felt it was very aptly portrayed, and agreed totally with the artist who did the art work. I didn't get the name of the painter and had forgotten all about it until today.

    Remembering and seeing it posted here, it is truly remarkable what he'd done and the tremendous amount of effort is very evident. It's nice to know he maintained his integrity by refusing to price his work lower.

    Thanks for sharing this. It has completed my day. :-) --Durano, done!

  • Kim 31.10.08

    thanks Durano...
    I have always had an interest in art and the movies....
    I love to investigate the ins and outs of those artists represented on film...
    another artist that I find very interesting is the man who painted the 'Rocky' paintings...
    maybe I'll do a post on him and his work...that's if I can remember his name :0
    have an enjoyable start to your weekend Durano....

  • Speedcat Hollydale 1.11.08

    Well ... most of this is new and very interesting to me. Dorian Gray is a name I hear, but did not know much about.
    Your blog has opened up many doors for me .. and brought "art" into a new light.
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright is eye grabbing, haunting, and mysteriously telling.

    The words imaginative and dark come to mind. Lots of personalities all in a small back room, alone.

    Are you giving out candy??? BANG ... BANG BANG (knocking on your door) 8~)

    Hiyah from Speedy Cattah!!!

  • Kim 1.11.08

    haha Speedy ...
    no candy over this way...
    though I have marshmallows ;)
    we have a pretty normal day over here as Halloween is not really big in Australia :)
    glad you enjoyed the post about Ivan Albright and his portrait of Dorian Gray..
    I thought it was appropriate for you Halloween followers...
    have a great trick or treat Speedy :)

  • Anonymous 1.11.08

    Good to know about this one, Thanks


  • S. A. Hart 1.11.08

    Hi, Kim! Thanks for the shout-out. I wasn't aware of many of the aspects of his work and background that you've pulled together in this biography of Albright. It's fascinating that he removed color by immersing himself in a black environment so that he could obtain a purity in his work that might not be achieved if there was visual glare. I know that serious plein air painters are encouraged to wear exclusively white or black so that their work isn't impacted by a subtle reflection of what they are wearing. It never made sense to me until now. Thank you for this illuminating post!

    Tell me, if artists go "trick-or-treating" for Halloween, can we get paints and brushes instead of candy? Please! :-)

  • Kim 1.11.08

    haha Sharon
    I'd like some more white oil paint as I'm just about to paint over my double portrait of Alexnder and Kelly...
    not happy with it so best it go...
    I'm fascinated by Albright's techniques...mind you I wear black (and white in summer) when I'm painting but wow painting the studio black that's what I call commitment with a capital C
    thanks to you and Wikipedia I went blog hopping and found all of this info...hehe ...amazing I have been introduced to 3 new artists this week and I've found each experience really motivating...
    now all I need to do is pick up the paintbrush!!!

  • Kim 1.11.08

    hi Nathan ...
    you're welcome :)
    thanks for calling by :)

  • Jackie 1.11.08

    Hi Kim,
    The Picture of Dorian Gray has always been a story that fascinated me. It is one of those things read about, watch the movie and never forget. Hopefully the lesson is learned from the misfortunes of his misguided attempt to stay young forever.

    I was not familiar with Ivan's work until now. Thank you for introducing it to me.

    It does remind me a little of D.H. Lawrence's works. He too worked in dark tones lacking color. And his sketches and work focused on the physically deformed.

    This is an excellent piece with so very much detail that it is simply amazing.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.


  • Jackie 1.11.08

    P.S. I love the make looks so shiny, new, and all fresh!!:-)

  • Kim 1.11.08

    haha I must have passed you Jackie as I've just been over admiring the art work in your last post
    great picture isn't it and the movie had a wonderful moral to it.......the excesses of vanity eh....what it can lead to...
    thanks for the thumbs up on my took me nearly all day and last night as I'm an absolute blogging idiot when it comes to coding...I'm sure 50% of it is technically wrong...hehe

  • Anonymous 2.11.08


  • John M. Mora 2.11.08

  • Mariuca 2.11.08

    LOL!! And Mariuca is her as your TC!! Ha ha am so happy to be featured at 2 of ur lovely blogs Kim! You're the best, lotsa love and hugs! :):):)

  • Kim 2.11.08

    hehe John..
    you sound hungry :)
    it's a gory painting isn't it!!!

    lol...why am I not surprised Mariuca (the TC Princess)...
    your new avatar looks so pretty too :)

  • Amy Lilley Designs 2.11.08

    This painting is one that should be seen on a really large scale, which would make it even creepier, darker and much scarier than it is small, but to actually be able to see all the detail...THAT would really be something...being interested in medical illustration myself, I can see where that 'information' came into play in Albrights' depiction of Dorian Gray.

    I'm trying to keep up w/ you Kim w/ all the blog changes...I love that you just go at it...I'm not that brave!!!! Looks great!

  • Kim 2.11.08

    did you click on the image to zoom Amy?
    it sure is horrifying!!!
    medical illustration!! fascinating...all I did was a few sheep skulls at art
    thanks for the compliments on the redesign...haha I'm having a hard time keeping up myself ..I'm going to change PeARTica and TAD today to match up hehe no painting and no beach walk...will see ya on my drops soon ;)

  • Lynda Lehmann 2.11.08

    Hi Kim,

    I've loved the book "The Picture of Dorian Gray" since I read it in paperback about 35 years ago, maybe in high school or early college. I still remember the horrifying cover art, which in retrospect, seems to have been extracted from the Albright painting.

    I agree that our art reflects what's in our souls, as the priorities we select in life, also reflect what's in our souls.

    Sorry I haven't been around. I'm still at my sister's house in Arizona, and life has been so busy and scattered for me these past 6 months. I can't wait to get back into a routine with art and blogging for the next six months or so, so I can be productive again!

    Your blog is looking great, and is always full of interesting stuff. I hope all is well with you and your family.



  • Kim 2.11.08

    thanks Lynda....
    sounds to me that you have been productive in other areas..... and they were priorities...
    and from what I've seen at your blog you are still creating those wonderful photos and words...
    so I hope you are not being too hard on yourself...
    just look at me ...I've been procrastinating for all that time.... :0 and I haven't had a house to renovate !!
    have a lovely weekend and thanks for calling by :)

  • Mariuca 2.11.08

    Kimmy!! I really like seeing Mariuca here next to you ha ha! Thanks again dear! :):):)

  • Kim 2.11.08

    hah Mariuca ..
    so do I ;)
    you certainly have a cute card...thanks to Emila's talents

  • Anonymous 2.11.08

    thanks for posting a comment and let your Link for the exchange,so I added you on my Blogroll!
    Love to read from you more -
    thanks again,have a great sunday
    Hugs Sabine

  • Kim 2.11.08

    thanks for the exchange Sabine :)
    I enjoyed visiting your blog :)
    have a great Sunday too!!

  • Metz 4.11.08

    I love this painting hmmmm i wish i can have a replica of this thing for my wall :) and more importantly I wish i could learn how to paint hehehe :)

  • Kim 4.11.08

    goodness Metz...
    I don't think I'd like this hanging on my wall!!
    I bet you like horror movies too ;)

  • Anonymous 4.11.08

    Wow, an artist to the very end, even painting at his death bed.

    I knew very little about him, thanks for the enlightening post.

    I actually find this painting very fascinating.

    I can understand full well the possessiveness one gets over your own works. I've had garden art that I've created, and have refused to sell my favorites ;-)

  • Kim 4.11.08

    I'm not surprised that you like this painting Deborah ;)
    Albright was certainly dedicated......
    you will have to see if you can find the film ..or the book
    I hear they are doing a remake with Colin Firth..
    that should be interesting eh...

About The Author
Kim Barker is a Visual Artist (Diploma in Art and Graduate Diploma in Education). She is also a fully trained Reading Recovery Teacher. She has taught RAD (Royal Academy of Dancing) and Cecchetti Ballet Syllabii. Kim also manages the Top Artist' Directory and PoeARTica as well as her blog laketrees She lives with her family on the Eastern Central Coast of Australia. Follow Kim at laketrees on Twitter for updates and news