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Gertrude Abercrombie:
Portrait of the Artist as a Landscape

by Joe Stanfield

On January 19, 2018, the Elmhurst Art Museum in Chicago’s western suburbs held the opening of an exciting new exhibit, Gertrude Abercrombie: Portrait of the Artist as a Landscape. Abercrombie, who is locally revered as “The Queen of Bohemian Art,” was a prolific painter and a larger-than-life figure, but museum shows dedicated exclusively to her work are unfortunately rare.

There has not been an Abercrombie retrospective since the shows at the Illinois State Museum and the State of Illinois Art Gallery in 1991. The dynamic and visually stunning show currently at the Elmhurst, which runs through March 4 before it moves to the Illinois State Museum, should help spur more curators to take on the challenge of showing the paintings of this early American female surrealist.

The exhibition includes over 40 works by Abercrombie and is comprised of examples from the Illinois State Museum, the Elmhurst Art Museum, and the private Chicago collection of Laura and Gary Mauer. All of the elements that make Abercrombie’s oeuvre compelling and engrossing are on display in the show, including her barren landscapes, foreboding footpaths, moons, shells, eggs, owls, doors, cats, and, of course, Gertrude herself.

While a majority of the pieces in the show are in her preferred medium of oil on masonite or canvas, there are also wonderful examples of Abercrombie’s prints and assemblages, which are contextualized with black-and-white photographs of Abercrombie and her contemporaries. Many of these photographs provide a brief yet intriguing glimpse into Gertrude’s life as an artist and musician.

If you are interested in seeing Gertrude Abercrombie: Portrait of the Artist as a Landscape, the Elmhurst Art Museum is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago. The show is also appropriate for all ages, so feel free to bring the family. Part of the show involves an interactive set of props that relate to Abercrombie’s iconography.

Those who enjoy the Elmhurst show will not want to miss another exhibition coming up this summer at the Arts Club of Chicago entitled A Home for Surrealism. This will focus on Abercrombie along with fellow surrealists Dorothea Tanning, John Wilde, Julia Thecla, Harold Noecker, and Julio de Diego and will run from June 7 to August 22, 2018.

To learn more about Gertrude Abercrombie and to view examples of her work that Toomey & Co. has handled over the years, we invite you to visit her dedicated artist page.

Gertrude Abercrombie