Born in Earlville, Illinois, Grover (1861-1927) was the son of the lawyer Alonzo Jackson Grover, known for his stand against slavery and his support of an “underground railway” to transport fugitive slaves to Canada. Oliver traveled to Munich after studying four years at the University of Chicago. During the 1879-80 school year he enrolled in Munich’s Royal Academy and studied with Frank Duveneck. Already in 1880, he was exhibiting at Munich’s International Exposition. Grover followed Duveneck to Venice and Florence, then studied further in Paris between 1883 and 1885 under Boulanger and Lefebvre.
Back in Chicago in 1885, Grover opened a studio and founded the Western Art Association. We find him on the faculty of the Chicago Art Academy in 1887, where he remained for five years. Yet a writer in The Graphic, 26 September 1891 tells of Grover’s culture shock upon returning to Chicago: “It was too great a change for Mr. Grover to endure, and after a winter in this city he betook himself again to the lagoons and canals of picturesque Venice.” Grover was the first to win the Yerkes Prize in 1892 for his painting Thy Will Be Done (Illinois Historical Art Project), which shows a woman facing some unfortunate news she has received, convinced that it is God’s will. Grover was soon regarded as a highly respected traditional painter and art authority in Chicago. Clarkson (1921, p. 137) described how “his work as chief instructor at the Art Institute did much to raise the character of that school.”
During the World’s Columbian Exposition, Grover exhibited Thy Will Be Done and he executed Harem Scene in the Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana in 1899, a contribution to Orientalist genre. The painter participated in the St. Louis Universal Exposition (showing three Venetian sketches), as well as annuals at the Pennsylvania Academy and the National Academy of Design. He contributed murals for the Blackstone Memorial Library in Chicago in 1903. His four lunettes represent Art, Literature, Science and Labor, executed in the rather hieratic and symmetrical American Renaissance mural tradition.
Grover’s Ponte Vecchio, Florence and Rocky Shore: Lake Garda were on display at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. “He has great faith in Chicago, and believes the city will be a leader in the world of art.” This is how the writer in The Graphic (cited above) characterized Grover’s attitude to the Windy City. The artist was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1913. Grover had a space in the Tree Studio Building between 1914 and 1922. During the final decade of his life, Grover became an initial board member of the Association of Arts and Industries, which would become “a major force in Chicago design during the 1920s and 1930s.” (Prince, 1990, p. 124). The Art Institute of Chicago organized a memorial exhibition for Grover in 1928.
Stuart, Evelyn Marie. “Annual Exhibition of Local Artists.” Fine Arts Journal 32 (April 1915): 167-179; Clarkson, Ralph. “Chicago Artists: Past and Present.” Art and Archaeology 12 (September - October 1921): 129-144; Rolshoven, Julius. “Artist Colleague Writes of Grover.” Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 15 February 1927; Weimer, Aloysius. “The Munich Period in American Art.” Diss., University of Michigan, 1940, pp. 375-378; Sparks, Esther. “Biographical Dictionary of Illinois Painters and Sculptors, 1808-1945.” Diss., Northwestern University, 1971, pp. 406-407; Soria, Regina. Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century American Artists in Italy 1760-1914. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982, p. 152; Gerdts, William H. Art across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990, vol. 2, pp. 294-296; The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940 . Ed. Sue Ann Prince. University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 124; Morse, Annie. Capturing Sunlight: The Art of Tree Studios. Exh. cat. Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 1999, p. 41.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.