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 J. Laurie Wallace  (1864 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Nebraska      Known for: portrait and some figure painting, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
With a sixty-four year career as a portrait painter in Omaha, Nebraska, he was regarded as one of that city's outstanding artists. His subjects included many of Nebraska's prominent citizens such as William Jennings Bryan and Gottlieb Storz.

He was born at Garvagh, Ireland of Scottish parents and came to America at age four. He was raised in Philadelphia and at age sixteen began studies with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was a special friend of Eakins for whom he also served as a model in many of his rowing scenes and as Jesus on the Cross. With Eakins, he helped Muybridge make a succession of photographs, motion studies that played back as the first moving pictures.

In 1881, he headed West and painted portraits of cattle barons in New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado and then, with strong recommendations from Eakins, spent six years in Chicago as Director of the Art League and Instructor at the Art Institute. He helped organize the Chicago Society of Artists, served as their first president, and in 1893 was on the Art Jury of the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1890, he moved to Omaha and served on the Art Jury of the Trans- Mississippi Exposition in Omaha of 1898.

In Omaha, he was known for his Bohemian lifestyle, and frequently said he was going to leave because it was too conservative for him. But, charging four-hundred dollars per painting, he earned such good money from portrait commissions that he stayed. Typical of his irreverent approach to living in the Midwest, he voiced skepticism when the Joslyn Museum opened, saying that "club women would fill it with junk" (Jeffrey Spencer, Douglas County Historian).

He was a strong advocate of realist-style art, much appalled by modernist influences. He taught classes regularly emphasizing realism, and his own work was straightforward. He had studios in the top floor of the Omaha Public Library Building and at 4032 Izard Street before locating in 1928 at 53rd and Leavenworth. He left this studio to his housekeeper after his death on June 30, 1953. Later he was honored in a special Omaha Centennial Exhibition at Joslyn Museum.

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