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 Oskar Gross  (1871 - 1963)

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Lived/Active: Illinois      Known for: portrait, figure, Depression era genre

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Oskar Gross
An example of work by Oskar Gross
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
From Vienna, Austria, Oskar Gross grew up in a household with highly cultured, prominent parents. His father was a successful architect and engineer and founder of several industrial schools. He wanted his son to be an architect, but instead he became a portrait and figure painter.

Gross was raised hearing about the wonders of America from his mother, who had lived in New York City for five years when her wealthy parents were exiled for participating in the 1848 uprising in Austria against the government. He showed early art talent and enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he was one of thirty-two students accepted out of three-hundred applicants. He made so much progress that at the end of four years, he along with five other art students received rent-free use of a studio and money for other expenses including $50.00 a year to hire models. However, he did not take advantage of the offer because he was making enough money from portrait commissions.

He set up a studio in an expensive space in Vienna and earned a prestigious reputation, but he had trouble paying the rent from his painting income. He was elected a full member of the Association of Viennese Painters and Sculptors, and he was a cartoonist for a comic paper in Munich. In 1898, he won a mural competition for the Hungarian State Pavilion, which was being designed for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Using violet ink, he designed a motif of Hungarian peasants with horses, and the overseers were so impressed they redesigned other parts of their Pavilion to conform to his mural.

The skill of Gross on this project brought him to the attention of prominent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, who invited him to come to Chicago to decorate some of Burnham's buildings. Reluctant to leave Vienna, Gross made the trip in 1903 to Chicago but found acceptance and decided to settle there. He was able to function better than most foreign visitors because his mother had taught him English. He was financially successful at the beginning, but Burnham, who had gotten him many commissions, died in 1911. Also, Gross was distressed and without former types of work because department store contractors were building structures that did not call for the elaborate decorations that had been a part of earlier architecture.

In 1911, he first exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute. He also began to associate more with painters than architects and developed a camaraderie and lifestyle similar to that he had led in Vienna. From that point, he set up a studio in Chicago and devoted himself to portrait, figure painting and genre painting. Most of his portrait commissions were from members of the upper class, but subjects of far greater interest to him were Depression Era victims who suffered poverty, especially after the 1929 Stock Market Crash.

In painting style, Gross tended to be leading edge, hearkening back to his Vienna days when he had been a part of the modernist group called the Vienna Secession. In those days, he had also received positive attention from the Emperor Franz Joseph.


Submitted by Sidney Hamper, President of the Vanderpoel Association, Chicago, IL

Source:
"The Chicago Daily News", April 4, 1936


This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Oskar Gross (1871-1963), from Vienna, Austria, studied at the Imperial Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  Further studies led him to Munich and Paris.  He executed murals in the Hungarian State Building at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900. The architect Daniel H. Burnham employed Gross for mural projects once the artist relocated to Chicago, around 1903.

Gross began exhibiting at the Art Institute of Chicago four years later when he resided at 26 Van Buren Street, and became active in various Chicago art groups: the Palette and Chisel Club, the Cliff Dwellers, Chicago Painters and Sculptors, and the Art Club of Chicago.  Later he contributed to the Municipal Art Collection.  Gross moved to 19 East Pearson Street in 1911, then took part in the Artists of Chicago and Vicinity Exhibitions: Yochim (1979, p. 65) noted that he won an award at the 1928 exhibition and had works accepted in the 1936 show. 

Between 1916 and 1926 Gross exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy. 1940 was the last AIC exhibition in which Gross participated.  Gross taught at the American Academy of Fine Arts (1926-32). In his art he showed an interest in depicting the Chicago urban scene: At Thompson’s (ca. 1915) depicts a crowded quick-lunch counter, in an anecdotal illustrator’s style.

Sources:
Stuart, Evelyn Marie. “Annual Exhibition of Local Artists.” Fine Arts Journal 32 (April 1915): 167-179; Esther Sparks, “Biographical Dictionary of Chicago Painters and Sculptors in Illinois, 1808-1945.” Diss., Northwestern University, 1971, p. 406.; Yochim, Louise Dunn. Role and Impact: The Chicago Society of Artists. CSA: 1979.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.


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