Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Addison, Robert William
Collection: American Collection
Specialty: Paintings
View Artwork
Born in Boise, Idaho in 1924, Robert William Addison as a young man was
interested in architecture. World War II interfered with his early career
plans as he served in the U.S. Army. A new possibility opened up when,
while recuperating from a hand injury, he painted twenty-five watercolors
that the Red Cross later put on exhibit. When the war was over, he
enrolled first in a junior college in Boise, then moved to Chicago where
he studied at its famous Art Institute. After graduation, he went to work
as an industrial illustrator for the Stevens-Gross Studios, and then the
Ficho & Corley art studio in the John Hancock Building, where he also
lived, in the 1970s and 80s.

On his own time, Addison also began to produce studio paintings initially
inspired by his childhood love of architecture. He found himself
increasingly concerned with what he saw as the steady disappearance of
"Americana", particularly as new skyscrapers and superstores contributed
to the destruction of main street shopfronts and 19^th and early 20^th
century residences. These became the subject matter of his paintings,
including series on ghost towns of the West, the Victorian architecture of
Chicago, and the antebellum homes of Louisiana, including the townhouse
depicted in the Norton's New Orleans Fac,ade.

Addison's realistic paintings were particularly noteworthy for the way in
which he handled lighting. Professor Martin E. Marty of the University of
Chicago wrote:

[Addison] finally came to organize his work . . . around the problem
of the fall of light and shadow, the spectre of darkness and the naked
radiance that now and then transfigures the natural world. His paintings
ever since have exhibited not only several shades of light and dark but
also numerous qualities and textures of both. It is his use or play of
light that makes his work new and fresh, that lifts it above the technical
brilliance that he shares with others, that separates his work from that
of conventional realists, and that keeps his audience from tiring of his

Though his landscapes commanded high prices, Addison always remained a
humble man, willing to share his gifts with his neighborhood; in the early
1980s, he painted the portraits of several famous Chicagoans for a
"celebrity wall" in a local Wendy's, and also did a series of
light-spirited miniature sculptures for Vasilia, Ltd., also in Chicago.
After his passed away in 1988, his widow Betsy continued to participate in
exhibitions of her late husband's works, ensuring that his legacy will be
preserved for future generations.

Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections