Oliver Dennett Grover's Thy Will Be Done

By Dryer, Joel S. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Oliver Dennett Grover's Thy Will Be Done


Dryer, Joel S., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Oliver Dennett Grover's Thy Will Be Done won the Charles Tyson Yerkes prize in 1892 at the annual exhibition of the Chicago Society of Artists. In 1889 Grover was among the founders of the Society which was preeminent among the city's several art organizations. The Society's importance was magnified by the fact that the Art Institute of Chicago was founded only seven years prior and still in its infancy; the museum had no collections to speak of and very limited exhibitions.

The painting was subsequently shown in the Fine Arts Palace of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 (catalogue #446). After the Fair closed in October, the work disappeared for one hundred and five years into a small upstate New York town. The painting had been purchased directly from the artist by Robert Lansing Mott of Champion, New York, in 1893. It hung in his home until his death in 1963. His niece sold the painting to a local collector, Kenneth Rowsam of West Carthage, New York, in whose home it then hung. In 1993, it was listed as "unlocated" at the time of the centennial exhibition Revisiting the White City, at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The painting was recently discovered and purchased by the Illinois Historical Art Project.

Oliver Dennett Grover (1860-1927) was born and raised in the small rural town of Earlville, Illinois, and died a successful artist in Chicago. At his death he was called the dean of Chicago painters. Critic Eleanor Jewett said of him:

He was a polished gentleman, in the sincerest sense... Gentle, generous, just, jovial, wise, cultured, kindly and always quested for beauty, Mr. Grover was as much unlike the ordinary (or extraordinary) type of artist as one could well find. As a painter he ranks among our foremost.l

Successful in most everything he attempted, he at various times was a painter of cycloramas; had an enterprising scenic and decorative painting firm in Chicago; was head of the painter's division during the congresses of lectures at the World's Columbian Exposition (Grover also executed eight panels depicting the history of the customer in the Merchant Tailors' Building at the Fair); taught as a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago; executed building decorations for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo; and created important murals in many of Chicago's buildings. He supervised the Midwest section of the United States Committee on Public Information, Bureau of Pictorial Publicity for patriotic posters during World War I. Educated and well traveled, he maintained studios in Florence and Chicago. An influential man, he served as director or president of every major art organization in Chicago.2 Grover was clearly one of the most important artists who ever worked in Chicago.

His father, a prominent local attorney, moved the family to Chicago where Grover attended secondary school. Despite early training at the Chicago Academy of Design, Grover was destined for the bar and entered the Chicago University in 1877. (The institution was later refounded as the University of Chicago in 1892). One year of prosaic study was enough for Grover to redouble his efforts to pursue an artistic career and he left for Munich, a highly popular destination for the art student coming from a strongly Germanic Chicago.

Arriving in the fall of 1879, he came immediately into contact with Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), one of this country's most important painters and teachers. Grover also met his future brother-in-law, Julius Rolshoven (1858-1930), who like Grover, became one of the "Duveneck Boys," a group of thirty young men who left Munich in early 1880, for Venice, to pursue their studies under the tutelage of Duveneck.3 Grover was the youngest of the "Duveneck Boys," only twenty years old at the time. In Venice, Grover came in contact with James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) who had arrived there in September 1879 to complete a series of etchings for his publisher. …

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