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Gregory Orloff (1890-1981)


c. 1929-1934

Oil on masonite panel, 36 x 48 inches. Unsigned.


Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.


Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 86.


Scanlan, Patricia Smith, "Gregory Orloff," Modernism in the New City: Chicago Artists, 1920-1950 at, Heather, Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943 (Chronicle Books, 2002), p. 217; Weininger, Susan S., "Gregory Orloff," in Kennedy, Elizabeth, ed., Chicago Modern 1893-1945: Pursuit of the New (Terra Museum of American Art, 2004), p. 138. 


Forest Glen Elementary School, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to 1948; William M. Stanton, Tucson, Arizona, 1948 - early 2005. Acquired from Mr. Stanton through Jim Flanigan of Tucson, Arizona, January 18, 2005. A notarized statement by Mr. Stanton accompanies the artwork.  See "A Further Note Regarding Provenance," below, for additional background.


Old, badly faded paper label, now detached but retained with the painting, appears to read “Gregory Orloff/ 155 E. Ontario St./ Chicago, Ill./ Elephants”. Original two-inch simple pine green-painted frame has been replaced with new 3-1/4-inch rustic style frame with half-inch liner. Minor conservation to repair several chips and abrasions and effect surface cleaning. 

     Like the circus celebrated in Vermadel Griswold’s Setting Up the Circus, the zoo was a popular and affordable diversion for American families during the Great Depression. In Elephants, artist Gregory Orloff captures the fascination of parents and children as they pause before the elephant habitat at one of Chicago’s landmark zoos, either the Brookfield Zoo (for which Orloff painted murals and signage while employed as an artist by the Chicago Park District)* or the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The former, which opened in 1934, drew over one million visitors during its inaugural three months of operation. 


     An emigre of Kiev, Russia, Orloff began his formal art training at the Kiev Academy of Art, continuing his studies at the National Academy of Design in New York City with Charles Curran and Ivan Olinsky and at the Art Institute of Chicago under Karl Buehr.  He settled eventually in Chicago, forging a reputation as both a talented artist and a brash personality.  His first major solo exhibition was held in April of 1933 at Chicago’s Allerton Gallery, where a critic observed “a room filled with pleasant pictures” and described him as a “stylized realist” for whom “[p]attern is more important…than subject.”**  Equally adept as painter, printmaker, illustrator and muralist, Orloff exhibited regularly at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1925 through 1935 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1929.  He also participated in the Illinois Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, producing murals at the Mills Elementary and Lake View High Schools in Chicago until his politically controversial firing in June of 1937. 

     Elephants is typical of the artist’s relatively flat, decorative mural style and predilection for peopled landscapes extolling the American Scene. As its curious provenance suggests, the work was probably painted for the now demolished Forest Glen Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Orloff’s address on the faded label accompanying the work dates the picture not earlier than the winter of 1929 (when he gave a different address as an exhibitor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) nor later than April 1, 1934, when, according to a rather lurid newspaper account,*** he allegedly abandoned his wife for his lover.


* Lorance, Nancy, email to former owner W. M. Stanton, probably 2004.​ Orloff also produced a print entitled Polar Bears at Brookfield Zoo.

** Jewett, Eleanor, “Orloff Sticks to Pattern in His Paintings,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 13, 1933.​

*** “Artist Orloff’s Wife Sues Girl for Alienation,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 13, 1935.

A Further Note Regarding Provenance of Elephants:

     According to a detailed provenance written by William M. Stanton of Tucson, Arizona, previous owner of Elephants, in connection with the sale of the painting in early 2005, the painting was created for the Forest Glen Elementary School, located at 561 Elm Street (southeast corner of North Main and Elm Streets), Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The artwork was displayed in the second grade classroom of Mr. Stanton, who attended the school from 1946 through 1948, after which students were moved to a new school building completed that summer directly across Main Street while the old school was razed. “At some point in the spring quarter of the 48-49 school year, as I was leaving school at the end of the day I happened to look across Main Street just as a workman literally ‘tossed’ this painting out of a second story window of the old school building onto a trash pile,” Mr. Stanton recalled. “Now then, please don’t ask why a kid of my age then would react the way I did, but I immediately grabbed it off the rubble pile and ‘schlepped’ it home, some ¾ mile distant.” 


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