This 100-foot-tall (10 stories) mural of legendary Chicago blues musician Muddy Waters (1913-1983) was dedicated in June 2017 on the north wall of the 19-story Stevens Building at 17 N. State Street in Downtown Chicago.
Painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra (b. 1975), it took over two weeks to paint it. The new mural covered over a big, yellow “Go Do Good” painting. The Stevens Building itself is a notable early skyscraper on the east side of State Street near its intersection with Washington Street. When it was built in 1912 by Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912), it was one of the most modern business structures In Chicago and filled with retail shops. The Charles A. Stevens & Bros. building is nineteen stories above ground and three below,
The colorful portrait mural of Muddy Waters is part of a campaign to beautify the walls of some tall buildings in Chicago as well as to mark the significance of Black music in Chicago. Specifically, Eduardo Kobra’s mural is a tribute to the legacy of Muddy Waters in the Chicago blues music scene. Among Muddy Waters’ many titles and accolades, he may be perhaps best known as the “King of Chicago Blues.”
Growing up in Mississippi, Muddy Waters was first exposed to music at the local Baptist church. During World War II, when Muddy Waters was still in his 20’s, he moved from Mississippi to Chicago. He came to Chicago because he wanted to be a professional musician and Chicago since the 1920’s had been a center for jazz and blues music production.
In 1951 when Muddy Waters recorded his song “Still A Fool” at newly-founded Chess Records on the southside of Chicago, he started the next decade making several blues classics. In 1951, the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, both around Waters’ age, wanted the new blues musician to record using the new label’s professional musicians instead of Waters’ own band.
By September 1953 Waters was recording with his own band which became one of the most acclaimed blues bands in history. It included Little Walter Jacobs (1930-1968), a Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame harmonica virtuoso; Jimmy Rogers (1924-1997), a Blues Hall of Fame musician on guitar who, with Little Walter and Muddy Waters, helped define the Chicago Blues sound; rural blues legend Elga Speed Edmonds (1909-1966) on drums; distinctive keyboard stylist and Blues Hall of Fame inductee Otis Spann (1930-1970) on piano—and, at times on bass, Willie Dixon (1915-1992), Grammy Award winner, and inductee in the Blues, Rock and Roll, and Songwriters Halls of Fame. The clarity of the clip of Muddy Waters’ electric guitar and his gravelly voice, deep and wide, were also distinctive features in a career that spanned 50 years and included 11 Grammy Award nominations with 6 wins.
In June 2017 at the dedication of the mural at the busy intersection of State and Washington Streets in the heart of downtown Chicago’s business/shopping districts, Muddy Waters’ family was in attendance. Of Muddy Waters’ legacy, born in Mississippi and living and working in Chicagoland since the 1940’s, Rolling Stone wrote: “With him the blues came up from the Delta and went electric.”
As a kinetic (movement) artist, Mangold’s sculptures explore concepts of space and motion.
In 1962, Mangold began his Anemotive series of spherical, wind-propelled kinetic sculptures. As with this work, Anemotive Kinetic, the anemotives are characterized by cup-like shapes mounted on arms which allow for motion in nature.
The 20-foot painted aluminum sculpture in a fountain setting stands near the entrance of the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens along the Rock River in Rockford, Illinois.
The Conservatory opened in October 2011 and offers a main exhibition house, greenhouses, classrooms, a roof garden, a lagoon, walking trails, outdoor gardens, and more.
Jerry Peart is a Chicago-based artist who, according to his website https://www.sedgwickstudiochicago.com/jerry-peart, has created over 35 large-scale public sculptures. The artist created Wildflower in part because he was inspired by this place in the Midwest dedicated to all things clean and green.
Chicago’s “Picasso” in today’s downtown Daley Plaza was officially unveiled on Tuesday, August 15, 1967 at 12 noon.
Weeks before the public event excitement (and some dread) swirled among Chicagoans and others as to what Pablo Picasso’s monumental outdoor sculpture would be like.
In the photograph on the wall, Mayor Daley and others pull the cord on August 15, 1967 unveiling Chicago’s iconic Picasso.
The famous Basque artist was first approached by Chicago leaders in May 1963. This encounter led more than four years later to the Cor-Ten steel sculpture’s installation and unveiling on a beautiful Tuesday summer’s afternoon in the Chicago Civic Center Plaza. Many in the crowd of thousands who had gathered to witness the historic event gasped and jeered at the modernist art work when the fabric cover was taken off. Local newspaperman Mike Royko wrote in The Daily News that the art work looked like a “giant insect.” Photo Credit: “Picasso in Chicago” by Emily Barney is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (October 2011).
Chicago’s first major public outdoor sculpture started a long term national trend to display massive outdoor contemporary art for the public
The now-iconic Picasso unveiled in 1967 is credited with being the first public outdoor sculpture installed in Chicago that put Chicago on the map as one of America’s first major cities to display massive outdoor contemporary art for the public.
In 1958 there was an untitled art work by Richard Lippold (1915-2002) constructed in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building (1954-58) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in downtown Chicago. It is four blocks from City Hall and the new Civic Center Plaza that the same architectural firm was helping to design and build in the early 1960’s.
Untitled (known today as The Radiant One), Richard Lippold, commissioned in 1957, Inland Steel Building, Chicago. Author’s photo (December 2017).
This was followed in 1964 by a large modernist work unveiled at the University of Chicago Law School entitled, Construction in Space and in the Third and Fourth Dimensions. It was made in 1959 by Russian Constructionist Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962).
The reputation and fame of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1967 helped catapult the idea and cultural practice of the installation of modern art, often monumental, in high-profile public spaces across the country, and starting in large measure, in Chicago.
In the following years and decades installation of public art that had broadened beyond the commemorative extended to established artists, many with international reputations, as well as more recent and sometimes emerging artists. In 2021, one online list of public art on campus at the University of Chicago demonstrates its extensive practice that was largely ushered in with Chicago’s Picasso (Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture, University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. xiii; https://arts.uchicago.edu/public-art-campus/public-art-campus#Antoine_Pevsner – retrieved June 9, 2021).
Since before the mid-20th century, public art in America has been often characterized by Modernism (i.e., MoMA’s modernist sculpture garden dated from the 1940’s). Modernism began as a cultural rebellion against prevailing classical-romantic art work. Until around Rodin’s Balzac in 1898, art work in the classical and romantic style filled parks and plazas throughout the 19th century and afterwards that memorialized people, places, and events. Modernists identified the classical-romantic style as old, trite, exhausted, and artistically bankrupt in rapidly changing times. Instead, Modernism offered artistic forms and creative responses that met and expressed an increasingly global and machine age – and not by grand depictions and tired motifs of old Romans standing (or lying) on privileged porticos in togas (i.e., Thomas Couture (1815-1879) Romans during the Decadence, 1847, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay).
Thomas Couture (1815-1879), Romans during the Decadence, 1847, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay. Starting no later than 1900, contemporary society was increasingly artistically influenced by Modernism. Characterized by the rejection of centuries-old literary and historical subjects and forms, it turned to abstraction and imaginative artistic responses as more fitting expression for a rapidly changing modern society.
Pablo Picasso had dominated the modern art scene for most of the 20th century, starting and particularly as the innovator of Cubism with French painter Georges Braque (1882-1963). Picasso was one of several artists who, as Harper’s Bazaar observed about the magazine’s engagement with modern artists, “broke new ground, challenged established thinking, and signaled seismic shifts in the culture” (Harper’s Bazaar, March 2021, p. 236).
Pablo Picasso, Three Women, 1908, oil on canvas, 200x 178 cm, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Picasso, Student with a pipe, Paris, 1913, Oil, gouache, cut-and-pasted paper, gesso, sand, and charcoal on canvas, 28 ¾ x 23 1/8 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza from the side looking to the southeast. Author’s photo (July 2015).
On a representational level, a woman’s facial profile (eye, nose, lips, chin) followed by two “wings” of flowing hair, and rounded shoulders are in plain sight. Yet other interpretations for the sculpture are also reasonably feasible. For example, from the back, are the top symmetrical curves of the wings reflective of the curves of a woman’s buttocks with legs constituting the rest? Are the cut-out shapes like a head and neck in this context possibly a phallus? Picasso famously did many pieces of art that were highly sexualized. In 1932 Pablo Picasso produced an entire series of what would become iconic paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his young, blonde-haired mistress, in the most lascivious and sensual positions imaginable. Picasso’s Minotaur and Wounded Horse is one example of it produced in Boisgeloup (outside Paris) on April 17, 1935 and today in the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. (See – https://johnpwalshblog.com/2013/05/15/picasso-and-chicago-the-show-may-be-over-but-its-best-parts-stay-on-display-its-called-the-art-institute-of-chicagos-permanent-collection/).
Picasso narrowed the central plane of the head toward the top, and indicated its slight tilt backward. Using Student with Pipe as a guide, what is usually interpreted as flowing hair past a woman’s head and body, these immense curved symmetrical “wings” in Chicago’s Picasso may be conceived as the shadow or shadows of a head and body. If the rods are not representative of something specific – i.e., guitar strings – but, as Picasso alluded in the LOOK interview of November 1967, an aesthetical connection, then this interpretation of a figural foreground and shadowed background that makes for a sculptural whole is also feasible.
The Chicago sculpture’s circular eyes and long flat nose are typical of Picasso heads of the 1913-1914 period which were translations of the features of African, specifically Wobé, masks. Picasso used their economy and schema to transform them into his personal and whimsical art work. (William Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York, 1972, pp. 88-89).
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza, Author’s photo. (December 2017).
Mask (Kifwebe), Songye, late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, pigment, 12 x 7 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (30.5 x 18.1 x 15.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum. The object is a female mask with projecting mouth, triangular nose, pierced eyes, overall concentric linear carving, and polychrome pigment.
The mask type that was shared by other African societies is characterized by angular and thrusting forms, and the entire face is covered in unique patterns of geometric grooves. Female masks, such as this one, are distinguished by the predominant use of white clay and, in a feature shared by Chicago’s Picasso, the rounded form of the head crest. (See – https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/169088– retrieved June 9, 2021).
Picasso was 72 years old and Jacqueline Roque was 26 years old when they met in 1953. Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova, died in 1955. Picasso romanced Jacqueline until she agreed to date him and they married in 1961. During their courtship and marriage of 20 years, Picasso created over 400 portraits of Jacqueline, more than any of his other muses.
Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline Roque Picasso (1927-1986), gave her portrait to the president of Iceland and the bust was consigned in 1988 to the National Gallery of Iceland. A more realistic figure, Picasso’s slightly earlier art work evokes features and forms found in the abstracted sculpture for Chicago done a little later, such as the wing-shaped curves of the flowing hair that comes to a point at the bottom. https://www.listasafn.is/english/exhibitions/nr/476
Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline with a Yellow Ribbon, 1962, sheet metal, cut-out, bent, and painted, 19 5/8 inches, National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Completed no later than 5 years after Jacqueline with a Yellow Ribbon in 1962 the dramatic shapes and formulations of the monumental sculpture share recognizable affinities. Author’s photo (July 2015).
Perfect Summer’s Day for Unveiling Ceremony
August 15, 1967 was a perfect summer’s day with temperatures in the low 80s and no rain to worry about in the forecast. The Woods Theater across the Plaza on Dearborn was playing Jack Nicholson’s new film, Hells Angels On Wheels. Before the unveiling, Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) spoke before the crowd. The mayor told the crowd that he was “very happy” that they had “come to share” in the dedication of what was “a great gift to our city” by Picasso. That Mayor Daley and Pablo Picasso, both Roman Catholics, unveiled Picasso’s gift on August 15 would be coincidental to the significant Catholic religious holiday of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary that also falls on the date.
A lunch-time crowd packed the new Civic Center Plaza on the day of the unveiling. The new plaza fronted a new modernist courthouse skyscraper and a modern outdoor sculpture – Chicago’s Picasso – as the major components of architectural plans virtually from its start.
In 1963, the Public Building Commission of Chicago decided to build a new modernist 31-story civic center fronted by a public plaza. The new complex would complement and contrast with the 10-story City Hall across Clark Street that opened in 1911. The new courthouse and plaza development was part of Mayor Daley’s overall downtown development that by 1963 was in high gear and would remain so past his unexpected death 5 days before Christmas in 1976 at 74 years old.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architectural firm associated with the project, wanted the art work to be by Pablo Picasso. When the project’s coordinator, architect William E. Hartmann (1916-2003), told Mayor Daley of these plans, the mayor quickly supported the choice. The challenge now was to convince Picasso.
The Chicago Civic Center’s supervising architects was C.F. Murphy led by the Aurora, Illinois-born architect Jacques Brownson (1924-2012). Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett & Dart were associated architects. Al Francik was this drawing’s delineator.
The Chicago Civic Center was the first of several important new public buildings constructed in Chicago from the late 1950s to the 1980s as part of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s development of municipal government. The glass-and-steel modernist building held over 100 courtrooms, office space and a large law library. It boasted wide spans between weight bearing columns and 18-foot-tall floor to floor heights. Though the plan included a sculpture in the public plaza, Picasso’s sculpture came later after he was persuaded by William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to make an art work. Chicago’s Picasso continues to draw Chicagoans and visitors from all over the world to the plaza.
On August 15, 1967, Mayor Daley continued his remarks to the assembled crowd: “Today, with its unveiling, it becomes a permanent part of the Chicago scene. As mayor, I dedicate this gift, in the name of the people of Chicago, confident that it will have an abiding and happy place in the city’s heart.”
The Deed of Gift, dated August 21, 1966, was signed by Picasso with one of its witnesses being, Jacqueline, his wife and written in both English and French. The entirety of the Deed of Gift in English reads: “The Monumental sculpture portrayed by the maquette pictured above has been expressly created by me, Pablo Picasso, for installation on the plaza of the Civic Center in the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, United States of America. This sculpture was undertaken by me for the Public Building Commission of Chicago at the request of William E. Hartmann, acting on behalf of the Chicago Civic Center Architects. I hereby give this work and the right to reproduce it to the Public Building Commission, and I give the maquette to The Art Institute of Chicago. Desiring that these gifts shall, through them, belong to the people of Chicago” (Balton-Stratton, The Chicago Picasso, p. 33).
Picasso donated his sculpture to the people of Chicago in 1967. Skateboarder on Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (July 2015).
Children’s slide on Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (May 2021).
Picasso’s “gift” cost $300,000 to fabricate–or around $2 million today
Picasso donated his sculpture to the people of Chicago in 1967. The artist’s gift constituted the 42-inch maquette and the rights and privileges surrounding it. The monumental sculpture based on Picasso’s “gift” of the maquette cost $300,000 to fabricate–or around $2 million today – and paid for by private monies (Bach, p. 76).
The Picasso sculpture could not be completely a matter of artist largesse (though he did not accept a fee). Gertrude Stein in Picasso, her memoir of the artist written in 1938, writes of the young and then-impoverished Picasso who gave a prominent collector one of his desirable art works when he might have paid for it. Picasso told Stein about the collector: “He doesn’t understand that at that time the difference between a sale and gift was negligible” (Stein, Picasso, p. 8). Fast forward about fifty years and something similar might have applied for Picasso in 1967 in terms of acknowledging the people (and collectors) of Chicago.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (May 2021) .
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (July 2015) .
Not everyone who gathered at Daley Plaza in August 1967 during the “Summer of Love” and then-escalating Vietnam War was there to welcome Picasso’s sculpture. Though Chicago had a long and venerable history with Picasso’s art – The Art Institute of Chicago began collecting it in 1923 and the first Picasso exhibition was at The Arts Club of Chicago that same year—protesters held signs at the unveiling, some of which read: “Let’s give it back now!!!,” “The Colossal Boo Boo,” and “It’s a Monsterment.” To what degree connoisseurship influenced protesters in August 1967 would appear to lie in the outright rejection of Modernism though more nuanced criticism could include crass commercialization of Picasso’s art work.
From its unveiling in August 1967 until today, Chicagoans have been mystified by their publicly owned “Picasso.” Picasso’s untitled artwork has had its boosters and detractors. Over the years, it appears public opinion has mellowed about the 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten (self-weathering) steel sculpture, even turning mostly in favor of the enigmatic art work.
In more than 50 years of debate, Chicagoans have come to accept that they probably will never know exactly what it is that Picasso gave “to the people of Chicago.”
Though mysterious – is it a butterfly or bird? or, as Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984) interpreted it, the abstracted head of a woman with ample flowing hair – many seek it out or find it as they cross the plaza. It adds grace, beauty, personality, proportionality and perspective to the urban space between Dearborn and Clark Streets at Washington Street.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza looking to the northeast. Author’s photo (May 2021).
The sculpture’s rods have been compared to the strings of a guitar (Bach, pp.75-76). Always in the public domain, it is a popular icon for Chicago.
The Picasso bestows international and modernist value to the “City of the (19th) Century” which in 1911 – the year City Hall was erected – poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) called “hog butcher for the world” in his poem, Chicago. Though Sandburg wrote these literary images in and of another era, the famous poet was just 3 years older than Picasso and died in July 1967, only weeks before the official unveiling of the Picasso that ushed in a new age for the city.
In May 1963, Picasso was a vigorous 81 years old and living in Mougins, France. By way of literary and artistic contacts in Chicago and Europe, William Hartmann was helped on his mission to visit Picasso as the young American architect headed to the south of France to await the outcome of his request to meet the aging Basque artist.
Picasso was 81 years old and living in the south of France when Chicago architect William Hartmann tracked the artist down to ask him to consider creating a sculpture on a monumental scale for Chicago’s new modernist Civic Center development project. Photo credit: “PABLO PICASSO” by marsupilami92 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
William Hartmann, 47 years old in 1963, was born in New Jersey and started his architectural career in Boston after attending MIT. He joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York City following World War II and was working in its Chicago office since 1947. Hartmann, elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1963, is credited for personally enticing Picasso to design a sculpture for Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. In 1968, the year after the installation of the Picasso sculpture in Chicago, Hartmann was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lake Forest College. (For Hartmann biographical information and interviews, see the Ryerson & Burnham art and architecture archive – https://digital-libraries.artic.edu/digital/collection/caohp/id/26834/rec/1– retrieved June 9, 2021).
At their meeting Hartmann looked to familiarize the artist with the downtown Chicago project: he brought photographs of Chicago, the building site, and its people. Hartmann included photographs of the many Picasso works owned by Chicagoans and its institutions to show him this city’s longstanding regard and love for him.
Picasso told Hartmann he would think about it.
Hartmann continued to visit over the next months and years bringing various Americana and Chicago-related items as gifts, such as major sports team paraphernalia. Hartmann also updated the artist on the modernist Civic Center construction project.
Picasso produced a draft.
Before starting his maquette, Picasso asked Chicago leaders to keep the art project “relatively confidential” and out of the public eye
Hartmann told him, “We want to commission you so that I end up with a study I can take back.” Maintaining his flexibility, Picasso told Hartmann, “I may not produce anything—or produce something that you don’t like. It’s best that we keep this low-key from start to finish, calm, and relatively confidential.”
Thus, out of “relative confidentiality” was born much of the mystery and intriguing quality of the “Picasso” at its unveiling in Chicago in August 1967.
In 1963 Mayor Daley looked to persuade Picasso to do a monument. In 1965, Picasso looked to persuade Mayor Daley to accept his foremost Cubist original work that would be seen and interpreted each day by thousands in the heart of Chicago’s downtown government, business and shopping district.
Chicago’s collection of public art was initiated on August 15, 1967, when Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated an untitled sculpture commonly known as “The Picasso” in Chicago’s new Civic Center (now the Richard J. Daley Center). Four years earlier, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill had approached Pablo Picasso with the commission. The artist accepted and crafted two steel maquettes: one he kept in his studio at Mougins and gave the other to the architect to use in planning the potential fabrication of the sculpture. With the Picasso sculpture’s unveiling in 1967, its presence inspired private and public investment in many more art works throughout the cityscape, including Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) completed in 2006 at Millennium Park.
Cloud Gate (“The Bean”), Anish Kapoor, 2006, Millennium Park, Chicago. Chicago’s Picasso in 1967 inspired private and public investment in art works throughout the cityscape well into the future. Author’s photo (May 2021).
When Picasso produced a 42-inch maquette of the sculpture, the board of the Public Building Commission of Chicago was given a private viewing of it. Afterwards, they passed a resolution authorizing the payment of $100,000 to Picasso (about $850,000 today) with the sum to include the purchase price for the right, title and interest in and to the maquette as well as copyright and copyright renewals. When Hartmann offered the $100,000 check to Picasso, he asked the artist to sign the “Formal Acknowledgment and Receipt.”
Picasso refused to accept the money or to sign the document.
In the chalk drawing (above) the importance of the sculpture’s forms, both empty of steel and fabricated thereof, carry greater significance to the outcome of the piece. In the drawing Picasso does not include the rods of which much representational conjecture has been made (i.e., guitar strings) as the artist himself admits adds value for structural stability of the modernist monument.
Based on Picasso’s design and the 42-inch maquette he made, the monumental statue was built by U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. Anatol Rychalski was the engineer in charge of the design and construction.
Rods of the Chicago Picasso in Daley Plaza, Author’s photo (July 2015).
“My job was to make an exact but giant likeness of Picasso’s 42-inch original. Being a follower of Picasso’s works, I knew that no snap judgement of this one would suffice. But those of us who built it accepted the challenge of its interpretation with as much enthusiasm as the challenge of its construction” (Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1967). Rychalski, a Polish immigrant to the U.S. in 1950 and, in 1967, senior designer in the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel corporation, observed, “We had to roll steel to sizes which never have been rolled which means that the whole technology had to be to some extent improvised at the time.” Nearly 50 years later, in 2016, the 91-year-old Rychalski, said about the sculpture, “It defines the city as ‘spirit in flight.’ You look at the wings and the profile of an overwhelmingly powerful lady…the value of it is enormous.” (quoted in https://www.shawlocal.com/2016/07/28/shorewood-man-expresses-the-profound-through-his-acrylic-paintings/askc2p1/-retrieved June 9, 2021.)
Pablo Picasso and William E. Hartmann with the maquette in the artist’s Mougins studio in August 1966. This image appeared in the 1967 program pamphlet. Picasso made two maquettes – one he kept in his studio and the other he gave to The Art Institute of Chicago for the behalf of the people of Chicago.
Daley pulled the cord on the multi-color fabric that hid Picasso’s gift to the people of Chicago. Chicago poet Gweldolyn Brooks (1917-2000) read remarks and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played music.
Collective gasp from the crowd followed by jeers at unveiling
With the veil removed, the crowd let out a collective gasp and began to shout negative comments about the art work. In its first public appearance, the crowd of potential Picasso admirers turned into a Picasso peanut gallery – an unintended, unwanted but not wholly unforeseen consequence by city authorities. Bemused criticisms of the Picasso were also part of what became – in the mayor’s words at the sculpture’s unveiling – “a permanent part of the Chicago scene.”
The Chicago Picasso at the dedication ceremony before the unveiling on August 15, 1967. Photo credit: case 69C353: The Letter Edged in Black Press, Inc. vs. Public Building Commission of Chicago in records of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, RG 21.
Controversial reaction better than “no reaction at all”
For William Hartmann and others responsible for bringing the Picasso to Chicago the local crowd’s visceral and negative reaction to the monumental public art work in the downtown location was better than no reaction at all.
“Picasso’s work, frequently, if not always has been the center of controversy,” Hartmann philosophically observed, “So it all fit into that pattern beautifully.”
A few days after the unveiling, Mayor Daley offers his thoughts at a press conference about the Picasso
A couple of days after the unveiling ceremony, Mayor Daley at a press conference offered what he thought about the Picasso sculpture. Though it was “wonderful,” Daley admitted like the rest of Chicago that he did not know what the sculpture really represents.
One idea the mayor floated was that it was a woman as some believed and that it was very appropriate that she stood in front of the courthouse.
“We’ve always looked at justice as a woman and it is outside a hall of justice,“ the 65-year-old Big-City Irish Democratic mayor said. He speculated further: “But it could also be a Phoenix. It would symbolize the rise of Chicago as a city of vitality out of the ashes caused by [the Great Chicago Fire]” (Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1967).
Considering the many conversations that were held over four years with city planners and the Basque artist through William Hartmann about Chicago’s Picasso it is fair to say that the mayor – the city’s biggest booster – would state his interpretation on the art work based on what he believed he saw after talking to the experts.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza, made from a 42-inch maquette in Mougins, France into a 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten steel sculpture in Gary, Indiana, is an engineering marvel. Author’s photo (July 2015).
From 42-inch maquette in Mougins, France, to 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten steel sculpture in Gary, Indiana
In those same days, Anatol Rychalski (b. 1925) was open-minded about the Picasso’s precise artistic representation. “It doesn’t really matter how you personally interpret the sculpture,“ he told the Chicago Tribune on August 20, 1967, “as long as you not ridicule for the sake of ridicule.” He then shared his interpretation: “To me it represents the winged spirit of justice, with the serenity and compassion of a woman. It is a benevolent but stern and powerful justice.”
LOOK magazine interviews Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso and they talk about Chicago’s Picasso
In November 1967, LOOK magazine interviewed Picasso and Jacqueline and the Chicago sculpture came up. They were both amused by the baffled reaction of Chicagoans to the art work. Jacqueline offered that it was obviously “a woman’s head” and shoulders but “no more.” Picasso observed that the “cage” of steel rods was more an aesthetic than a representation. In the LOOK interview Picasso observed: “I am touched that the [Chicago] public could mysteriously share my joy over the results of many years work in sculpture. In a way, my sculptures are more my children than my paintings. I am caught up in shaping my vision of the world. In sculpture, I cut through appearances to the marrow, and rebuild the essentials from there. I cannot invent a detail that has not been carefully planned and my wish is that the public, through thinking and meditation, may retrace my intentions” (LOOK, November 28, 1967). The Basque artist’s challenge to the viewer to discover an objective answer to his artistic intentions makes the sculpture’s meaning more intriguing.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. In a November 1967 LOOK magazine interview, Picasso and Jacqueline expressed amusement at Chicagoans’ reaction to the art work. Jacqueline said it was obviously “a woman’s head” and shoulders but “no more.” Author’s photo (July 2015).
“Eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean…”
Probing the artist’s intentions was met soon with succinct anecdotal insight from Chicago’s newspaperman, Mike Royko (1932-1997). Royko wrote creatively and personally about the significance of the art work for Chicago in 1967. The columnist’s cynical eye on the possible relationship of the modernist steel art work and the city he loved was published in the afternoon newspaper, the Chicago Daily News:
“That is all there is to it. Some soaring lines, yes. Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean.
But why not? Everybody said it had the spirit of Chicago. And from thousands of miles away, accidentally or on purpose, Picasso captured it.
Up there in that ugly face is the spirit of Al Capone, the Summerdale scandal cops, the settlers who took the Indians but good.
ITS EYES ARE LIKE the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner to make it all possible.
It has the look of the dope pusher and of the syndicate technician as he looks for just the right wire to splice the bomb to.
Any bigtime real estate operator will be able to look into the face of the Picasso and see the spirit that makes the city’s rebuilding possible and profitable.
It has the look of the big corporate executive who comes face to face with the reality of how much water pollution his company is responsible for – and then thinks of the profit and loss and of his salary.
IT IS ALL THERE in that Picasso thing – the I will spirit. The I will get you before you will get me spirit.
Picasso has never been here, they say. You’d think he’s been riding the L all his life.”
Soft Version of Maquette for a Monument Donated to the City of Chicago by Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), 1969. Canvas and rope, painted with synthetic polymer, dimensions variable (38 x 28¾ x 21 inches, full height), Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
What could be seen as an early parody of the Picasso sculpture by Claes Oldenburg is, in fact, the artist’s homage to the art work as well as conversation with it on aesthetics.
In Oldenburg’s version Picasso’s steel becomes soft cloth; straight rods become limp ropes. More malleable than the original, Oldenburg dubbed his work “Super-Cubism” in that where a Cubist work offers the viewer multiple viewpoints, Oldenburg’s piece offers viewpoints that are unlimited (Picasso and American Art, Michael FitzGerald, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2006, p. 259).
Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, 1905–6, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Met writes about this work: “[Picasso] reduces her body to simple masses—a foreshadowing of his adoption of Cubism—and portrays her face like a mask with heavy lidded eyes, reflecting his recent encounter with Iberian sculpture.” see- https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/488221 – retrieved June 4, 2021.
Reaching farther back in Picasso’s career at the start of the 20th century, American writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) knew Picasso in Paris and later wrote about him. Stein observed that Picasso was “the only one in painting who saw the twentieth century with his eyes and saw its reality and consequently his struggle was terrifying …for himself and for the others, because he had nothing to help him…he had to do it all alone and, as in spite of much strength he is often very weak…” (Stein, Picasso, p. 22).
In 1906 when Picasso was 25 years old, he painted Gertrude Stein’s portrait. According to Stein, she posed for him in Paris “eighty times” but, finally, he “painted out the head” and, following a break in Spain, painted in a new head without seeing her again beforehand (see G. Stein, Picasso, 1938, p. 8). Though Stein was “satisfied” with the portrait and remained so over 30 years later, Picasso was criticized in 1906 for the depiction. The artist responded with a remark now considered famous and certainly, as Stein and the world discovered, prescient: “Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.” (See G. Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas).
The bold creative vision of the Cubist artist is very much in evidence in Picasso’s gift to the people of Chicago that stands in Daley Plaza. It may be that Picasso’s intentions for the iconic untitled sculpture may only be known in future days. For, at first, they said it did not look like Chicago, but it didn’t make any difference – because it will.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza from the back looking to the southwest. Author’s photo (October 2015).
Bach, Ira J. and Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture, University of Chicago Press, 1983.
FitzGerald, Michael, Picasso and American Art, Exh. Cat. Whitney Museum of American Art/Yale University press, New York, 2006.
Rubin, William, Picasso in the Collection of the Modern of Modern Art, , MoMA, New York, 1972.
“The Chicago Picasso,” Progressive Architecture (November 1966), p. 66 (ill.).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Annual Report (1966–1967), pp. 26–27 (ill.).
Chicago Picasso Dedication program (August 15, 1967) (ill.).
Lael Wertenbaker, The World of Picasso (New York: Time-Life Books, 1967), p. 153 (ill.).
“A Picasso Statue for Chicago,” The Burlington Magazine 109:766 (January 1967), pp. 34–36, figs. 68 and 70.
Burton Wasserman, “Picasso: The Touch of Magic,” Art Education 21:4 (April 1968), p. 29 (ill.).
Clarence Page, “Giant Iron Sculpture: Picasso Leaves His Mark on the City,” Chicago Tribune (April 9, 1973), section 1, p. 6.
Roberto Otero, Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look at his Last Years (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1974), pp. 46, 50, 52–55 (ill.).
Roberto Otero, “It’s more charming this way: How the master made us a gift,” Chicago Guide, vol. 23, no. 10 (October 1974), pp. 86–87.
Marilyn McCully, A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1981), pp. 266–267 (ill.).
Sally Fairweather, Picasso’s Concrete Sculptures (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1982), p. 85.
The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture: A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885–1973, The Sixties II 1964–1967 (San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 2002), p. 133, no. 64–373 (ill.).
Gary Tinterow, Master Drawings by Picasso, exh. cat. (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), p. 255, no. 27.
Stephanie d’Alessandro, “Picasso and Chicago,” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013), p.26, cat 245 (ill.)
The hotel opened in May 2002 with 415 rooms. Its dramatic architecture made an immediate impression not only on the city’s denizens and visitors but much of the world. Jean-Paul Viguier (born 1946) is a leading modern Paris-based French architect. In 2003 his Sofitel Chicago Water Tower (renamed the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile) was chosen by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects as the “best new building in Chicago in the last ten years.”
The prism-shaped, 350,000-square-foot structure was chosen by nearly 350 established Chicago-based architects as one of the city’s most outstanding achievements in architecture. The glass triangular tower ascends and thrusts over the intersection of Chestnut and Wabash Streets. Narrowing as it rises, the shape could evoke a ship’s prow—or a geometer’s trapezoid. Its expansive façades allow generous exposures of natural light as it faces east to capture sunrise over the incredible natural backdrop of Lake Michigan and southwest towards the timeless Midwestern prairie. Adding to the building’s drama and welcome grace is its exterior of horizontal cladding of visible and opaque glass in synergy with the verticality of the building’s wedge and curve. Inside, the lobby continues this building’s dramatic modernity presenting a steely structural space that is airy, sleek, and soaring.
Mr. Viguier was selected to design Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile during a design competition in 1998 judged by Accor hotels leadership and others. Mr. Viguier is a member of the INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY OF ARCHITECTURE (IAA) and was president of AFEX (French Architects Overseas) from 1999 to 2002.
Mr. Viguier’s other internationally recognized projects include the France Televisions headquarters in Paris as well as the Cœur Défense in 2001 and the Tour Majunja in 2014 both in La Défense, France. The French architect built a two story expansion at the McNay Museum of Modern Art in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Viguier is also architect for the Maroc Telecom Tower in Rabat, Morocco in 2013, and, in 2015, the SFR Campus in Saint-Denis, France. Another highly regarded project is, in 2013, the Cancer University Institute in Toulouse, France.
The Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile is also listed at no. 82 in a public poll of 150 buildings of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” The poll was conducted by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Harris Interactive and in conjunction with the AIA’s 150th anniversary in 2007.
In 2005, Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile received the MIPIM AWARD at their international meeting of property market sector leaders gathering in Cannes, France.
The photograph was taken on June 14, 2014 at State and Chestnut Streets.
Helmut Jahn was famous in Chicago and around the world for his prolific postmodern architecture particularly his work in steel and glass.
Born in Germany near Nuremberg, in 1940, Jahn graduated from Technische Hochschule in Munich and moved to Chicago in 1966. Jahn arrived in Chicago just as “downtown development” during the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) was finding its greatest momentum. Jahn began to study under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and, in 1967, joined Charles (C.F.) Murphy Associates which later became Murphy/Jahn. The younger man would carry on the powerful influence and energy of these Chicago personalities for building big, creatively, and prolifically for the next fifty years into the first quarter of the 21st century. Jahn would add his own significant contribution and footprint in Chicago and around the nation and world in those same long years of his activity.
One of Jahn’s early projects in his first years in Chicago was McCormick Place. The original concrete and steel permanent exposition hall on the lakefront that opened in 1960 was destroyed in a fire in January 1967, just as Jahn was starting to work as a professional architect. Named for Col. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper owner and publisher had boosted the idea of a permanent exposition hall on Chicago’s lakefront for years prior to his death in 1955.
Jahn had come to Chicago at an exciting time to be building there — during Jahn’s first years in Chicago the John Hancock Building was completed in 1969 and the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world for the next 24 years, was completed in 1974. In 1971, C.F. Murphy completed the new and massive McCormick Place, a powerful steel and glass structure with enormous cantilever eaves, on the same lakefront site as the old exposition hall. Out of that single successful building project, Helmut Jahn and the rest of the world saw the significant development in Chicago that would blossom around this important and functional modern architecture over ensuing decades — including the North building constructed across Lake Shore Drive in 1986; the South building built in 1996; a hotel built in 1998; the massive West building built in 2007; and, in 2017, the Wintrust Arena.
In the mid 1980’s one of Jahn’s most significant creations was the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Aesthetically grandiose and controversial, the “State of Illinois Building” was put up for sale in 2021 by the administration of Governor J.B. Pritzker, citing its historically high operating and maintenance costs.
Mixed reviews for Helmut Jahn’s massive semi-circular Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph completed in 1985. The criticism begins at its entrance where Jahn saw placed “Outsider” French artist Jean Dubuffet’s fiberglass Monument with Standing Beast. During the building’s planning and construction some of the architect’s dazzling concepts met with resistance from contractors. For example, the contractors prevailed against Jahn’s idea for a completely locked-down outer skin by way of using silicone glazing. In the final construction the appearance of red, white, and blue locked-down skin belies the several places throughout the design where windows are made to be opened. Inside, though its soaring 17-story atrium is airy and impressive exposing floors that hold various state bureaucracy—and signaling the state government’s day-to-day practicality towards transparency —the practicality of the new building’s heating and cooling design proved seriously problematic during Chicago’s famous summer heat and winter cold though that major issue appeared to be eventually resolved. In 2021 Jahn’s mega-structure has been put up for sale by Gov. J.B. Pritzker citing that the building costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate and maintain.The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
In Chicago Jahn designed the exposed steel frame United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport between 1985 and 1988. Air travelers for decades have enjoyably traversed its entertaining walkway connecting concourses that include moving sidewalks, colorful lighting and futuristic sounds.
One South Wacker Drive, 1982, Helmut Jahn. To the left is UBS Tower (1 N. Wacker) built in 2001 and to the right is Hyatt Center ( 71 S. Wacker) built in 2005. At 42 years old, Jahn spoke of his building at 1 S. Wacker as a synthesis of two major Chicago architectural styles—that of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and, Jahn’s mentor and fellow German, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The building is a concrete stepped-back 50-story building with a curtain wall of dark glass defining the vertical bands of windows. Its vision remains fresh and stunning as it sits majestically between two postmodern buildings built in Chicago a generation later. The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
Jahn designed the 23-story addition to the Chicago Board of Trade in 1980 and Accenture Tower at 500 W. Madison in the West Loop which opened in 1987. Across the nation and world Helmut Jahn’s fresh, grand, and innovative designs have made their way into the annals of postmodern architecture. Any complete list of Helmut Jahn’s active and completed projects extends necessarily into the many scores. A list of notable buildings could include the 1999 K St. NW, a 12-story structure, in Washington D.C. completed in 2009; the twin 37-story Veers Towers in Las Vegas, Nevada opened in 2010; and, in his native Germany, the 63-story Messeturm in Frankfurt opened in 1990 and the Sony Center, a complex of eight buildings, in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin completed in 2000. The hard-driving list goes on…and on.
Jeanne and John Rowe Village at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), 2003, Helmut Jahn. Originally called the State Street Village Dormitories, Jahn’s postmodern structure that anchors the campus to the east, consists of three five-story buildings. Jahn’s design was the first major architectural addition to the IIT campus since the early 1960’s. U.S. News & World Report called it one of the “coolest dorms in the nation.” Stretching one city block along busy State Street from 33rd to 34th Streets, Rowe Village is next to the El tracks whose Green Line zips back and forth to Chicago’s Loop. Each dorm building consists of two wings that flank an interior courtyard. The building is finished at the rear on 34th street by an insulated five-story glass wall. Entry is through the courtyard which leads into a corridor that connects the two wings.It is built of reinforced concrete with the front elevations and roof dressed in custom corrugated stainless steel panels and tinted glass framed in aluminum. The building’s sleek curvature, three compartments and chained block-long length, reflects and evokes the image of a streamlined train making for a building as Art Moderne object in the Miesian tradition.From its rooftop the Rowe Village looks north for views of Chicago’s downtown skyline while the dorm offers suite-style living in a modern setting surrounded by the mind, serious and playful, of Helmut Jahn. The photograph was taken by the authoron August 21, 2015.
At the time of his death at 81 years old on May 8, 2021 in a bike road accident in the far western suburbs of Chicago, Helmut Jahn was working on a 74-story residential building in Chicago at 1000 S. Michigan. It was scheduled to be opened in 2022 but its construction was already delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed construction. Helmut Jahn taught at IIT, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 2012 Murphy/Jahn became JAHN and, according to a recent report from Dun & Bradstreet, the firm had a total of 55 employees and generated a little over $6 million in annual sales.
The Mentor Building, 39 S. State Street (6 E. Monroe Street), 1906, Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) from the southwest.
A Mentor building has stood on this northeast corner of State and Monroe since 1873 when there had been a 7-story building erected here.1
Howard Van Doren Shaw’s only skyscraper presents an unusual mixture of styles.
There are windows grouped in horizontal bands between a four-level base of large showroom windows. The top is classically inspired with details that are strong and idiosyncratic. The building retains the character of its classical sources though they are used as large-scale motifs.2
Shaw’s 1906 building is 17 stories high with two basements on rock caissons.3
The photograph was taken on July 5, 2015.
1 Frank A. Randall, History of Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by John D. Randall, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, p, 196.
2 Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 59.
FEATURED image: Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.
Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.
In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.
In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1
Napoleon on St. Helena, Franz Josef Sandmann (1805-1856), c. 1820. Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau.
The bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated in 2021.
The former French emperor died on May 5, 1821 on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean nearly halfway between the continents of Africa and South America. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo.
The British government selected St. Helena for the former French emperor’s place of exile after he escaped from Elba, the initial location of his forced exile.
St. Helena built on airport only in 2011.
Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years; a chunk of rock reachable only by sea. He died on St. Helena at Longwood House, Napoleon’s permanent residencethat was completed for him in December 1815.
Napoleon was 51 years old when he died and was buried on St. Helena. In 1840, in a controversial move, his remains were transferred to France. Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides in Paris was the military hospital whose construction was begun by Louis XIV (1638-1715).
Napoleon’s plaster death mask, known as the Malmaison mask, May 1821.
Longwood House on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.
In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased Longwood House and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on St. helena for the French government.
Though Napoleon’s remains were returned to France in 1840, Napoleon III’s purchase on St. Helena remains the property of France . It is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo: “Longwood House (c) St Helena Tourism” by sthelenatourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
A BAD ECONOMY, BLOCKADES, AND THE DISASTROUS INVASION OF RUSSIA BY NAPOLEON IN 1812
Three years earlier, during the War of 1812, world domination by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was done within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe.
France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t fully cooperate. With competing objectives—had he finally overextended his capacities?—Napoleon had to choose between potentially losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.
Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 following the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia had still been trading with England. It was this violation of the treaty that was the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.
Though fifteen hundred miles away, Russia’s autonomy from the French dictator—along with a temptation to dominate some of Russia’s vast territory for future ventures—beckoned Napoleon to shut it down and take firm control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.
FRENCH CONSCRIPTS FOR A NEW WAR AND THE NEED TO SUPPLY 700,000 SOLDIERS
To animate Napoleon’s newest military campaign, he needed fresh conscripts—but nearly a third of Napoleon’s French draftees failed to appear. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay home, in Paris, and enjoy his spoils. An ambitious and autocratic Napoleon refused. He explained that rest was not possible if he was to fulfill the dream to form a United States of Europe.2
Overcoming lay-abouts, Napoleon assembled a military host of nearly 700,000 men and faced the monumental task to supply it. For years Napoleon stockpiled materials along the route to Russia. He arranged for supplies to be delivered when in Russia. But Napoleon’s vision of universal dominion had been stretched to the breaking point—and the French Emperor – if not all those who served him – realized the risk.
Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812 for a high stakes gamble which involved not only the rise and fall of one man but the many inhabitants of the Empire.
Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), Campaign of France, 1814, 1864. Oil on wood, 51.5 x 76.5 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.
Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was the artist’s first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.
The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured. It also depicted a solitary, unusually unkempt, and tenuous figure of Napoleon who is leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.
For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of the Emperor’s grey coat. Its realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste during the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870.
From Paris to Vilna in Lithuania was a twelve hundred mile march. The object of Napoleon’s campaign was to defeat the Russian army. But the Russians had retreated. It was another 550-mile march to Moscow. French troops were suffering from distant and nonexistent supply lines. Conscripts and battle-hardened veterans alike were sick and exhausted.
In the Battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be battling for strongman Napoleon’s united liberal Europe over petty church and small state autocrats—set the town on fire. Yet Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him: he murdered without mercy and often donned the smock of treachery. Not only royalists criticized him but articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and Chateaubriand (1768-1848) who saw in the emperor an enemy of liberty.
Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links”).
Reactionary French historian and journalist Jacques Bainville (1879-1936) assessed Napoleon’s legacy in this way: “Sauf pour la gloire, sauf pour l’art, il eut mieux valu qu’il n’eut pas existé.” (“Except for the glory, except for the art, it would have been better if he did not exist.”)
With casualties for one battle climbing to around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of all Russian forces to coordinate efforts.
Portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov, 1829, George Dawe (1781–1829). Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace War Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976).
At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. The grand designs of modern internationalism and unification were long-held ancient and medieval dreams. They proved difficult to implement in geo-political reality and usually led to its own forms of disaster and oppression.
In the contest of geopolitical ideas, holing up in eternal Mother Russia provided its military advantages over an invading French force set upon international commonwealth by way of military and financial domination.
In an address to his troops before the Battle of Borodino in the War of 1812 General Kutuzov observed: “Napoleon is a torrent which as yet we are unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.”3
BATTLE OF BORODINO, SEPTEMBER 7, 1812, WAS A CONTEST OF 242,000 COMBATANTS AND MORE THAN 1,000 BIG GUNS
FAILURE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Napoleon was aware of the trap. The years-long planning for an invasion supply chain was no match for the conditions on the ground. The failures of the supply chain left the army and its dictator high and dry. Napoleon ordered the troops to keep marching, telling his generals: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4
The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march east. Kutuzov was preparing for battle. The Russian general set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were well matched: the French possessed 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians deployed 640 guns and 112,000 troops with the vast expanse of Mother Russia at their back.
Battle of Moscow (or Borodino), the Capture of the Great Redoubt. Engraving by unknown artist, 1820’s. State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
Battle of Moscow (or Battle of Borodino) in 1812. Attack of the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment, oil on canvas, 1912, Nikolay Semyonovich Samokish (1860-1944).State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
General Uvarov at Borodino, Auguste-Joseph Desarnod (1788-1840), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.
Napoleon near Borodino, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904), 1897, oil on canvas, State Historical Museum, Moscow.
The image of a sullen dictator seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.
Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe—whether united under Napoleon or giving space to a later attempt at a balance of powers– depended on these warriors. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French remained master of the field but the Russians retreated to fight another day. It was one more day of immense military slaughter—the combined French and Russians losses was 80,000 soldiers—a full third of the total.
Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812, 1822, Louis-François Lejeune (1775-1848).
In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.
During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.
When Lejeune’s battle-pictures were shown in London, they were met by eager crowds who viewed them for their realistic and detailed depictions of significant contemporary events.
In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up —retrieved May 5, 2021.)
The bodies of dead soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Armée left on the bridge over the River Kolocha after the Battle of Borodino, 1812. Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur (1780-1857), published 1830’s.
Gen. Kutuzov at the conference of Fili deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon, Aleksey Kivshenko (1851–1895), 1880, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.
The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.
When Napoleon and no more 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, there were no Russian troops to fight inside the city. Instead, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor, displaced, and underprivileged. Some sex workers stayed there to ply their trade in exchange for limited food. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, its Holy City—and French troops of liberation took to looting it. As the military forces of western Enlightenment watched Moscow burn for four days, the event in the war was a watershed for the Russian resolve to not surrender.
Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar for the wanton destruction in Moscow. The Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825), did not answer. He was concerned with Kutuzov’s army. Russia’s Czar, the commanding general, the troops and people were of one mind: to fight the Western invader to the last Russian man, woman, and child. Moscow’s demise was the turning point for the autocratic world that viewed Napoleon as an atheist and butcher at the head of an international army of mercenary thugs and savages. Only the wealthy in Russia were willing to negotiate with Napoleon mainly from fear that he might try to free their serfs. In this clash of civilizations, Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas his 43-year-old French counterpart’s active efforts to rally his men far from home on behalf of his Empire failed.
Posthumous Portrait of Czar Alexander I of Russia, 1826, George Dawe, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Napoleon’s interest now turned back to Paris. Having heard of an impending coup d’état led by Gen. Claude François de Malet (1754-1812), Napoleon had to raise more fresh troops to crush rebellions in Paris. There were rebellions to crush taking place in other lands of the Empire as they squirmed under his dictatorial rule and were emboldened by his latest inglorious defeat.
By late 1812, the weather in Russia turned to ice and snow. Whereas the Russians retreated prior to defeat, the French retreated in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among the retreating combatants is recorded. On Napoleon’s retreat, the French army lost another half of their men. Napoleon’s supply lines had long been sacked and looted by his anti-Empire enemies.
Famous tell-all graph by French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870) showing the size of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it marched towards Moscow (top gray line, left to right) in summer of 1812 and its retreat (bottom black line, from right to left) in the late fall of 1812. Frozen temperatures during the humiliating retreat are plotted on the bottom graph.
On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.
Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.
Portrait of Dominique-Jean Larrey, oil on canvas, 1804, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826), Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France.
Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.
Napoleon: Retreat, 1812. /Ncrossing The Beresina River In Russia During The Retreat Of The Grand Army Under Napoleon Bonaparte, December 1812; Baggage Carts And Ambulances Have Been Abandoned In The Foreground. Watercolor, c. 1812, attributed to General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze (1773-1827).
During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.
Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked the retreating remnants of Napoleon’s army at a critical bridge crossing in modern-day Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To stop the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. He stranded hundreds more of his company to the enemy’s gunfire.
Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, when Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador there, he told the French clergyman: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6
Napoleon had led almost 700,000 men into Russia with the intent of conquering the country. By the end of 1812, only about 30,000 had survived. Out of that number, less than 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty after their return to France. 7
NAPOLEON DEFEATED IN PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN
Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s blood-thirsty Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight in Spain and Portugal (since 1808) to keep the British off the Continent.
Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.
FORCED ABDICATION, EXILE, WATERLOO, AND DEATH
After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.
With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.
Chicago Harbor Lighthouse (1893), Chicago, Illinois, 2017.
Known as the “Chicago Light,” the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is an active automated lighthouse dating from 1893.
About one-half mile beyond Navy Pier, the lighthouse stands at the north of the main entrance of the Chicago Harbor in Lake Michigan. The lighthouse has had a significant role in the development of Chicago and the American Midwest and remains an active aid to nautical navigation today.
For more than a century, the U.S. Coast Guard has staffed this lighthouse at the breakwater outside the Chicago Harbor Lock. The lock separates Lake Michigan from the mouth of the Chicago River.
The lock was built in the mid-1930’s and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lock is one of the entrances into the Illinois Waterway system at the Great Lakes. The waterway system is a commercial and recreational shipping connection to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
The “Chicago Light” is at that waterway system’s headwaters as it stands in the outer harbor constructed in 1880. The Chicago Light’s conical tower dates from 1893. Twenty-five years later, in 1918, the tower was reconstructed and the base building which contains a fog-signal room and boathouse was added. The architects are not identified.
Through its breakwaters, the main entrance into Chicago Harbor is 580 feet wide. The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was designated a Chicago Landmark on April 9, 2003. It is the only surviving lighthouse in Chicago and one of two remaining examples in the state of Illinois.
Mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
About one mile ahead, the Chicago Harbor Lock, built in the 1930’s, provides the entrance/exit of the Illinois Waterway system at the Great Lakes. The waterway system is a commercial and recreational shipping connection from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.