Chicago Artist Eugene A. Montgomery Still Life: Flowers in Vase with Ceramic Cat Still life from 1938: According to the date of a news clipping about the artist affixed to the back.
Noted: Oprah Winfrey has a painting by Eugene A. Montgomery on the walls of her Santa Barbara home, acquired from the Richard Norton Gallery in Chicago. Oil on canvas.
Framed 19.5″ x 22″. canvas 15.5″ x 18″
Eugene Montgomery, a painter and illustrator, was born in Texas in 1905 and died in Aurora, Illinois on December 16, 2001 of complications from a broken hip.
Montgomery moved to Chicago in the 1920s to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He began his career in advertising and his first commercial work, a sketch of his daughter, was bought by the Carnation Milk Co. and used on their magazine advertisements.
Montgomery continued to do commercial illustration for many years, and worked in many genres, but gained most of his recognition as a portrait painter and a muralist. Montgomery was a prolific portrait painter and often used his family as models. He was hired to paint numerous corporation chairpersons and executives, or those being recognized by companies, such as G.E. vacuum tube pioneer Saul Dushman. He was commissioned by Sears Roebuck to paint a series of portraits of its founders and officers, and many of his portraits still are displayed in the Sears Tower in Chicago. Montgomery painted similar portraits for companies such as Allstate and Motorola, and for heads of hospitals and universities. Montgomery’s most famous and most widely-viewed portrait is probably that which he was commissioned to do of University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne in the 1930s. The portrait remains in the University collection in South Bend, Indiana. Montgomery also painted anonymous portraits, such as Woman with Mandolin, which hangs prominently in the guest house of Oprah Winfrey.
Besides portraits, Montgomery gained national recognition for his large murals. Sears hired him to paint murals for many of its stores around the country, typically showing scenes from local history. His first such mural was for a store in Houston in 1939. His last known mural, for Allstate Insurance in Chicago in the 1950s, depicted the history of the automobile age. The unveiling of Montgomery’s 70′ mural of Mecklenburg County at the grand opening of the new Sears store in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1949, one of a series of 12 commissioned by Sears, was a major event, and when the store was eventually torn down, the mural was relocated to South Mecklenburg High School in 1970. It was restored by Edwin Gil. in 2005, and may still be seen today. After Gil’s restoration the mural reportedly was appraised at one million dollars.
In 1942, Montgomery was featured in the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition of prize-winning Chicago-area artists.
Montgomery painted until he was 85, working out of his home studio in Evanston, Illinois, and some of his work is also on display at the Covenant United Methodist Church in Evanston.
Obituary: Eugene Montgomery, 96
Artist known for portraits, murals
Though an irregular heart beat thwarted his high school interest in playing football, he was determined to realize his ambition of being a painter when he left Texas in the early 1920s to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. There he found the other passion of his life: a petite brunette named Claudia, who became his wife of 70 years.
His initial job in advertising paid him $15 per week at the height of the Depression. The first piece of artwork he sold was a nine-minute sketch of his daughter, which the Carnation milk company purchased for $250 to run as an advertisement in Life Magazine.He was known for his work in portraiture and painted portraits of football hero Knute Rockne and various corporate executives in Chicago.”He worked extremely well and was very patient with children,” said Judy Collingwood, a family friend whose daughter posed for Mr. Montgomery. “He had them watch TV. He liked to paint a very natural expression.. They would forget that he was actually painting them, so you got how they really looked, not some fake expression.”Mr. Montgomery also painted murals–some measuring more than 100 feet–hat hung in Sears stores nationwide. His mural on the history of the automobile once hung in the offices of Allstate Insurance Co.Working out of a studio in his home, he often painted members of his family.”It was just such a natural ability that he couldn’t even imagine doing anything else. This was something that he had done all his life, and he continued painting until he was 85”, said his daughter Carolyn Fitzpatrick, calling her father “charming, with a great sense of humor and an artist’s temper.”
Mr. Montgomery was devoutly religious and a longtime member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Evanston, where his work is displayed. An outwardly stern man, he was a warm and caring friend once people got to know him.
“He was appreciative of what he had been given in life and what he was able to give back to others,” said Maryann Strain, a friend from church. “I just consider him a very generous person.”
Survivors also include daughters Sharon Montgomery and Patricia Fitzgerald; a son, C. Jerrod; 11 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Services will be private.
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