O'Brien Galleries records, 1811-1970

O'Brien Galleries (Chicago, Ill.)

Collection size: 3 microfilm reels.

Collection Summary: Correspondence, business records, notes and writings, printed material, and photographs chart the gallery's history. REELS 4180-4181: Correspondence from artists, patrons, and others (1811-1952) includes 8 letters from Winslow Homer (1898-1902). Business records include financial and legal documents (1857-1941), name lists and lists of paintings sold, painting and print registers (1898-1954), and minutes from corporation meetings (1901-1941). Howard O'Brien's writings include poems (1909-1944), some illustrated with photographs; a script "Cherchez La Femme"; and a typescript "The Long Trail". Printed material includes advertisements, clippings (1900-1970), exhibition catalogs (1921-1924), a sale catalog, and a booklet (1927) on landscape painters of America. An album contains photographs of portraits painted by Louis Betts, an artist promoted by O'Brien. Other photographs (1885-1936) show O'Brien family members, Winslow Homer, and one of Irene Dunne (an autographed publicity shot). REEL 4193: A scrapbook contains exhibition announcements, clippings, and brochures from Chicago (1873-1941) and Arizona (1953-1958).

Biographical/Historical Note: Art gallery; Chicago, Ill. and Scottsdale, Az. Chicago's first art gallery and one of the oldest family owned and operated gallery in the United States. It opened in 1855 as a frame shop, offering a variety of services to both artists and collectors. It was called by several names, including O'Brien's Art Emporium, O'Brien Art Galleries, O'Brien Galleries, House of O'Brien, and M. O'Brien & Sons. The gallery remained in Chicago until 1941, closed during the war, and resumed operation in Scottsdale, Arizona in the 1950s. Three generations of O'Briens (Martin, William, and William Jr.) ran the gallery before it moved to Arizona; all were committed to bringing culture and the visual arts to Chicago. O'Brien's Art Emporium was a vital factor in shaping art collections and attitudes in the city; it supported and sold work by conservative, academic painters, developing and reflecting the taste of the majority of Chicagoans.

Lent for microfilming 1986 by the current owners of the gallery, Stephanie Roberts and her husband, Bill Dickerson.

How to Use this Collection

  • Microfilm reels 4180-4181, and 4193 available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.
  • The Archives of American art does not own the original papers. Use is limited to the microfilm copy.
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