Gertrude Abercrombie

Known as “Queen Gertrude,” Abercrombie was an eccentric force in the Chicago art scene. Her imaginative, Surreal paintings were exhibited throughout the 1940s and 1950s, making a significant impact on fellow artists and generations to follow. Abercrombie was the only child of opera singers who nurtured her creativity. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Abercrombie enrolled in the School of the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art. While working as a commercial artist, she met and befriended a number of contemporary artists who would help her to realize her ambitions of becoming a serious painter. By the early 1930s she was exhibiting her work at Chicago galleries and exhibitions and in 1934 worked for the WPA. At this point, she began to develop her own distinct, Surrealist style.

Abercrombie employed an arsenal of symbols and objects in her paintings: trees, horses, simple houses, stairways, doors, eggs, shells, owls, cats, and moons appear regularly. In The Red Rook Abercrombie painted the door from her Victorian townhouse. At the base of the stairs an old-fashioned telephone crawls out of the water like a snake. A mysterious red rook floats in the water – either a personal talisman for the artist or simply a game piece taken from her home. Rising from the deep blue waters is a lone, anthropomorphic tree that appears to plead with the grey moonlit sky.