Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 188 –  Hardesty G. Maratta and Frank C. Peyraud in Peoria, Illinois

Part 188: Hardesty G. Maratta and Frank C. Peyraud in Peoria, Illinois

After the failure to complete the Spectatorium for the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, Hardesty G. Maratta was released from his contract with Steele MacKaye. He traveled with Frank C. Peyraud (1858-1948) to Peoria, Illinois, where they completed two public painting projects and several private commissions. They were contracted to paint murals and decorate the interiors of both the pubic library and City Hall. One of the library murals was titled “View from Prospect Heights.” The 20-foot by 11-foot mural painted for Peoria’s library presently is stored in the vault of the Lakeview Museum.

Mural by Hardesty G. Maratta and Frank C. Peyraud, celebrating the founding of the town in 1831.

The landscape depicts a meandering river and Peoria Lake with marshlands and a few islands. The composition shows the landscape before the construction of levees, a lock, and a dam in 1939. One of the Peoria City Hall murals was titled “Peoria, August 29, 1831” to commemorate the founding of the town. They also created fine art works for the library, some that still hang in the current boardroom. Here is a link to two paintings: http://old.library.eiu.edu/artarch/displayall.asp?LibraryID=749

Frank C. Peyraud. Painting by Antonin Sterba, Brauer Museum of Art, gift of Percy H. Sloan.

Peoria newspapers hailed Peyraud as “Illinois’ foremost landscape painter” who had produced artworks for the Union League Club, the Flanagan House, and the Peoria Women’s Club. Unlike Maratta, Peyraud stayed in Peoria for three years and offered art lessons for young aspiring artists. He stayed until his wife (also a fellow immigrant from Switzerland) passed away in 1899. Peyraud he found love again in 1906 with fellow artist Elizabeth Krysher. Kyysher was a children’s portrait painter and illustrator. Early on in their marriage, the couple traveled from California to the East Coast. In Old Lyme, Connecticut, they even stayed with a colony of impressionist landscape painters. The couple eventually settled in north-suburban Ravinia, Illinois (a section of Highland Park) in 1919. In 1921, Peyraud traveled back to Switzerland for three years.

I have previously touched on Maratta’s partnership with Peyraud in Peoria in the February 2, 2017 www.dry pigment.net post. In light of Maratta’s and Peyraud’s scenic art connection with Thomas G. Moses’ it is worth recapping a little information about this fascinating Swiss immigrant. Peyraud was a notable Impressionist landscape artist who would also work as a scenic artist with Thomas G. Moses during the 1890s.

François “Frank” Charles Peynaud was born in Bulle, Switzerland and received some early artistic training at the l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He traveled to the United States in 1881 and soon decided to stay, settling in the Chicago area. He would remain in this region for the majority of his life. Peyraud first applied for work as a draftsman at the architectural firm of William Le Baron Jenney. Historians have suggested that he did not receive any work due to his poor English. However, he started working as both a scenic artist, on cycloramas and panoramas. Very little is known of his early years in Chicago, but in 1891, Peyraud touched up Paul Philippoteaux’s panoramic painting depicting the Battle of Gettysburg.

It was Peyraud, Maratta, A. J. Rupert, Harry Vincent, Thomas G. Moses, and a number of others artists painted who William Hawoth’s “Flag of Truce” in 1892. By the way, the original script is still available at the University of Chicago (in the Charles Morton Agency Collection of American Popular Drama 1842-1950, Box 35, folder 2). Peyraud worked with Moses in the theatre during 1892 and 1893.

By the mid-1890s Peyraud was noted for his impressionist style, often depicting dramatic skies at dawn, sunset, or moonlight.

Yellow Moon Over Setting Sea, Frank C. Peyraud. Currently held in the Peoria Historical Society Painting Collection.

His fine art was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design (NY), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Pan-Pacific Exposition (San Francisco) and many other exhibits too numerous to mention. His paintings remain in a variety of collections worldwide, including the Art Institute and Union League Club of Chicago, the Municipal Collection of Phoenix and the Art Museum of Bulle, Switzerland. In 1935 the conservative Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors awarded Peyraud a gold medal and he was widely regarded as the dean of Chicago landscape painters.

Frank C. Payraud, Autumn on Desplaines, 1925. Richard Norton Gallery.

Peyraud won the Young Fortnightly Prize for the best painting in the Chicago Art Institute’s 1899 annual show. It was the first of many awards he would receive over the course of his career. Other awards included a Municipal Art League p prize in 1912 and the Art Institute’s Martin B. Cahn Prize in 1921. In 1948, Peyraud exhibited for a final time at the Chicago Galleries Association. He died later that year, on the eve of his ninetieth birthday.

Frank C. Peyraud, In the Shade, Worlds Fair 1933. Richard Norton Gallery.

It is Moses’ mention of Peyraud, Maratta and other notable artists that causes me to ponder the significance of Moses writings, scenery, and fine art. His typed manuscript, handwritten diaries and scrapbook are much more significant than the interesting details that provide a glimpse into theatre history. Moses provides eyewitness accounts and context for his contemporaries in an ever-shifting art world.

These artists from a variety of backgrounds worked, traveled, dreamed, and planned together. They were working towards a much bigger picture in the world of arts and sciences. One gets a sense of their personalities, the industries that they worked for, and how fluid their talents were during this golden age of scenic art. Their friendships, social exchanges, moral support, and partnerships went far beyond the realms of mere work or artistic study for the stage. They played and brainstormed together about future possibilities for not only themselves, but also later generations.

To look at Moses’ creation of the Fort Scott scenery collection as simply a small moment in Masonic or theatre history is shortsighted! It was the culmination of decades of training after interacting with international visionaries. He was part of a patchwork quilt that transcended our own country’s borders.

To be continued…

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