SAIC alum and teacher John Vanderpoel significantly influenced O’Keeffe and the field of figure drawing.
John Vanderpoel, an alum of the Chicago Academy of Design, which later became the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is perhaps best known as being an influential teacher at SAIC, teaching mainly figure drawing at the school from 1880–1910.
Vanderpoel, who was born in 1857 in the Netherlands, and emigrated to the US in 1869 with his father and siblings. He attended SAIC on a scholarship from Uranus H. Crosby of the famous Crosby Opera House. As a student, he studied with the artists Lawrence Earle and Henry Spread.
As a teacher Vanderpoel eschewed modernism, adhering to the Beaux-arts tradition and becoming one of the country’s foremost authorities on figure drawing. One of his most notable students, Georgia O’Keeffe (SAIC 1905–06, HON 1967), wrote in her autobiography that Vanderpoel was “one of the few real teachers I have known.” In 1907, he published the book The Human Figure, an art school staple for much of the 20th century.
As an artist, Vanderpoel exhibited paintings at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, painted a mural on the ceiling of DePaul University’s theater, and received a bronze medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
The Vanderpoel Memorial Art Museum was established in 1913, two years after Vanderpoel’s death, in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. It is located near the elementary school and street named in his honor, and has an extensive collection of his works, including drawings that were published in The Human Figure.