Artist from Mexico was once near the top of the art scene

Artist from Mexico was once near the top of the art scene
A 1903 photograph of George Oscar Baker behind a canvas.
Dave Faries

George Oscar Baker may have been born in Mexico. Several sources give the city as his place of birth in January of 1882. One, however, places the occasion in Strother.

The uncertainty is unusual given Baker’s moment of prominence in the art world.

His work hung in Parisian galleries, New York’s National Academy of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago and other august studios.

“In a letter to my grandmother, the former curator of the Cincinnati Museum of Fine Art said that George Baker was considered one of the 25 leading artists in America during that period,” said Chip Osborn, Baker’s grand nephew, in a letter to the Mexico Audrain Public Library.

That period is roughly 1910 through 1913. In that short span, Baker’s work appeared at Le Salon des Artistes Francais, the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and was also accepted by the Paris Salon, The Royal Academy and other fine galleries.

According to one story, Baker submitted two pieces to the 1911 Paris Exhibition. But when he perused the selection with his wife, Baker could not locate either painting.

Assuming his work had been turned down, he determined to leave the exhibit. His wife, however, told him they might as well find out which painting won.

A letter obtained by Osborn reveals that in the next room was “September Morn” by Paul Emile Chabas, the top rated piece. On either side were the works submitted by Baker.

Most sources observe that the controversial “September Morn” was first displayed at the 1912 Paris Salon, where it indeed won a gold medal. Again, some mystery shrouds the Baker story.

It is known that Baker attended the Kansas City Art Institute in 1900. He studied under Jean Paul Lorenz and Richard Emile Miller in Paris after that. And, of course, that his work was seen by hundreds or thousands of aficionados.

An outline of his career by Wendy Greenhouse written for the M. Christine Schwartz Collection notes that “the few extant examples of his [Baker’s] painting demonstrate the strong influence of Miller as well as Baker’s gifts for fashionable portraiture and genre painting.”

The M. Christine Schwartz Collection owned Baker’s 1912 “The Chinese Coat,” which features a woman reading, fanning herself while dressing in a colorful garment. Earlier this year Schwartz donated the piece to Lake Forest College.

Baker’s family lived on South Jefferson Street. It is likely he spent some of his youth in Mexico as a younger sister was born in the city.

By 1918 he was a commercial artist and illustrator living in Chicago. He worked with several advertising firms in the city in the role of art director before moving to New York.

By the end of his career he operated a business distributing the advertising work of freelance illustrators.

Baker fell in and died in 1948 at the age of 66 leaving, as Greenhouse noted “scant trace of his brief career as a fine artist.”


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