EDWARD ARMITAGE (1817–1896)
In Memory of the Great Fire at Chicago (Cartoon for the Mural Lunette in the Chicago City Hall), 1872
Charcoal on paper, 41 1/4 x 54 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): E. Armitage 1872; (in the spandrel at upper left): RESURGE; (in the spandrel at upper right): CHICAGO; (at bottom): I WAS THIRSTY AND YE GAVE ME DRINK . . . NAKED AND YE CLOTHED ME
RECORDED: cf. Selected Pictures and Drawings of Edward Armitage R.A. (1898), pl. XLII
EXHIBITED: Royal Academy, London, 1872, no. 1323
EX COLL.: by descent in the family of the artist until 1994
On October 8, 1871, one of the greatest fires of modern times broke out in Chicago. Engulfing the entire city within hours, it left over 90,000 people homeless and destroyed thousands of buildings, causing many people to flee into the water to escape the flames. Among the property destroyed were the proudest cultural and civic institutions of the city. While the financial center was rebuilt within a year and trade was greater in 1872 than it had been in 1870, it took over a decade for the city’s cultural resources to recover from the disaster. Many of the city’s best artists did not even return to Chicago for several years. Foreign aid poured in from around the world, with half coming from England alone. It is not surprising therefore, that in 1872 it was an English artist that should have designed the mural for City Hall commemorating the Great Fire. In his work, entitled In Memory of the Great Fire at Chicago, Edward Armitage captures in both form and text the sympathetic and supportive attitude of the people of Great Britain in the wake of this disaster.