Robert Allerton’s love of art and music was fostered from an early age by his stepmother, Agnes. As a young man, Robert attended classes at the Chicago Art Institute, studying figure drawing and portraiture. Inspired in-part by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Robert decided to pursue a career as an artist. He studied painting, drawing, and sculpture at Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts and academies in Paris for five years. In 1897, when he was 24, Robert dramatically burned all his paintings and returned to the U.S. as a self-proclaimed failed artist to manage the family’s agricultural holdings.
With the help of John Gregg, his protégé and, later, adopted son, Robert spent the next three decades shaping the Illinois farmland, creating ever-evolving landscapes that captured the natural beauty of the woodland and prairie, and formal gardens which served as an outdoor gallery for the sculptures they collected during their travels around the world. Robert’s visitors often included his friends from Chicago – composers, painters, sculptors, and journalists, who used the estate for inspiration and a space for creation.
Throughout his life, Robert never ceased to study and acquire art and became an honorary president and trustee of the Art Institute (the main building there bears his name). During his lifetime, Allerton donated over 6,600 pieces to the museum, making him one of the most dedicated patron-benefactors in its history. Of the original sculptures and artifacts acquired during his travels and donated to the Art Institute of Chicago, prototypes and replicas of many of his favorites found their way to the gardens at Allerton Park.
Find more information on specific pieces of art at Allerton here.