Overpainting is evident in the lower left corner of the painting where the signature and inscription are, as well as in other areas. Pettit painted a view of the fair in advance of its opening that was inscribed as approved in September 1932; that view was reproduced as a jigsaw puzzle by Rand McNally (see it on our web site). Later, a version was issued as a postcard with the same approval date as this painting, April 18, 1934. In the painting shown here, artifacts of earlier inscriptions such as “September,” “1932,” “Chicago” and “Evanston” are visible beneath a layer of blue paint. We believe that Pettit produced this painting in 1932, and after the fair’s successful run in 1933, when it had been renewed for an additional year, he revised it to reflect changes to the fair’s layout after it was actually built and that this corrected version became the basis for 1934 reproductions. As such, it is a significant document of the fairgrounds, which were disassembled after the fair closed. This painting was reproduced in the 2014 book Saving a Century of Progress about five buildings from the fair that have been preserved (more about the book here).
Harry McEwen (H.M.) Pettit was an American architectural painter and illustrator who enjoyed a long career from the 1890s to the 1930s. Born in Rock Island, Illinois, he worked as an artist for his hometown newspaper before moving to New York City at age 23, where he worked in interior decoration. Nicknamed “the bird’s-eye view artist” he frequently produced prospective views and conceptual renderings for proposed architectural designs, both as illustrations and as larger commissioned works, such as a 15-foot mural for the Duquesne Works steel mill in Pittsburgh (c. 1920) and a 27-foot mural, The Gary Works and City of Gary, Indiana, for which he won a medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Other clients included Standard Oil, Deere & Co., the Pennsylvania and Grand Central train stations in New York, West Point Military Academy, and universities including Northwestern, Loyola, Columbia, NYU, CUNY and George Washington University. By 1915, Pettit had moved to Chicago and was the official artist for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34, and the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40, though he died without completing his painting of the latter event.
Inscription: “Approved as of April 18, 1934 A Century of Progress By Rufus C. Dawes President © H.M. Pettit.”
Condition: Generally good with the usual overall toning and wear. Margins lightly yellowed. Later backed on linen.
“A Century of Progress 1933.” Chicago Historical Society. 8 October 1996. http://www.chicagohs.org/FIRE/commemorate/pic0551.html (16 March 2006).
“A Century of Progress Exposition.” The University of Chicago Library Digital Activities & Collections. 2004. http://century.lib.uchicago.edu/about.html (16 March 2006).
“A Century of Progress Records: An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago.” University of Illinois at Chicago University Library. http://www.uic.edu/depts/lib/specialcoll/services/rjd/findingaids/COP10f.html (19 April 2012).
“Century of Progress Records, 1928-1934.” Chicago Public Library Special Collections and Preservation Division. http://www.chipublib.org/008subject/012special/cop.html (16 March 2006).
Templeton, David. “Duquesne Works mural was a treasure in the trash.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 1 December 2004. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04336/419587.stm (16 March 2006).
Walsh, David. “Pennsylvania steel works mural restored: rescuing history from the dustbin.” World Socialist Web Site. 18 December 2004. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/dec2004/duqu-d18.shtml (16 March 2006).