[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]
STANHOPE, Leon Eugene [1873–1956]
“Study of Three Lions”
oil on wood panel / 8 inches x 12 inches
Chicago’s Clark Street, between Division and North Avenue, was once the home of used book shops and galleries of little repute—places where treasure lurked amid trash. Urban renewal of the 1960s had labeled the neighborhood a “blight” and dutifully cleared its tawdry clutter for “Carl Sandburg Village.” Considering Sandburg’s “city of the big shoulders,” he might have preferred the former to its sanitized replacement. There, about 1962 as bulldozers approached from the southwest, this painting by Chicago artist Leon Stanhope became the property of aspiring journalist Howard A. Tabor. Only later would Tabor understand this painting as a link with his family’s past.
Leon Stanhope painted three lions dozing in their cage at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo in 1899, but he was an amateur artist, not a professional. Stanhope’s day job as Assistant Commissioner of Building for the city of Chicago positioned him just four years later to explain the Iroquois Theatre Fire of 30 December 1903. More than six hundred lost their lives in the matinee that afternoon, a disaster matched only by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. Stanhope took the brunt of public outrage, left office and returned to private architectural practice—perhaps not the most logical path for someone with such a newfound reputation. Like fellow Chicagoan S.S. Beeman, he designed a number of Christian Science churches.
It is ironic that fifty years before he acquired the painting, Tabor’s great-uncle Anson Tennant had interviewed for a position with Stanhope.