While the throngs of people attending the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair drove nature-loving Hugh Taylor Birch to the South Florida wilderness, the Fair’s fine art exhibits inspired Frederic Clay Bartlett to forsake his family’s hardware business and become an artist. Frederic graduated from Munich’s prestigious Royal Academy in 1895 and returned to a prolific and prosperous career in the United States. He worked on mural projects in conjunction with great American architects such as Howard Van Doren Shaw and his easel work can today be found in the best museums including the Corcoran Gallery, the Carnegie Institute,and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Examples of his easel art are displayed in the Bonnet House studio and Frederic’s murals and faux painting can be found throughout the Main House.
In addition to creating art, Frederic was also an avid art collector. He and his wife Helen amassed a priceless collection of paintings, including Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Paul Gauguin’s Day of the Gods, and Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. Frederic and Helen purchased these works with the specific intention of giving them to the Art Institute of Chicago, and Frederic continued to add to the collection after Helen’s untimely death. Today, these paintings comprise the Art Institute’s Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
But despite his true genius in collecting, Frederic often commented that his greatest artistic discovery was the innate talent possessed by his third wife, Evelyn Fortune Bartlett. With little formal training but much encouragement from Frederic, Evelyn began painting in 1933. For five years, she painted prolifically, and her work was featured in well-received gallery exhibits in Boston, New York, and Indianapolis. Evelyn’s works are today displayed in Bonnet House’s Carl J. Weinhardt Gallery.