Presents another find from the
Volume 1641
Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion

circa 1895
J. Allen St. John lived the majority of his creative life at 3 E. Ontario, Chicago, IL in a building named Tree Studio. Tree Studio was built especially for artists by Judge Lambert Tree, with the intention that every unit would provide the proper light by which the painter could work.

 J. Allen St. John resided and worked in the large street level apartment/studio which was comprised of two floors. It was only one of four such spaciously-designed units. The rest of the spaces were mainly small studios, all with skylights. When he died there in 1957, his widow continued to live at that location until she left for a nursing home in the late 1970s.

It is at this point that my friend Jim Romano came to move into the sacred J. Allen St. John studio, where he remained until Tree Studios was redeveloped around 2000. There were only two tenants ever in the St. John studio - Mr. St. John and Jim (two Dum-Dum meetings were held in this studio in the '90s which I was fortunate to attend).  Being himself a commercial artist, he became acquainted with Mrs. St. John since he was her neighbor for years in the same complex. Upon moving in he purchased from her many items that were still left in the studio. 

One such item was a painting that had hung above the fireplace for decades. I've never heard anyone in the ERB community speak of it or even acknowledge its existence. Not even J. Allen St. John scholars. Yet here it is. A magnificent self-portrait of J. Allen St. John in oil on canvas measuring 25" x 30" housed in a wonderful frame. 

On the back of the frame is a paper note stating it was exhibited in the Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors Exhibition. It mentions the artist: J. Allen St. John, address: 3 East Ontario Street, and title: Self Portrait, with nothing listed for price. To the right of it in the wood frame is a somewhat crudely carved "J. Allen St. John".

Now comes the inexplicable part of it. There is absolutely no doubt it is a young Mr. St. John, yet the painting is signed what I believe to read M. NICHOLS. According to Jim, Mrs. St. John told him that it was painted by her husband. It is dated 1895 under the name lower right, a time when he was acknowledged to have been a student at the Art Students League of New York. 

This fits in perfectly when you look at the accompanying photo of J. Allen St. John in which he is apparently standing with his colleagues at the studio. He looks to be wearing the same smock and palette as in the painting. 

To see this painting in person, there is no doubt that it was painted by a very, very accomplished artist. Yet there does not appear to be any record of an artist named Nichols around that time. Anyone that good most likely would have gone on to make a name for themselves or become listed. That leads us to believe that this portrait actually was done by St. John, and for whatever reasons signed it Nichols. Keep in mind that the label on the back states unequivocally that there exists a painting titled SELF-PORTRAIT by J. Allen St. John.

At this time Jim has regrettably decided it is time to part with the work of art and he wishes to sell it. Please, serious inquiries only on buying, but I welcome any ideas or comments on this. I can be reached at romtre@aol.com.
Barry Birnbaum


J. Allen St. John Self-Portrait ~ 1895

The label on the back of the frame of St. John's self-portrait

 J. Allen St. John at the Art Students League of New York circa 1895
He is in 1st row standing, 3rd from the right.

J. Allen St. John Features in ERBzine
ERBzine 0602: St. John Biography and Colour Art Gallery I
ERBzine 0682: Guide to St. John Features in ERBzine
ERBzine 0683: St. John Gallery II ~ Line Art
ERBzine 1642: St. John Gallery III
The J. Allen St. John Self Portrait

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