Leon Makielski (American, 1885-1974)
Born May 17, 1885, in Morris Run, Pennsylvania, Leon Makielski took to art at a very young age. When he was still in his early teens, he left his family’s home in South Bend, Indiana, and headed to Illinois. There he attended The Art Institute of Chicago, advancing so quickly that at the young age of 23 he became an instructor there. He was also awarded the John Quincy Adams Traveling Scholarship, the Institute’s top prize.
The young artist was interested in learning more about European Impressionism, so after graduating from The Art Institute, he traveled to Paris, where he spent four years studying at the Académie Julian and Académie de la Grande Chaumière. From 1909-1913, he was based in the artists’ colony at Giverny, studying, painting in the parks, and traveling to many other European countries, including England, Italy, Germany, and Poland. While he traveled, he painted, capturing many of the beautiful landscapes throughout Europe. Makielski is included in a book by art historian William H. Gerdts called “Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony” as an artist who contributed to the arts scene at the time Monet was painting there.
Makielski’s immense talent did not go unnoticed in France, and in 1910 and 1911, he exhibited paintings at Paris’ famed Salons. In 1912, Leon booked passage on the Titanic, but decided at the last minute to stay in France, a decision that saved his life, but not two of his paintings, which he had sent on the ship to be brought to America. His extensive exhibits beyond those at the Salons of Paris included: Detroit Institute of Art 1917, 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1925 at all of which he garnered prizes; Michigan State Fair, 1925 (prize); Scarab Club, 1929 (prize) and the Art Institute of Chicago, 1908 (prize).
Leon returned to America in 1913, and in 1915, settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here he continued his career as a successful artist, painting portraits and landscapes, and teaching fine art at the University of Michigan and at the Meinsinger Art School in Detroit. He painted around 50 portraits of fellow professors at the University of Michigan (which still hang at the school), local business leaders and government figures, as well members his own family.
Leon married Anna Schmidt on July 13, 1921, and they went on to have five children. Leon’s home featured a large studio, where he spent countless hours creating some of the over 3,000 works his portfolio would contain over his lifetime. His work earned him many awards, as well as honors from the Detroit Art Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the St. Louis Museum of Art. He was active in the Southeast Michigan and national art scenes, as a member of the Scarab Club in Detroit, and the American Federation of Artists. Makielski’s paintings are in the collection of the Detroit Historical Museum, the Eagle Nest Colony Art Collection, The Scarab Club, The University of Michigan Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery