Custom Watercolor House Portraits of Historic Illinois

Illinois architecture captured in my hand-painted house portraits 

The “Prairie State” of Illinois runs from urban in the north to rural in the south, and this diversity extends to Illinois’ architecture. The most obvious examples of Illinois’ architectural variety can be found in the state’s largest city — Chicago. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, the city went on to influence the nation with its architectural innovation and originality.

The  heritage of Illinois found in their historic homes and buildings 

Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, achieved statehood in 1818. Its largest and most populous city, Chicago, became a booming metropolis due to its prime location on Lake Michigan and connection to eastern ports via the Erie Canal. In the second half of the 19th century, the need for workers in mills, rail yards and slaughterhouses made Chicago a popular destination for immigrants and freed slaves. The housing industry exploded. Victorian row houses and workers’ cottages were constructed en masse, while wealthy industrialists built Queen Anne, Italianate and Neoclassical mansions. The 1848 completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened up a route for settlers to enter other parts of Illinois and many towns prospered.

There is an abundance of historic landmark buildings and homes throughout Illinois, along with a massive wealth of custom house portrait subjects. One of the most famous is Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal home and studio on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. I captured this in pen and watercolor in my travel journal (seen above).

Some of the most famous landmarks include the following:

  • The Sears, Roebuck and Company complex (1906) was a city within a city on Chicago’s West Side.
  • The 14-story, brick and limestone Sears Merchandise Building Tower is one of its few surviving structures.
  • The Rock Island Arsenal, once used as a prison camp during the Civil War, is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the country.
  • The Nauvoo Historic District encompasses the most significant settlement of Mormons in the early 1800s. The district was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
  • The Abraham Lincoln Home in the capital of Springfield was the only home the16th President ever owned. The twelve room Greek Revival was built in 1839 and is open to visitors.

Pen sketch of oldest architectural structure in Illinois

The Old Cahokia Courthouse (circa 1740) was originally built as a residence for a French family. It is known for its French log construction — with vertical logs, and stone and mortar used to fill the spaces. Although it was dismantled and moved to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair, it was returned to its original foundation in 1939.

House portraits of classic Illinois architecture

Here are a few my hand painted house portraits showing some of the predominate architectural styles found in Illinois:

River Forest city Craftsman style home portrait which was built in 1924
This ia my Marlborough lakefront apartment building watercolor commissioned painting. Situatied in the heart of Chicago it was built in 1912 by architect Robert DeGolyer
Tudor cottage custom house portrait  in the city of Elmswood, IL
Contemporary hand crafted home portrait in the snow. The home can be found in the city of Inverness, IL

Frank-Lloyd Wright: the most iconic architect in Illinois.

I am always fascinated by the creators of these beautiful, historic treasures. Time and again, Frank Lloyd Wright is seen as the father of architecture when it comes to the great state of Illinois (although his impact is much broader than just the state of Illinois, of course). Here is interesting article about Frank Llyod Wright, his life, and philosophy. 

To quote Lloyd Wright:

Beautiful buildings are more than scientific. They are true organisms, spiritually conceived; works of art, using the best technology by inspiration rather than the idiosyncrasies of mere taste or any averaging by the committee mind.” Wright also made the statement that, “The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.” These lovely words are reflected in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic homes. Both the above quotes can be applied to architecture historically, as well as into present day. With Frank Lloyd Wright to serve as one of many inspiring catalysts (to myself and many other artists,) I capture the essence of houses as “true organisms” in my watercolor house portraits.

This custom house portrait is of a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Beverly neighborhood, Chicago, which was celebrating its 100th birthday.

Hand painted homes of Chicago

Chicago’s architecture is reflective of its history and multicultural heritage. The city features prominent buildings and homes in a wide variety of styles by renowned local architects. Most structures in the downtown area were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and the reconstruction of the city is known for its architectural originality.

Chicago is famous for its abundance of unique architectural styles, from Victorian two-flats and Chicago bungalows to the stately greystones in Chicago’s northside, soaring skyscrapers in Downtown Chicago and ornate religious edifices sprinkled throughout the city.

The charm of the Chicago Bungalow house portrait

Perhaps the most popular house style in Chicago is the Chicago Bungalow.  During the early 20th century, popularity of the Californian Bungalow spread to cities like Chicago. The style was adapted for Chicago’s climate, narrow lot size and the residents’ desire for homes made of brick. More than 80,000 still stand today, representing nearly one-third of the city’s single-family housing.

Here are some of my Chicago Bungalow house portraits:

Chicago Bungalow pen and watercolor painting in Beverly neighborhood, built in 1915
Chicago Bungalow watercolor painting in Edison Park neighborhood.
Custom house portrait of Chicago Bungalow in Old Norwood Park neighborhood

I hope you have enjoyed this short introduction to architecture in Illinois and its architectural showpiece of Chicago.

Ciao for now,


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