Educated at leading national art institutes, John Bernard Alberts, Jr. found both critical acclaim and personal satisfaction in the city of his birth—and tragic early death. Born in Louisville, Kentucky to the owner of a glass shop, Alberts’ first artistic endeavors centered on designing stained glass windows. In 1906, he began three years of study with Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Academy, forming a close friendship with the elder artist. From 1909 to 1913, Alberts was enrolled at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where his painting instructors included the important American impressionists Frank Weston Benson and Edmund Charles Tarbell. At the conclusion of these formal studies, Alberts went to Paris, where he joined in several French ateliers before eventually returning to his hometown.
In Louisville, Alberts was a member of the rich St. James Court Circle of writers and artists, including Paul Plaschke, with whom he shared a studio. Between 1915 and 1917, Alberts thrived in this environment, becoming the most noted artist in the region, widely regarded for his stained glass work, allegorical paintings and illustrations, and hauntingly insightful portraiture. When America entered World War I, Alberts enlisted, hoping to secure an assignment as a camouflage artist. While training at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville in 1918, he was vaccinated against the Spanish influenza with an experimental formula. The serum, it is now known, provoked Guillain-Barre Syndrome leading to multiple sclerosis. Within six months, Alberts was completely bedridden, cared for by his brother and fellow artist Bruno for the next thirteen years.
Sonia Kaufman Uri (1892-1975) was living at 1216 Third Street in old Louisville, near St. James Court, at the time Alberts painted her portrait. The wife of liquor distributor Walter Uri, she is posed as a Jazz Age coquette, her sidelong glance in demure contrast to her off-the-shoulder gown. The portrait was included in an October 1931 exhibition held just one month after Alberts’ death at Louisville’s Speed Museum. Extant works by Alberts are rare, but examples can be found in the collections of the Greenville County (SC) Museum of Art and the Filson Historical Society.