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Alvin L. Gittins

Alvin Gittins was born in Kidderminster, Worcester, England in 1922. As chair of the art department at the University of Utah and as an artist-in-residence, he distinguished himself as an educator and portraitist. He died in Salt Lake City in 1981.

Gittins came to the United States as an exchange student in 1946. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University in 1947 and was appointed to the University of Utah art department faculty that same year. He was chair of the University of Utah Art Department from 1956 until 1962 with a special appointment as artist-in-residence.

Alvin Gittins' work includes portraits of 89 administrators, professors, and benefactors of the University of Utah. His portraits hang in almost every campus building. He exhibited his work at the Royal Society of British Artists and Royal Society of Portrait Painters in London, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, and Stanford University.

Biography adapted from Springville Museum of Art.

Alvin Gittins was a portraitist and teacher. Gittins was born in Kidderminster, Worcester, England, and came to the United States as an exchange student in 1946. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University in 1947 and was appointed to the University of Utah Art Department faculty in that same year. He served as Head of the university's art department from 1956 to 1962.

When he came to the University of Utah, Gittins brought with him a powerful concept of Academic Realism to replace the still lingering effects of French Impressionism, already decades in the past. He chose academic methods to express simple truths about humans by way of the human face. He admonished students to “go beyond pretty rendering“ in their search for something authentic. As time progressed, he experienced firsthand the changing face of art. Gittins found himself in a field which sought to challenge the establishment and abandon tradition. Rather than join the effort, Gittins clung to his personal style of realism.

Gittins taught his students that the drawn portrait was more than a tool, that it was a work of art in itself. His portraits epitomize this approach. Although tightly conceived and rendered, they “glorify, document, speculate, and even validate“ the sitters. Gittins himself said “Painting is not to imitate, but to explicate.“ With his work Gittins documented the lifestyle of his subjects, speculated on their true natures, glorified the fine detail of their figures, and validated himself as one of Utah's finest painters. His background settings, exuberant color, and attention to line and detail have led Gittins to be regarded as one of the most skilled portraitists not only in the state, but in the nation.

Gittins' subjects were always depicted with convincing realism and always in a setting he deemed appropriate to define their character. Wanting to understand himself, Gittins used his art as a way to achieve this self-conscious. Although traditional realism in art was abandoned by the majority of artists of his day, the human figure provided Gittins the motif with which he could fuse traditional technique and contemporary awareness of formal values. During his career he experimented with pastels, oils, watercolors, charcoals, and even pencil. When he died in 1981, he left in his wake a legacy of Utah artists such as Don Doxey, Susan Fleming, and Ed Maryon.

Biography Courtesy Springville Museum of Art.

Newspaper Articles

"A Loss, and a Remembrance." University of Utah Review, Apr/May 1981.

"Alvin Gittins Work on Display at Three Different Locations." The Salt Lake Tribune, January 22, l978.

"Alvin Gittins, Artist." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, l981.

"Alvin Gittins, Portraitist and U Art Professor, Dies." Daily Utah Chronicle, March 6, l981.

"Alvin L. Gittins Dies at 59." The Deseret News, March 5, l981.

"Art Center Opens Show of Drawings, Prints." The Salt Lake Tribune, April 12, l964.

"Art Professor to Present Lecture at U." The Deseret News, January 28, l964.

"Art: Alvin Gittins Presents His First One-Man Exhibition in Salt Lake." The Salt Lake Tribune, August 31, 1952.

"Art: Simple Backgrounds, Color Balance Highlight Exhibit by Gittins." The Salt Lake Tribune, September 7, l952.

"Brigham Young Painting: Colonizer's Portrait Hurt by Dampness." The Deseret News, August 1, l963.

"Dr. Lees Portrait Gets Honor Spot in Theater." The Salt Lake Tribune, December 14, 1963

"Eleven of Art Faculty Hang Works in U. Exhibit." The Salt Lake Tribune, October 4, l964.

"Exhibit Remembers Gittins." Daily Utah Chronicle, April 6, l984.

"Expert Sought to Repair Portrait." The Deseret News, June 27, l963.

"Film on Gittins." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, l981.

"Gallery Picks Show's Best." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 29, 1953.

"Gittins Art Show to 'Join' Mexican Play by Snow." The Salt Lake Tribune, October 24, 1965.

"Gittins is Master Portraitist." The Deseret News, February 6, l978.

"Gittin's Portraits: Art Restoration Work Ends in Libel Action." Enterprise, 1982.

"Gittins Retrospective Altered by Artist's Death." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 15, l981.

"Gittins Retrospective Opens Today." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, l981.

"Gittins Speaks On Art." Daily Utah Chronicle, February 11, l964.

"Gittins, a Portrait." College of Fine Arts Newsletter U of U, Winter l981.

"His faces are as Familiar as his Face - Maybe More." University of Utah Review, May l980.

"'It is Just Like Her,' Is Reaction to Portrait." The Deseret News, December 7, l965.

"Local Artists to Exhibit Portrait Art." The Salt Lake Tribune, January 10, l960.

"Local Film Maker to Premiere Abravanel Movie." The Salt Lake Tribune, June 1, l980.

"Portrait for Salt Lake Library." The Deseret News, October 27, 1965.

"Portrait of Dr. Cutler Unveiled at U. Center." The Deseret News, March 9, 1964.

"Portrait Painter, Teacher: Artist Named for Reynolds Lecture." The Salt Lake Tribune, January 28, l964.

"Prof. Gittins to Discuss Art-Culture Relation." The Salt Lake Tribune, February 9, 1964.

"Prof. Gittins to Speak on Changing Art." Daily Utah Chronicle, February 10, 1964.

"Society Honors Gittins as Top Faculty Member." Utonian, January 29, 1964.

"U. of U. Honors Alvin Gittins." The Salt Lake Tribune, June 1, l980.

"U. Professor to Deliver '64 Lecture." The Salt Lake Tribune, April 15, l965.

"U. Professor, Portraitist, Alvin Gittins Dies at 59." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 6, l981.

"U. Rite Honors Pres. McKay, Unveils Portrait for Theater." The Salt Lake Tribune, June 9, l964.

"U. to Show Appreciation for 'Remarkable Man.'" The Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, l981.

"U. Unveils Third Portrait." The Salt Lake Tribune, March 31, l963.

"Unveiling of Portrait at U.: Speaker Lauds Hinckley Contributions." The Salt Lake Tribune, October 17, 1974.

"Painting Tells More Than One Tale." The Deseret News, August 9, 1975.


Dunbier Lonnie Pierson. ed. The Artists Bluebook: 29,000 North American Artists. Scottsdale, AZ: AskART.com, 2003.

McMurrin, Trudy. Portrait of a Portraitist. Salt Lake City, UT: College of Fine Arts, University of Utah, 1981

Olpin, Robert S., William C. Seifrit, and Vern G. Swanson. Artists of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1999.

Sisemore, Claudia. "Alvin Gittins, Realist." Thesis, University of Utah, 1976.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art and Artists: 150 Year Survey. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2001.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art. Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1992.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Painting and Sculpture. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1991.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, Donna Poulton, and Janie Rogers. Utah Art, Utah Artists. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2001.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Conservation of Prints: A Guide to the Care of Prints: the Art of Conservation: Masterprints of the U.M.F.A., Alvin Gittins Gallery, April 8-19, 1985. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah, 1985.

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