Pauline Simon (c. 1894-1976) was born in Minsk, Russia (then Poland) and grew up on an estate where her father worked. She left home to attend high school in Warsaw and, around 1911-12, immigrated to the United States on her own.
In Chicago, Simon first did hairdressing for the theater and later went on to manage her husband’s dentist office. He was a life member of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Pauline enjoyed looking at the museum’s exhibition catalogues.
After retiring at the age of 70, she enrolled in a members painting class at the Art Institute. Asked if she liked looking at any other artists, she replied, ‘I don’t like any other artist at all.’ She later came to love the work of Gustav Klimt, noting his paintings are like music. Simon subsequently took classes closer to home, at the Hyde Park Art Center, where she met her most influential teacher, artist and curator Don Baum.
After some months, she stopped taking classes but continued to study with Baum, who would visit her apartment to see her work, discussing her ideas more than techniques. Simon made intriguing portraits of women that nod to the history of the painted portrait. Noting her dedication and how she thought constantly about her paintings, Baum said, ‘Pauline keeps the painting she’s working on in her room, so that, when she wakes up in the morning, it’s the first thing she sees.’ Despite failing vision, Simon continued to paint until her death in 1976.