Henry Darger’s Chicago Home Is On the Market for $2.6 Million

The Outsider artist lived there for 40 years while creating his mountainous body of work.

A room in the home where Henry Darger once lived. Courtesy Christie's.

Artist Henry Darger lived in a rented room in a row home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago for some 40 years, from 1932 to 1972. While there, unknown to his contemporaries, he created an unparalleled body of paintings, drawings, and collages, and wrote a 15,145-page fantasy novel titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. As far as anyone knows, he never showed any of it to anyone.

A year after he died in a nursing home, his landlords came upon the stunning trove. Today, institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and many others have his work in their holdings.

Now, the building where the magic happened, at 851 Webster Avenue, will go on the market. Owners Annika Olson and Rob Lefko are putting the five-bedroom home, which measures a little under 5,000 square feet, on the market in mid-May with an asking price of $2.6 million. (They bought it from the family of Darger’s old landlords for about $2 million in 2005.) Handling the sale is Annika Valdiserri of Christie’s International Real Estate. The 1880s brick rowhouse that was home to Darger, a hospital janitor by day, was since remodeled into a single family home.

A plush living room

The room where Outsider artist Henry Darger once lived. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate.

Those who don’t have such deep pockets but want to experience the space where Darger created his work might instead head to Chicago’s Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, which, in 2000, acquired the contents of the artist’s room—from furnishings, fixtures and architectural elements to clippings from newspapers, magazines, and comic books—and used them to create a permanent display that replicates the space Darger occupied. 

A legal battle has been raging over the artist’s valuable estate. The artist’s former landlords, Kiyoko Lerner and her husband, Nathan, bought the building in 1960. They contend that Darger left his works to them when he vacated the premises in 1972 for the nursing home where he would die the next year. They maintain that they have contributed to his rise to prominence. A group of about 50 distant family members presented documents to a Chicago court in February 2022, claiming to be the rightful heirs. 

Six months later, the lead plaintiff in seeking control of the estate, Christen Sadowski, was made “the supervised administrators of the estate,” authorizing him to “take possession of and collect the assets of the Estate, including its copyright and personal property interests,” according to court papers.

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