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Newman’s East Lake Shore Drive co-op became a must-see stop for visiting art professionals. “Everyone wanted to see [her collection], and Muriel never turned me down,” says a local art historian. “She was always willing to open her doors.”
Newman was born in Chicago in 1914, the only child of Maurice and Ada Nudelman Kallis. Her family was well established in the city but not extremely wealthy. Her grandfather had been a county commissioner; her father was an engineer. Her mother and her aunts were women of great style.
Growing up, Newman was fascinated by art and longed to paint. She attended classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, but she did not graduate. She preferred to spend her time painting rather than settling into a classroom routine. She was commissioned to paint a number of full-length portraits, and in them, she showed an ability to capture likenesses. “That was bad,” she told Gary Tinterow, the Engelhard curator of 19th-century and modern art at the Metropolitan Museum, years later. “It kept me from really [developing]. And I didn’t have to earn a living. That’s another problem. [Yet] I was getting paid for these . . . life-size oils.”