"I'm not trying to make a pleasant aesthetic experience;" Ivan Albright once commented. "I want to jar the observer into thinking—to make him uncomfortable." Albright's mature paintings have succeeded at this: many critics have attacked them as the height of gruesomeness. Among Those Left, one of his early canvases, is less grisly than many of his mature works but anticipates them in its somber coloration, spooky lighting, and emphasis on transience and mortality.
Albright was born in Chicago in 1897, the son of a painter who had studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and who trained him from an early age to draw in the academic tradition, copying models and plaster casts. This, more than his later enrollment in art schools, provided the foundation for his finely crafted paintings. In 1926, after taking some painting classes at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Albright won an Honorable Mention at the Annual American Art Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. This success encouraged him to concentrate on art, and in 1927 he and his twin brother Malvin, who produced sculpture under the name Zsissly, began sharing a studio in an abandoned church in Warrenville, Illinois, where they worked together for the next 20 years.
Beginning in 1928, Albright exhibited in many Carnegie Internationals, and Among Those Left was shown in the 1939 exhibition. Ten years later Albright presented the work to Carnegie Institute, because according to his dealer, "he was impressed with the fine job of representing contemporary art which he feels [the Institute has] done." Among Those Left was painted in the summers of 1928 and 1929 in the studio in Warrenville. It shows a blacksmith with sad eyes and rumpled clothing, who holds a hammer and tongs and rests his hand on the iron rim of a splintered wagon wheel. He gazes directly at the viewer, without emotion, while to his left a glistening spider awaits its prey. Albright's model was Hugo Kleinwachter, an immigrant blacksmith in Warrenville who spoke very little English and whose eyes, the artist recalled, "were always sort of shedding tears" The title Among Those Left refers to the disappearance in America of simple craftsmen like Kleinwachter.
To create the unsettling mood he desired, Albright underpainted in black, added blue to the fleshtones, and then highlighted the agitated outlines of the objects with white, making the figure seem ghostly and unreal. He also tipped up the floorboards of the smithy toward the picture plane, flattening the figure's legs between the wagon wheel and the background for an effect of irrationality and compression.