Origins of the Chicago Art Institute.
View of Art Institute of Chicago from Michigan Avenue.
The origins of the Chicago Art Institute go back to 1866 when it was a free art school and gallery on South Michigan Avenue. From this acorn, a mighty institutional oak grew, now the second largest museum after the Metropolitan in New York. In 1882 the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts changed its named to the Art Institute of Chicago, but the history of the museum is invariably tied in with the World Columbian Exhibition, the Chicago World Fair held between 1892 and 1893 which brought the arts and commerce together as an urban spectacle. The Exposition marked the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Caribbean, which at that time was not viewed with suspicion and hostility. Many artists contributed to this “American Renaissance” which based itself on the French Beaux-Arts style. The current building is a classical Beaux-Arts building, by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston, Massachusetts. The Fullerton Auditorium and Ryerson Library were added to the building in 1898 and 1901 respectively. Ryerson is a very important name to the museum because, along with his wife, he owned a large collection of art that was eventually given to the museum.  The building is composed of 273 galleries that total 562,000 square feet (52,200 m2). The building has a grand Italian Renaissance facade with a pedimented 5-bayed central section that protrudes forward from the 7-bayed wings on either side. The arcaded entry loggia is topped by three grand Palladian arches that are separated by Corinthian half-columns. The collections at Chicago number a staggering 260, 000 works of art ranging from Japanese prints to American modern art. The museum is most famous for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection which includes such masterpieces as Seurat’s Grande Jatte and Caillebotte’s Rainy Day, Paris. Important American works include Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
The James N. Wood Era.
Until his retirement from the museum in 2004, James N. Wood was the quiet dynamo behind the development of the Chicago Institute of Fine Arts. A Bostonian, Woods worked at leading museums like the Met and St Louis before coming to Chicago in 1980 where he stayed director for 25 years. During Wood’s tenure at Chicago, major expansion of the galleries was carried out, as well as the staging of a slew of high profile exhibitions by leading artists like Monet (1995) and Gauguin and Van Gogh (2001) which broke attendance records for the Institute. Woods came out of retirement in 2006 to become head of the J.P. Getty Trust and four years later died of natural causes.
Opening of Modern Wing, 2009, Chicago Art Institute.
Francisco de Zurbaran, The Crucifixion, 1627, Oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5 cm, Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund, 1954.15.
Hans Memling, Virgin and Child, 1485/90, Oil on panel, 34.5 x 26.8 cm, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1050.
Claude Lorrain, View of Delphi with a Procession, 1673, Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 127 cm, Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund, 1941.1020
Where the old masters are concerned, it is almost the same situation as Cleveland: a weak renaissance collection and strong holdings in the baroque and 17th century period, - lots of unattributed and workshop pieces. There is an emerging pattern here. The patchy renaissance collection may be explained by the fact that the inland museums were established later than the East Coast institutions and the latter had already cherry picked the best renaissance art, though taste was almost certainly a factor here too. It may also indicate curatorial resources distributed towards collection strengths, as driven by audience expectation. From the existing renaissance holdings one could choose fine panels by famous artists like Memling and obscure ones like the Master of Moulins (Jean Heys) with some intriguing Italian “primitives” such as Bartolommeo di Giovanni’s Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist and from later, a Correggio Madonna and Tintoretto’s fine Tarquin and Lucretia. With the baroque, there is much more to admire. There is a good Flemish contingent: Rubens (Holy Family and Saints) and works by his followers, Jordaens and Synders. The French school is strong with Claude (View of Delphi), Poussin (Landscape with St John on Patmos), Chardin (Self-Portrait) and even minor artists like Blanchard and Bertin. The Spanish contingent is robust too: four El Grecos including his Assumption of the Virgin, Zurbaran’s Christ on the Cross, (recently shown in the Sacred Made Real exhibition in London), Cotán’s Still-life and the impressive Heraclitus painted by an unnamed artist in 1630. Mention should also be made of the Dane Eckersberg’s view of San Lorenzo, a cross between Fra Angelico and Saerendam.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Oil on canvas, 207.5 x 308.1 cm, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224, de Hauke 162.
Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Oil on canvas, 212.2 x 276.2 cm, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336.
Ask anybody what art they associate with the Chicago Art Institute and you are likely to hear Impressionism. The museum‘s collection of Impressionist art is world famous, due in no small part to landmark exhibitions put on during Wood’s directorship. Nearly 50 works by Monet are owned including the Haystacks series. However, Manet easily trumps Monet with about 100 paintings, drawings and prints, but perhaps the most famous impressionist work at Chicago is Seurat’s monumental An Afternoon at Grande Jatte, which places modern life on the scale and vision of a classical, or even Egyptian frieze. If there is one image that a European public associate with the museum, it is probably Seurat’s masterpiece which has only been loaned once to MOMA in New York when unfortunately there was a fire! An equally impressive Impressionist masterpiece in the museum is Gustave Caillebotte’s Rainy Day, Paris which can be read as a scientifically determined composition or an exercise in painterly execution, especially the slicked cobblestones in the foreground. The museum also owns Caillebotte’s study of the street, which without the figures, emphasises the mathematical origins of the composition even more.
Modern European Art.
Henri Matisse, Bathers by a River, Oil on canvas, (260 x 392 cm, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1953.158.
The museum’s collection of European modern art is excellent, particularly the early 20th century. The most important are the museum’s holdings of drawings, paintings and sculpture by Picasso and Matisse. A very important Matisse is his Bathers by a River (1909-10) which Matisse considered to be “one of the five most pivotal works” of his career. Bathers plays abstraction off against the figurative with interesting results. Out of several Picasso works, one could choose Mother and Child (1921) whose monumental classicism was the result of Picasso’s study of renaissance and classical art in Rome in 1917. The oddly proportioned women of Picasso’s “classical” period came from blending Ingres’s Odalisques and Renoir’s late Bathers. Picasso’s Parisian friend Mondigliani’s Madame Pompadour synthesises Cézanne, Cubism and African sculpture to provide something of a visual summary of modern art’s influences at the time. Other modern European artists featured in the museum include Juan Gris, Georges Braque, Roual Dufy, Joan Miro, Man Ray and Balthus.
Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath, 1893, Oil on canvas, 100.3 x 66.1 cm, Robert A. Waller Fund, 1910.2.
In addition to its remarkable Impressionist collection, the Chicago Art Institute boasts a celebrated collection of American art. More traditional American artists are represented by such as Raphaelle Peale (his painter father named some of his children after famous artists) whose Still Life with Strawberries may either pay tribute to Chardin or 17th century Dutch still life. The American artist Mary Cassatt and friend of Degas is represented by such paintings as The Child’s Bath, which betrays knowledge of Japanese art, photography as well as the realism of the Impressionists. Though Cassatt spent most of her life outside America, the museum is right to put her in the American art section. As Hughes states, Cassatt’s work had more impact in America than in France; and more importantly she moved taste away from the Old Masters towards Impressionism, a shift detectable in the collections of this museum.
Grant Wood, American Gothic, Oil on Beaver Board, 78 x 65.3 cm, Friends of American Art Collection, 1930.934.
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm, Friends of American Art Collection, 1942.51.
The museum owns two of the most famous American works which have become icons of American identity and experience. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks described by Robert Hughes as “a sort of geometrical aquarium with four fish swimming in it” is one of the most famous images in 20th century American art. The son of a dry- goods merchant, Hopper pioneered a singular style of observational art which captures the loneliness and alienation of American life. His art presents the silences of life within meticulously formalized structures which owe nothing to Cubism. When he studied in Paris between 1906-7, he drank in Manet’s art, and something of the emptiness of modern life derives from him, though Hopper strictly made the vision of houses, theatres and solitude, which has permeated American pop culture from film noir to Hitchcock’s Pyscho, his own. Nighthawks was sold to Chicago for $3,000, and has remained there ever since. Another iconic work of art is Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a portrait of an old school Iowa couple standing in front of a building in Eldon, the most famous house in America after the White House. Born and bred in Iowa, Grant studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before teaching art and studying it on the 20th century equivalent of the Grand Tour in Europe. The stark realism of Grant’s paintings owe something to renaissance Flemish portraits, and it is tempting to see American Gothic as a kind of regional, down home version of the Arnolfini Portrait, executed by an artist who had ambitions to be the “Jan van Eyck of Iowa!” Amongst many other American artists, mention should be made of Philip Guston who is represented in the museum by a group of paintings and graphic works, such as Bad Times (1970) which shows his menacing and amusing Klansmen figures. There is another Iowa connection here as Guston studied there with the famous art historian Horst Janson. Janson provoked the anger of Grant Wood by taking his students to see the Picasso show put on in Chicago in 1941.
1) View of Art Institute of Chicago.
2) Interior View.
3) Bartolommeo di Giovanni, Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist, 1490/95, Tempera on panel (poplar), 74 x 150.4 cm, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1937.996.
4) Hans Memling, Virgin and Child, 1485/90, Oil on panel, 34.5 x 26.8 cm, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1050.
5) Jean Heys (Master of Moulins), The Annunciation, 1490/95, Oil on panel, 71.7 x 49.2 cm,
The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1062.
6) Tintoretto, Tarquin and Lucretia, c. 1578/80, Oil on canvas, 175 x 151.5 cm, Art Institute Purchase Fund, 1949.203
7) El Greco, The Assumption of the Virgin, Oil on canvas, 403.2 x 211.8 cm, Inscribed on paper at lower right in Greek: (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, Cretan, displayed this in 1577),
Gift of Nancy Atwood Sprague in memory of Albert Arnold Sprague, 1906.99.
8) Juan Sánchez Cotán, Still Life with Game Fowl, 1600/03, Oil on canvas, 67.8 x 88.7 cm, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block, 1955.1203.
9) Unidentified Spanish artist, Heraclitus, Heraclitus, the Weeping Philosopher, c. 1630, Oil on canvas, Gift in memory of Samuel Gans from his heirs, 1897.296
10) Francisco de Zurbaran, The Crucifixion, 1627, Oil on canvas, 290.3 x 165.5 cm, Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund, 1954.15.
11) Peter Paul Rubens, The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, c. 1615, Oil on panel, 114.5 x 91.5 cm, Major Acquisitions Fund, 1967.229.
12) Claude Lorrain, View of Delphi with a Procession, 1673, Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 127 cm, Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund, 1941.1020
13) Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, The Cloisters, San Lorenzo, 1824, Oil on canvas, 57.7 x 78.8 cm, European Painting Purchase fund; through prior gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1986.991
14) Édouard Manet, Salmon (Still Life), 1864, oil on canvas, 73.4 x 92.1 cm, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1942.311.
15) Claude Monet, Stacks of Wheat (Sunset, Snow Effect), 1890/91, oil on canvas, 65.3 x 100.4 cm, Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.431.
16) Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Oil on canvas, 207.5 x 308.1 cm, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.224, de Hauke 162.
17) Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Oil on canvas, 212.2 x 276.2 cm, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336.
18) Gustave Caillebotte, Study for Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Graphite, with touches of erasing and charcoal, on tan laid paper, 302 x 465 mm, Margaret Day Blake Fund; Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. William R. Jentes, 2011.420.
19) Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1889, Oil on canvas, 73.6 x 92.3 cm, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.417.
20) Pierre Auguste Renoir, Two Sisters (On the Terrace), 1881, Oil on canvas, 100.5 x 81 cm, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.455.
21) Opening of Modern Wing, 2009, Chicago Art Institute.
22) Picasso, Mother and Child, 1921, Oil on canvas, 142.9 x 172.7 cm, Restricted gift of Maymar Corporation, Mrs. Maurice L. Rothschild, and Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey McCormick; Mary and Leigh Block Fund; Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment; through prior gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin E. Hokin, 1954.270
23) Henri Matisse, Bathers by a River, Oil on canvas, (260 x 392 cm, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1953.158.
24) Amedeo Modigliani, Madam Pompadour, 1915, Oil on canvas, 61.1 x 50.2 cm, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1938.217.
25) Raphaelle Peal, Still Life with Strawberries, Oil on wood panel, 41.1 x 57.8 cm, Gift of Jamee J. and Marshall Field, 1991.100.
26) Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath, 1893, Oil on canvas, 100.3 x 66.1 cm, Robert A. Waller Fund, 1910.2.
27) Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery, 1879–80, Etching, aquatint, and drypoint on cream wove paper, 320 x 249 mm, Gift of Ethel Schmidt, 1982.1568
28) Grant Wood, American Gothic, Oil on Beaver Board, 78 x 65.3 cm, Friends of American Art Collection, 1930.934.
29) Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm, Friends of American Art Collection, 1942.51.
30) Philip Guston, Bad Times, 1970, Oil on canvas, 82.9 x 289.6 cm, Estate of Musa Guston, 1992.733.
 On the “American Renaissance” see Robert Hughes, American Visions, 207f.
 For a flavour of the Ryerson collection, see Ella S. Siple, “Art in America: The Ryerson Collection”, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 51, No. 296, (Nov. 1927), 240-245.
 These architectural notes come from Wikipedia.
 For an instructive discussion of this and its pendant Pont l’Europe, see Gustave Caillebotte: The Unknown Impressionist, exh cat, London, R.A., 1996, 84f.
 Essential Guide, 2013, 250.
 Essential Guide, 2013, p.264.
 Hughes, American Visions, 256.
 Hughes, American Visions, 422f.
 Hughes, American Visions, 440.