Art Institute of Chicago
American Fine Arts Museum: History, Acquisitions, Collection Highlights.

Nighthawks (1942)
Edward Hopper

Art Institute of Chicago


One of America's Best Museums of Modern Art
Museum Highlights
Permanent Collection

Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Frick Collection
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Guggenheim, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Barnes Foundation
Carnegie Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
National Gallery of Art Washington DC
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Phillips Collection

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
J Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles
Detroit Institute of Arts
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Indianapolis Museum of Art

Before visiting the Art Institute of
Chicago, read about the different
types and styles of traditional
and contemporary visual art.
See: Definition of Art.

To help you get the most from
your visit to the Art Institute of
Chicago, please see:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art
also: How To Appreciate Paintings.

One of America's Best Museums of Modern Art

The imposing neoclassical Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best art museums in the world, and contains some of the most famous paintings of all time. In particular, the Museum has a world-renowned collection of modern art - featuring French Impressionist and American art - as well as a significant number of works by European Old Masters. In addition to fine art painting, the Museum has galleries of Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts, as well as Pre-Columbian art, a fine assembly of arms and armour, a huge collection of American, European, and Asian architectural and furniture styles (in miniature), drawings, prints and other works on paper, and a world-class collection of fine art photography. A new extension - the Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano - is being completed to house the Museum's collections of modern and contemporary art, photography, and architecture and design.

For the best art and design
colleges/courses in Chicago
and elsewhere in Illinois,
see: Illinois Art Schools.
For institutes and universities
across America, see:
Best Art Schools.

For news of any major shows
of fine art being held at the
Art Institute of Chicago, see:
Art News Headlines.


The building which houses the Art Institute of Chicago, originally designed by Boston architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1892, was built on rubble from the 1871 Chicago fire. (See also: American Architecture 1600-present.) It was specifically erected for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, as the World's Congress Auxiliary Building. The plan was that the Art Institute would occupy the space after the fair was over. Initially, the museum's collection of fine art was limited to a number of plaster sculptures, although it aimed to acquire and exhibit art of all kinds and to offer a full program of cultural education and appreciation.

For a list of the finest works of
painting and sculpture, by the
world's most famous artists, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed media
from 1300-present.
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Works in stone, bronze, wood
from 33,000 BCE-present.

For details of the Top 40
3-D artists in America, see:
American Sculptors (1850-present)

See: Art Museums in Europe.

Today, some 110 years since it first opened, the Museum features thousands of artworks spanning more than five millennia of human creativity around the globe.

Museum Highlights

In line with its status as one of the best art museums in America, it has an exceptionally strong collection of paintings, including the following famous masterpieces.

Nighthawks (1942) - Edward Hopper
American Gothic (1930) - Grant Wood
Wheatstacks (End of Summer) (1890-1891) - Claude Monet
Water Lilies (1906) - Claude Monet
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86) - Seurat
Two Sisters (On the Terrace) (1881) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
By the Water (1880) Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Bay of Marseilles, view from L'Estaque (1885) Paul Cezanne
The Basket of Apples (c.1890s) - Paul Cezanne
The Bathers (1900) - Paul Cezanne
Assumption of the Virgin (1577) - El Greco
At the Moulin Rouge (1892-5) - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) - Gustave Caillebotte
Bedroom in Arles (1888) - Vincent Van Gogh
Self-Portrait (1887) - Vincent Van Gogh
Why are you angry? (No te aha oe Riri) (1896) - Paul Gauguin
Woman at Her Toilette (1900-1905) - Edgar Degas
Portrait of Picasso (1912) - Juan Gris

The Permanent Collection

As the above list indicates, the Art Institute of Chicago is most renowned for its holdings of 19th century French Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, as well as its 20th century American classics. However, with more than a dozen different curatorial departments, the AIC's collection has far greater depth than its headline highlights would suggest. Here is a brief departmental overview of the Museum's permanent collection.

African Arts
The Museum's collection of African art features some 400 items that highlight the diversity of artistic expression in the sub-Saharan continent, with a close focus on the sculptural traditions of West and Central Africa. Exhibits include masks and figure sculptures, beadwork, furniture, regalia, textiles and other tribal art from Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. The display of African ceramics is the largest in the United States.

American Art
The Museum's collection of American art consists of over 1,000 paintings and sculptures, dating from the 18th century to 1950, alongside almost 2,500 decorative art objects from the 17th century to the present. Particular strengths in the display, are the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, as well as works of American Impressionism (works by Mary Cassatt and others), paintings by the great John Singer Sargent, the Symbolist James McNeill Whistler, and the Realist subject painter Winslow Homer. (See also Ashcan School.) Modern American art is exemplified in works by Grant Wood, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Art of the Ancient World
The Art Institute's collection of ancient art features Etruscan, Roman, and Greek art, Egyptian sculpture (in most media), along with a number of outstanding items of decorative art such as jewellery, vases, glass, and mosaics. Highlights include the mummy and mummy case of Paankhenamun, as well as several rare gold and silver coins.

Architecture and Design
This section concentrates on architecture history and design, with a focus on progressive thinking and practice across all design disciplines. Heavily based on works by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) of the first Chicago School of architecture, the French modernist Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and the dynamic Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) - leader of the Second Chicago School - the Museum's huge design collection also features contemporary objects by contemporary architects, including Elizabeth Diller, Hernan Diaz Alonso, Lindy Roy, Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample. The collection also exhibits examples of furniture, tableware, industrial and graphic designs by the likes of Konstantin Grcic, Hella Jongerius, Joris Laarman, and Stefan Sagmeister.

Arms, Armor, Medieval and Renaissance Art
The Art Institute has an encyclopedic collection of medieval art produced by European artists over a period of 500 years. It includes religious works as well as objects of daily use, in a variety of media, including painting and sculpture, jewellery art, precious metalwork, stained glass art, manuscript illumination and tapestry. The department also includes the George F. Harding collection of arms and armour reflecting armaments across the Medieval and Renaissance eras in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Asian Art
The AIC's collection of Asian art contains works from almost five millennia from Japan, China, Korea, India, southwest Asia, and the Middle East. Comprising 35,000 objects of exceptional archeological and artistic significance, it includes Chinese bronzes, Chinese pottery, porcelain, celadon ware and antique jades; east Asian textiles; Japanese screens and paintings; Indian and Persian miniature painting; and sculptures from India and Southeast Asian. Also in the collection of Japanese art, is the Museum's world-renowned collection of Japanese woodblock prints. See also: Korean Art (3000 BCE on).

European Decorative Arts
The Chicago Art Institute's huge European decorative art collection of 25,000 objects includes ceramics, metalwork, glass, enamels, furniture and ivory dating from 1100 to the present. Highlights include Venetian glass; English, French, and German porcelains; English 18th-century silver and French 19th-century silver; and fine furniture from the early 17th century to the present. The Decorative Arts department also includes 1,544 items in the Arthur Rubloff Paperweight Collection.

European Painting and Sculpture
One of the real highlights of the Art Institute of Chicago, this world famous collection comprises over 3,500 works spanning eight centuries from c.1150 to 1950. It features a rare group of 15th-century Spanish, Italian and Northern Renaissance paintings, masterpieces of European sculpture, and an important display of 17th- and 18th-century paintings.

19th Century Painting
Part of the European Painting and Sculpture department, the Museum's collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism ranks alongside any museum in the world. It includes 33 masterpieces by Claude Monet, as well as the seminal Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, several high-class works from Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, and one of Toulouse-Lautrec's finest works.

Indian Art of the Americas
The Pre-Columbian art collection focuses mainly on Mesoamerican and Andean sculpture, ancient pottery, textiles, and metalwork. The museum's collection of American Indian art include artifacts produced by the Plains Indians, as well as native Americans from the Southwest, and California, are also on display.

Modern Art
Regarded as one of the finest collections in the world, comparable only with those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago's unique assembly of modern art contains almost 1,000 works of art by artists from Europe and the Americas. Highlights include Pablo Picasso's Old Guitarist, Henri Matisse's Bathers by a River, Gaston Lachaise's Woman (Elevation), Constantin Brancusi's Golden Bird, Georgia O'Keeffe's Black Cross, New Mexico, Jose Clemente Orozco's Zapata, American Gothic by Grant Wood, Rene Magritte's Time Transfixed, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and Ivan Albright's Picture of Dorian Gray.

Spanning the entire history of the photographic medium from its beginning in 1839 to the present day, the Art Institute's collection of lens-based art features works by many of the world's greatest fine art photographers. All genres are covered, including cityscape, documentary, figurative, landscape, portrait and still life. The collection was started in 1949, following Georgia O'Keeffe's donation of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection. Subsequent acquisitions - of the Julien Levy Collection, of 200 photographs by Edward Weston, and works by Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz and Eugene Atget - have turned the Museum's holding of modern masters into one of the finest in the world.

Prints and Drawings
The Museum's holding of works on paper numbers roughly 11,500 drawings and 60,000 prints, dating from the 15th century to the present. Its particular strengths include French 19th-century prints and drawings; British, French, and Italian drawings; Old Master prints; and an extensive collection of 20th-century and contemporary works on paper.

Textile Art
This section has more than 13,000 textiles and 66,000 sample swatches dating from 300 BCE to the present. The collection is particularly strong in Pre-Columbian fabrics, European vestments, woven silks and velvets, tapestries, printed fabrics, needlework, and lace. Other styles and periods on display include 16th- and 17th-century English needlework, as well as printed and woven materials of the 18th and 19th centuries. Also represented are American quilts and coverlets, and 20th-century fiber art.

Contemporary Art
The Museum's collection of contemporary art consists of almost 1,000 works. It embraces nearly every significant art movement from 1950 to the present and features painting, sculpture, installation art, and new-media work. Among its most notable holdings are works by David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Eva Hesse, Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman, and Gerhard Richter.

• For details of the development of painting and sculpture, see: History of Art.
• For more information about the world's greatest art museums, see: Homepage.

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