Housed in an 1893 building erected as part of the World’s Fair, The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the country’s preeminent schools and museums.
The college which is part of the Institute actually began in 1866, with classes beginning two years later. A few bumpy years followed, but the school had revived by 1882. Over the years, the school has had some notable students, including Walt Disney, Georgia O’Keefe, and Hugh Hefner. But for the traveler, the primary attraction is the world-class exhibits.
Though smaller than the Metropolitan in New York or the Louvre in Paris, the Art Institute houses some of the finest works anywhere.
The African and American Indian collection houses wood sculpture, masks, textiles, and bead designs from Southern, Central, and West Africa. Scholars actively explore and research the items gathered by the museum over the years. It also holds a variety of Andean ceramics, metalwork, and figurative art from South America.
Chicago has long been known for its architectural masterpieces and the architects who produced them. Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many other greats have done some of their most notable work here. That fact is reflected in the Ernest R. Graham Study Center for Architectural Drawings. The collection is comprised of over 130,000 drawings, many of which are by the masters’ own hands.
A major part of the museum revolves around its outstanding European collections. There are over 25,000 objects, including ceramics, metalwork, enamels, glass sculpture, and furniture. The items range in age from the early 12th century to the present, so there’s bound to be something to interest anyone.
The decorative arts collection is supplemented by a huge collection of textiles from down the ages. The Department of Textiles holds over 13,000 items from all over the world. There are pre-Columbian samples, European vestments, tapestries, lace, and much else. The objects have come from as far away as Asia, Africa, and Indonesia to Peru and Mexico.
Central to the museum’s attraction for visitors is the world-class European paintings exhibits. The collection ranges from the works created in the Middle Ages to 1900. At around 2,000 works it isn’t the largest collection in the world by any means. The Louvre has been estimated to hold over 100,000 paintings. But, though smaller, there are some of the finest examples of the art of painting anywhere in the world.
The 19th-century French paintings are among the best, rivaling some in the Louvre or the Musee D’Orsay. But there are also 15th century Spanish and German selections that are a great draw. Impressionism is well represented and there are many sculptures that are highly regarded by visitors. More modern artists are represented, as well. There are several popular O’Keefe’s, Grant Wood paintings, and some by Edward Hopper that is popular items.
Located at 111 South Michigan Avenue at the western edge of Grant Park, the museum also offers a fine restaurant.