Ranked as the best museum in the world in 2014, The Art Institute of Chicago boasts one of the nation’s largest permanent collections of Impressionist paintings and houses more than 300,000 works of art within its 10 curatorial departments. With such an extensive display of art works, it is hard to finish admiring all of them even if you have the whole day, much less if you are a tourist who is short on time.
Before you get lost in this sea of collections, I have singled out a couple of must-see paintings and art works that you cannot miss out when you visit The Art Institute of Chicago. Arm yourself with this handy guide when you visit this world-class museum in Chicago.
Head to the Impressionism section for iconic pieces of art from Monet, Seurat and Caillebotte
Before you even enter The Art Institute of Chicago, you will be greeted by two majestic lion sculptures near its entrance. Built by Edward Kemeys, these bronze lions are great works of art in their own right, paving the way for the other amazing art works you will have a chance to admire after you enter.
The Art Institute is often regarded as the place to see the Impressionists — and rightly so. You could find “Stacks of Wheat” and “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884” by Georges Seurat, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” by Gustave Caillebotte, “Two Sisters (on the terrace)” by Pierre Auguste Renoir, “The Bedroom” by Van Gogh etc. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. These titles might sound unfamiliar to you, but I assure you that you will definitely recognise these art works when you see them as they have been widely publicised in media or been printed on collectibles.
In fact, there are always many visitors crowding in front of Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884”, scrutinising his brushstrokes as this masterpiece is a classic example of pointillism, where countless little dots of paint are used to create the impression of a full image.
All these paintings are located on the second level, within the “Impressionism” section.
See Grant Wood’s "American Gothic"
Also on the second level is another section dedicated to American Art. Painted in 1930, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” is perhaps the most famous in this section, with the sombre faces of the farmer and his daughter in front of their Gothic house, which is familiar to most. Note that this painting is currently shifted to the first level, as part of the “America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s” exhibition from June till September 18, 2016.
Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, which according to the artist, was inspired by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet”, is another must-see in the American Art section. Go see for yourself how the artist in his own words, captured “the loneliness of a large city”.
"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso in the Modern Art section
The Modern Art section on the third level features art works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and more.
One of the most famous paintings within this section is “The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso, a classic example of his work during his Blue Period (1901–1904), which depicted the miseries of the poor, the ill, and the outcasts of society. Sticking to a monochromatic blue palette, flattened forms, and themes of human misery, “The Old Guitarist” reflected Picasso’s sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden.
Be impressed by Marc Chagall's luminous "America Windows"
When you walk past Marc Chagall’s six-panel work entitled “America Windows” on the first level, you will definitely pause in your tracks as these windows are so eye-catching that they look as if they are glowing in the dim lighting. This set of stained-glass windows is meant to celebrate America as a place of cultural and religious freedom.
Head to Thorne Miniature Rooms, a collection devoted to intricate mini "dollhouses"
One level down in the basement are the Thorne Miniature Rooms, a collection devoted to reproductions of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s in miniature versions. This exhibit is home to the world’s largest collection of miniature rooms in the world, containing 68 individual rooms that capture the most influential architectural designs of the past centuries.
Constructed on a scale of one inch (2.5cm) to one foot (0.3 metres), kids and adults alike will be fascinated by these “dollhouses” painstakingly built by craftsmen.
End your visit with cool souvenirs from the museum shop
The museum shop has lots of artsy and unique items that call out for you to buy. You can own a print of a famous painting you admire printed on a mug, a tote bag, an umbrella, or even a spectacle case! There are also gorgeous handmade jewellery and scarves for sale. I had a good time browsing through the items, which are functional and make good souvenirs. Be sure to check out the sale section because you never know what hidden gems you could find!
And of course, any visit to an art museum is not just about that few iconic pieces you have to see. What I introduced above are probably just one percent of what The Art Institute of Chicago has to offer. Even if you were to walk aimlessly, you would still have a good time checking out the vast collection of paintings and sculptures, with even a section dedicated solely to paperweights. But if you are short on time, it is good to plan your route properly to get the best experience out of your limited time.
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