The Art Institute of Chicago

Authored by
29 December, 2008

A post on Metafilter about the Tokyo National Museum inspired me to visit museum web sites on Mondays and write about them. I am repeatedly awed by the wealth of beautiful images and edifying information provided by museums around the world, and I hope this project will spur me to visit explore the web sites and learn new things.

I'll start with my favorite museum in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I visited the Art Institute regularly on school field trips and occasionally with my parents. One of the things that cemented my love for the paintings was a board game I had called Masterpiece, which featured postcard-sized paintings from the Art Institute as part of the game.

(I've just discovered that the Art Institute published a self-guided tour to the ">works featured in the board game (PDF)! How wonderful!)

I see that there's also a New in 2009 self-guided tour (PDF). Taking a look at that, I began searching the online collection. The first work is Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys by Degas. I'm glad to see the work can be viewed in the online collection, but the high-resolution viewer seems to be out of order. Disappointing.

I had the same problem with Henri Degas and His Niece Lucie Degas.

There's a feature that lets you see the other works in the same gallery, which is very cool. I clicked that and took a look at Yellow Dancers (in the Wings), which did have an Enlarge feature. Very nice. They've posted an interpretive guide, too, which I welcome. I was having trouble identifying the background; the way the leftmost dancer's back and head overlap the design on the stage set is confusing - and fascinating. I can't remember ever seeing anything like the interplay of the stage background, the dancers' legs behind it, and the three dancers in the foreground.

In the same gallery (Gallery 226), I took a closer look at The Millinery Shop as well. I was struck by the shapes much more than I had been in the past - the hat spheres, the light pale green gauzy bow that hangs below the center hat, and the spindly hat stands on the left. In the years since I lived in Chicago, I've developed an appreciation for Wayne Thiebaud's work, and I think that helps me notice the shapes in works I'd once viewed mainly as depictions.

That's a splendid bit of exploration stemming from just the first work listed in their New Works guide. (Skimming the rest, I see they're also featuring Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods by Edouard Vuillard, which I'm sure I've seen in person - although I can't remember the show it was part of. ... Aha! They list the exhibition history, and it was "Beyond the Easel: Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel" at the Art Institute in 2001. Cool.)

It's not the same as seeing the works in the museum, of course, but it's good to know there are such excellent guides and gallery tools at the site. I expect I'll spend hours planning my visit next time I have a chance to visit in person.