Historic Collections: Henry Field

Learn more about Henry Field, an early member of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute and an important collector of Barbizon School paintings.



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Henry Field, younger brother of department store entrepreneur Marshall Field, was an avid art collector who assembled one of the country's most important collections of 19th-century French painting. Born in 1841 in Massachusetts, Henry Field moved to Chicago in 1861 and was widely known around the city for his active humanitarian efforts as well as his passion for the arts. A member of numerous organizations such as the Chicago Relief and Aid Society and the Art Committee, Field was also one of the first members of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago. He traveled often to Europe, bringing back with him important works by European painters. His eye for art was said to be impeccable, and his artistic foresight is visible in the masterworks that still hang in the Art Institute today.

In 1893, Mrs. Henry Field donated a highly valued collection of oil paintings to the Art Institute as a tribute to her late husband. This generous gift contained key works by the Barbizon school of landscape and genre painters, including Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet. As a special condition of her gift, Mrs. Field helped to design a gallery in which she wished the works to hang. This ornately decorated space—the Henry Field Memorial Gallery (now Gallery 216)—was reminiscent of the Field home, where the paintings were originally hung. The room was crowned by a large art-glass ceiling designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. However, in 1933 and 1934, the museum galleries were rearranged, with artwork grouped according to periods and styles instead of by collection, and the gallery was disassembled.

Mrs. Field is also well known for her generous donation of the bronze lions outside of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. She commissioned the animal sculptor Edward Kemeys to create these iconic statues. The lions were unveiled in May of 1894 and still stand today as a symbol of one of the city's oldest institutions.