Sketchbooks: Turning the Pages at the Art Institute of Chicago

Artists have long used sketchbooks to jot down ideas and to work quickly outside their studios. This selection of Art Institute sketchbooks ranges from the eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, and appears in order by artist name. The Cézanne, Redon and Weber books were standard issue for the late nineteenth-century, and all include an extra flap inside the front or back binding for holding a pencil.
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Christina Ramberg is one of the Chicago Imagists who exhibited in the 1960's and 1970's. Her notebook contains fragments and sketches of costumes and clothing that are referenced in her drawings and paintings as well as her personal notes and even a recipe for a vegetable and sprout medley.


Ed Flood, born and schooled in Chicago, exhibited in shows in the 1960s such as the Nonplussed Some. His sketchbook reflects his beautifully and obsessively crafted paintings and sculptures, and includes floral forms, ideas for objects and the typographic elements they are partially composed of, and figure drawings. Artwork © The Estate of Ed Flood.


Joseph Elmer Yoakum was an artist who started drawing in his seventies, creating inventive landscape drawings between the early 1960s and his death in 1972. Unlike most self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a degree of success and attention while he was alive due to his association with the Chicago Imagists. Artists such as Roger Brown, Lori Gunn, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida, and others avidly collected his drawings. Whitney Halstead, an art historian, artist, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the greatest collector and chronicler of Yoakum’s work. Halstead entrusted four of Yoakum’s five known sketchbooks to the Art Institute of Chicago. These books are titled Workbooks A through D, due to the high level of finish of the drawings. These four Workbooks join hundreds of single sheets gifted by Halstead, Yoshida, and others, making Chicago the largest repository of the artist’s oeuvre.


Joseph Elmer Yoakum was an artist who started drawing in his seventies, creating inventive landscape drawings between the early 1960s and his death in 1972. Unlike most self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a degree of success and attention while he was alive due to his association with the Chicago Imagists. Artists such as Roger Brown, Lori Gunn, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida, and others avidly collected his drawings. Whitney Halstead, an art historian, artist, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the greatest collector and chronicler of Yoakum’s work. Halstead entrusted four of Yoakum’s five known sketchbooks to the Art Institute of Chicago. These books are titled Workbooks A through D, due to the high level of finish of the drawings. These four Workbooks join hundreds of single sheets gifted by Halstead, Yoshida, and others, making Chicago the largest repository of the artist’s oeuvre.


Joseph Elmer Yoakum was an artist who started drawing in his seventies, creating inventive landscape drawings between the early 1960s and his death in 1972. Unlike most self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a degree of success and attention while he was alive due to his association with the Chicago Imagists. Artists such as Roger Brown, Lori Gunn, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida, and others avidly collected his drawings. Whitney Halstead, an art historian, artist, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the greatest collector and chronicler of Yoakum’s work. Halstead entrusted four of Yoakum’s five known sketchbooks to the Art Institute of Chicago. These books are titled Workbooks A through D, due to the high level of finish of the drawings. These four Workbooks join hundreds of single sheets gifted by Halstead, Yoshida, and others, making Chicago the largest repository of the artist’s oeuvre.


Joseph Elmer Yoakum was an artist who started drawing in his seventies, creating inventive landscape drawings between the early 1960s and his death in 1972. Unlike most self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a degree of success and attention while he was alive due to his association with the Chicago Imagists. Artists such as Roger Brown, Lori Gunn, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida, and others avidly collected his drawings. Whitney Halstead, an art historian, artist, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the greatest collector and chronicler of Yoakum’s work. Halstead entrusted four of Yoakum’s five known sketchbooks to the Art Institute of Chicago. These books are titled Workbooks A through D, due to the high level of finish of the drawings. These four Workbooks join hundreds of single sheets gifted by Halstead, Yoshida, and others, making Chicago the largest repository of the artist’s oeuvre.


Enigmatic and extraordinary, James Castle was a self-taught artist who was deaf and mute from birth, but created his own visual language through his drawings, books and three-dimensional constructions. Like many of his artworks, Untitled (Book), reacts to the graphic elements of found paper advertisements, which he liberally augmented with his trademark soot and spit ink drawings of nearby buildings and landscapes, and tied together with shoelaces.


African American sculptor Marion Perkins lived and worked in Chicago after moving there from Arkansas in 1916. Initially self taught, he had some training through the South Side Community Arts Center in the early 1940s, and also studied ceramics at Hull House. His public sculpture in stone and wood (which he initially displayed in-progress near the news stand he owned on the South Side) aimed at universally understandable imagery. He was a strong believer in racial equality and the need to alleviate African American poverty; seeing abstraction as elitist, he addressed these views in his art. Perkins began to receive commissions, and exhibited in juried exhibitions at the Art Institute throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The Art Institute received a gift of four Perkins sketchbooks from his family in 2010, a group that offers insight into his sources (including African masks), as well as including a variety of types of drawings. This one is predominantly composed of portrait heads with some sketches of religious scenes, as well as a page with three trial impressions of a woodcut of a mother and child.


This bold and colorful sketchbook was made by Charles Wilbert White (1918-1979), an African American painter and printmaker. In fact, he started it while he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


A sketchbook by the Chicago artist Alfred Juergens, from the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries.


The first director of the Art Institute's notebook of observations and experiences during a trip to Europe in 1889.


German buildings and architectural details drawn by Peter J. Weber, who later practiced architecture in Chicago. From the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries.


This is the only known sketchbook by the French Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte, painter of the Art Institute of Chicago's famous Paris Street; Rainy Day from 1877 (1964.336). From 1876 he contributed regularly to Impressionist group's shows; he even organized the exhibition of 1877, where Paris Street; Rainy Day debuted. Until 1881, most of Caillebotte’s paintings depicted the contemporary urban life of Paris. This sketchbook of mainly landscape views demonstrates the artist's preoccupation with more bucolic topics in the years after he moved out of Paris to the French countryside. Little is known about his work, travel, or friendships during this period—save for his continued correspondence with Monet and well-documented interest in boating. As a result, this sketchbook, dated precisely during these mysterious years, provides new insights into the life and work of Caillebotte. Nearly every sheet is dated and most have additional inscriptions detailing the specific location depicted. As a result, one can now partially map his travels from June 1883 to September 1886.


Henry Somm (the pseudonym of Francois-Clement Sommier) is best known as an illustrator and caricaturist of late nineteenth-century Paris. Frequenting the same cafés and nightclubs as the Impressionists, he remained on the fringes of that movement with his persistently realistic style. He knew some of these artists well; Henri de Toulouse Lautrec even portrayed Somm in a drypoint print. Somm's sketchbooks are invaluable troves of observation of the Parisienne and her changing wardrobe. Indeed, Somm's Art Institute sketchbook serves as an important counterpoint to the more abstract renderings of women's fashions in the summer 2013 Art Institute exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity.


An untiring chronicler of the Parisian underworld, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec drew prolifically throughout his career, and with great skill from the outset. In fact, he completed his Art Institute Sketchbook around the early age of fifteen. It contains numerous views of fashionable horses and riders in motion, possibly reflecting the interests of his first teacher, an equestrian and military painter. Several sheets evoke circus acts, a topic that remained interesting to Lautrec throughout his life. Others focus on hunting and hunting dogs, including a curious list at the very end translating Russian dog names into French.


Odilon Redon's oblong sketchbook of whimsical creations ranges from melancholy sketches to more finished designs, with contrasting darks and lights abounding.


Cézanne's sketchbook from 1875-86 testifies to the everyday nature of his drawing exercises. Not only does he sketch his entire family, his young sons occasionally take their turn in this book, and a list scribbled near the front details the types of meat the artist ate for a week.


Odilon Redon sporadically contributed original and reproductive sketches to this book through much of his apprenticeship and career, as well as numerous textual and diagrammatic observations on art theory. The changes in handwriting and drawing style alone mark the book as an object he frequently revisited. While sparer than the second sketchbook by the artist owned by the Art Institute and dating from around 1879-85 (also available in Turning the Pages), this one demonstrates a wide range of Redon's classical and technical sources, especially drawings after Old Masters at the Louvre and elsewhere in Paris.


This digitally-rebound sketchbook consists of sheets of soldiers, horses, and other subjects drawn by Géricault around 1818-19. A second sketchbook, from 1813-14 has also been digitized, using the same cover, a type of paper over boards binding that Géricault himself might have used.


This digitally-rebound sketchbook of animals, society portraits and copies of old master art by the French artist Géricault is one of two separate books from the same group of drawings now available in Turning the Pages.


Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin's delicate but exuberantly filled sketchbook still retains the printed colored papers with which it was initially bound.

While we encourage personal discovery and interpretation of works of art in our care, the commentaries associated with the works in My Collections have not been reviewed or approved for accuracy or content and are expressly not endorsed by the Art Institute of Chicago.

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