Though Picasso never came to Chicago—or indeed even to the United States—the city, and the Art Institute, have enjoyed a special relationship with him.
The "cubist" gallery of the Armory Show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1913. Seen here are Picasso’s Two Trees from 1907–08 (at left) and, at center, Madame Soler (1903) and Woman with Mustard Pot (1909–10).
The Armory Show in 1913 marked Picasso’s American debut. This exhibition of the work of the most radical European artists at the time was mounted in an armory in New York and private facilities in Boston. The Art Institute, one of the exhibition’s three stops, was the only American museum to host the exhibition—and in turn, the first American museum to show the work of the young Spanish artist.
Pablo Picasso, Study of a Seated Man, 1905. Gift of Robert Allerton.
The Art Institute acquired its first works by Picasso in 1923 and 1924, gifts of the Art Institute trustee Robert Allerton (for whom the museum’s 1893 building is named): Sketches of a Young Woman and a Man (1904) and Study of a Seated Man (1905).
Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, late 1903–early 1904. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
As a memorial to his second wife, Helen Birch, Chicago-born painter and modern art collector Frederic Clay Bartlett presented the Art Institute with their collection of modern European paintings in 1926, including Picasso’s The Old Guitarist—the first Picasso painting to enter the museum’s collection. This work is also the first painting by Picasso acquired by an American art museum.
Pablo Picasso, Head, 1927. Gift of Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx.
In 1951, the Art Institute made the first of a series of nearly annual major acquisitions of Picasso’s paintings––Head (1927), which had previously belonged to the British Surrealist artist Gordon Onslow-Ford.
Pablo Picasso. Sheet of Studies for the Chicago Sculpture IV-XI, 1962. Restricted gift of William E. Hartmann. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
On August 15, 1967, a sculpture by Picasso was unveiled and dedicated in Chicago’s Daley Plaza. The work is the first monumental sculpture by Picasso and the first designed expressly for a civic project in the United States. A year later, the museum acquired, through a gift of William Hartmann (one of the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center), twelve studies for the Daley Plaza work.