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Turning the Pages

Have you ever seen a book on display in an Art Institute exhibition and wondered what the next page looked like? Now you can turn through the pages yourself!

Thanks to a generous Community Associates pilot-project grant, over a dozen of the museum's most important artist sketchbooks, albums, and unique printed items are now online for full viewing. They will also make increasingly regular appearances in exhibition kiosks. The most recent addition to the digital lineup is the newly-acquired sketchbook by Gustave Caillebotte from the Department of Prints and Drawings. This is the only known sketchbook by the beloved artist of the Art Institute's own Paris Street; Rainy Day(1877). The 29 drawings—in a commercial-style artist book with a pencil holder flap at the top—give an unprecedented look at what the artist was up to from 1883–1886, as he scrupulously labeled each landscape location throughout his travels.

The books have all been culled from Prints and Drawings and from the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, with pieces from more departments coming soon. They cover a wide range of dates, media, and artists, with a particular emphasis on our great wealth of 19th-century French sketchbooks, including versions by Géricault, Cézanne, and Redon, as well as Caillebotte. At the moment, the website boasts a total of 16 books and three anatomical flap prints, including 10 artist's and architect's sketchbooks, two albums of prints and drawings, two hand-drawn medieval manuscripts, and two rare printed books/photobooks. You can browse them all in chronological order, or look at specific media (sketchbooks, manuscripts, and printed books).

One of the most colorful digitized volumes to date, from the Libraries’ Special Collections, is an amazing Devotional Scrapbook assembled by an eighteenth-century Bavarian monastery librarian. In creating this love letter to printmaking (finished and dated on Valentine’s Day, 1798) the librarian assembled and saved nearly 1000 ephemeral prints and drawings from oblivion with this simple explanation: ‘because some day, someone might care.’ With the innovative Turning the Pages software, which was developed by the British Library, we can see the toll time has taken on these prints—several digital wormholes show the transparent tracks where hungry critters nibbled through the first few sheets. On page 9, you can even peek under a print that was added later, coyly hiding the original image.

All of these digitized books have great surprises to offer, and more will be added on a regular basis, so look closely and check back frequently!