Suzanne Folds McCullagh, extraordinary drawings connoisseur and curator of early works on paper at the Art Institute for the past 40 years, has recently retired. But her deep love of the collection has brought her back to curate an exquisite exhibition marking the Prints and Drawings Department’s achievements over the past quarter century: Master Drawings Unveiled: 25 Years of Major Acquisitions. Here are some secrets she shared with Suzanne Karr Schmidt recently about this beautiful ensemble, now on view through January 29:
What is your favorite drawing in the show?
I would say my favorite drawing in the show is the Boucher, showing the height of his ability as a draughtsman and the extraordinary versatility of the human form. It was still in its original frame (with wavy glass) when it arrived, and it demonstrates the pinnacle of Academic glory beginning to appeal to the masses. It takes an exercise in life drawing that would usually have been done in just red chalk, and elevates it to a new level with additions in black and white chalk to make a work of art to be treasured for its own sake, no longer just an academic exercise. It is just bursting with energy.
Is there a drawing in the show that almost got away? Or conversely, that you didn't expect to buy?
The answer to both questions would be the Georges Lemmen Bourgeois Interior. Nancy Ireson (at that time the Rothman Family Associate Curator) went prowling around before the opening of the Salon du Dessin [ed. note: an art fair that specializes in drawings]. When we saw the Lemmen leaning against the wall, we knew that it was the graphic equivalent of our Seurat painting of the Grande Jatte. Like the Seurat, the Lemmen was shown at Les Vingt [ed. note: an important annual art exhibition in Brussels that existed from 1884 through 1893]. And although we had acquired a superb portrait of Anna Boch by Lemmen a few years earlier, this major composition (never realized in paint) filled out the picture of this Belgian artist more fully.
While we were not looking for a Lemmen per se, we had the goal the broadening of our late 19th-century holdings, so we were at once building on strength and filling a gap. To cap it off, both Lemmen drawings were acquired through the legacy of two of our most beloved and long-time volunteers, Marjorie and Suzanne Pochter. One can look at the women working happily together and recall the Pochters with their good friend Katherine Shea. Apparently we were just ahead of a New York collector who was interested in it but had no reserve.
Which are the most cutting edge artists in the show? Was it their subject matter? Their media?
Some works are cutting edge in subject matter or treatment, such as the soft focus and mystery of the Delaroche, the haunting menace of the Delville (pictured above), or the utter foolery of the Beckmann. Others are daring in their media or manufacture, such as the Caillebotte Rainy Day and the Gabriel de Saint-Aubin—both using straight-edges to get the placement right. Labruzzi and Huet were among the first to go out and paint in a landscape, using pastel instead of watercolor. Menzel took up daily life in its harsh reality at the same time that he began to use opaque watercolor or gouache around 1850.
This show represents 25 years of collecting drawings at the Art Institute, and mirrors earlier exhibitions covering the same amount of time. What do you think the next installment in 2041 might look like?
With the superb effort that Victoria Sancho Lobis is giving our relatively weaker Northern schools and the goal of broadening our global representation, I predict there will be major acquisitions in those categories, thanks to the enormous generosity of Dorothy Braude Edinburg. I also anticipate that the museum will acquire distinguished examples of Latin American 20th- and 21st-century works, tracked down by Mark Pascale and hopefully sponsored by new and committed donors.
François Boucher. Academic Study of a Reclining Male Nude, c. 1750. Regenstein Endowment Fund.
Georges Lemmen. Bourgeois Interior, 1890/91. Suzanne and Marjorie Pochter and Print and Drawing Funds.
Jean Delville. Medusa, 1893. Regenstein Endowment Fund.
4 hours 15 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—In 1963 Melvin Edwards began Lynch Fragments, a series of welded steel assemblages made in response to the tumultuous social climate of the Civil Rights movement. The title of the series evokes the horrifying images of racist mob violence, yet Edwards’s works distill the subject into a powerful sculptural language, fusing modernist abstraction with a sense of personal and collective history.
Afrophoenix No. 1—one of the earliest objects from the series—exemplifies how the artist physically transformed found objects and brought them together in poetically suggestive, tension-filled compositions. Here the formal arrangement of steel elements evokes an equestrian bridle and bit. Chains, hammers, nails, spikes, and screws magnify the sculpture’s associative power, recalling implements of labor and torture. At the same the title references the mythological phoenix—alluding to death, rebirth, and transformation.
See Afrophoenix No. 1 (1963) by Melvin Edwards in Gallery 289D.
8 hours 40 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SOON—Modern Velvet: A Sense of Luxury in the Age of Industry
With their plush, inviting, and varied textures, the velvets featured in this exhibition showcase the diversity of modern velvet as well as the effects of industry on its production. As industrial innovations at the turn of the 19th century allowed for faster production and encouraged the use of less costly materials, designers and manufacturers of velvet sought to maintain its association with wealth, luxury, and splendor.
Learn how this elegant fabric has inspired designers for centuries, with a wide range of examples from the 19th century to present day—closing March 19.
19 hours 40 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Just like the museum's collection comes from artists around the world, so does the Museum Shop’s assortment of products. We source exclusive products from artisans that are inspired by the cultures, mediums, and techniques represented in our museum collection. View our assortment of unique items from India.