Remember the game Masterpiece? It was a bit like Monopoly, but instead of property, players could buy and sell iconic Art Institute paintings for play-money profit. For many children of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, it served as an early introduction to the museum's vast collection.
Take a closer look at some of the famous works featured in the Parker Brothers classic.
Two Sisters (On the Terrace) (1882) by Pierre Auguste Renoir
A favorite of Masterpiece players and museumgoers alike, Two Sisters (On the Terrace) is one of the Art Institute's most enduringly poular works. Set in the Parisian suburb of Chatou, itfeatures a pair of young women who, despite the title, were not actually sisters. In this technical tour de force, Renoir juxtaposed the girls’ solid figures against the lush, gauzy foliage of the riverbank. The basket of yarn to their left evokes the artist’s palette, and the girls’ contrasting expressions—the elder’s far-off stare and the younger’s eager stillness—make this “sisterly” moment feel casually genuine.
Saint George and the Dragon (1435/35) by Bernat Martorell
When this medieval icon came up on the Masterpiece auction easal, a bidding war usually followed. The painting has it all—a knight, a dragon, and a damsel in distress. The knight is Saint George, who, according to legend, conquered a fiery beast to save a town under siege and rescue a princess slated for sacrifice. The painting was originally the center image of an altarpiece dedicated to the popular saint, and it’s notable in part for the dynamic scene of battle it portrays—a sharp contrast to the more common depictions of saints as stately figures who pray more than they slay.
Old Man with a Gold Chain(about 1631) by Rembrandt van Rijn
Winning a game of Masterpiece requires that you keep your fellow players guessing. With his gold chain, military throat armor, and plumed beret from an incongruous, earlier time, this old man is a bit of an enigma. The Dutch master Rembrandt often used costumes to transform his models into specific historical and biblical figures, but the true subject of this early character study seems to be the model himself. The old man feels familiar, with watchful eyes that tell of a lifetime of experience. Fun fact: this particular model appeared in Rembrandt’s early works so frequently that he was widely thought to be the artist’s father.
In the 1996 version of Masterpiece, all bidding starts at $1 million—considerably more than the $300 the Friends of American Art at the Art Institute paid in 1930 to acquire American Gothic at the museum’s annual exhibition of American paintings and sculpture. Wood received a bronze medal and a $300 prize in addition to the sale price, and the exhibition marked the first time the work was publicly displayed. It has been in the museum’s collection ever since—a remarkable provenance, indeed. Inspired by a Carpenter Gothic cottage in the small town of Eldon, Iowa, American Gothic features Wood’s own sister and dentist as the farmer and his spinster daughter. While some have accused Wood of satirizing the hard-nosed intolerance of rural life, the Cedar Rapids native in fact held great reverence for his subjects and celebrated traditional Midwestern values throughout his career.
Play enough rounds of Masterpiece and you’re bound to take a bath on a painting now and then—but this prized work by Cassatt reliably rewards those who invest their time and attention. A striking example of the artist’s Impressionist style, it is beloved not only for the intimacy of the scene between woman and child but for the unorthodox nature of its composition. With a flatness of perspective and contrasting interplay of patterns derived from her study of Japanese woodblock prints, Cassatt depicted this gentle interaction through cropped forms, strong outlines, and stripes that play off and cut across one another with daring boldness—all without pulling focus from the tenderness between the pair that has endeared the work to so many.
Painting with Green Center (1913) by Vasily Kandinsky
While owning a great painting may be your ticket to fortune on the Masterpiece game board, Kandinsky believed that the true worth of art lies in its emotive power. Between 1910 and 1914, the Russian painter created his first wholly nonobjective works—Improvisations—which he described as “largely unconscious, spontaneous expressions of inner character, nonmaterial in nature.” Striving to capture a purity of feeling more similar to music than representational imagery, Kandinsky allowed his imagination to drive the colors and forms on his canvas while still maintaining some reference to the natural world.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Two Sisters (On the Terrace), 1881. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection; Bernat Martorell. Saint George and the Dragon, 1434/35. Gift of Mrs. Richard E. Danielson and Mrs. Chauncey B. McCormick; Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Old Man with a Gold Chain, 1631.Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection; Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. Friends of American Art Collection; Mary Cassatt. The Child's Bath, 1893. Robert A. Waller Fund; Vasily Kandinsky. Painting with Green Center, 1913. Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection.