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Spring in the Museum

It's hard to believe that the first day of spring is already behind us, since balmy temperatures and blue skies haven’t arrived in Chicago just yet. But don’t let the rainy days of March get you down. Spring's in full swing at the Art Institute, so enjoy these three works from the museum’s collection that will lift your spirits while you look forward to warmer days. 

Marguerite Thompson Zorach’s painting Landscape (recto) is a bold outburst of abstracted color that brings to mind the way spring transforms the world. Interlocking wedges of brilliant hues suggest the form of a hill, a blue sky, and a curving line of trees, reflecting Thompson’s desire to create compositions that were “perfectly flat, no planes, distance, perspective, or anything.” Thompson was one of the first Americans to embrace abstract art and she exhibited her work at some of the early exhibitions of modern art, including the 1913 Armory Show. While studying in Paris for three years (1908–11), Thompson began painting in the style of the Fauvists, known for their use of vibrant, unmixed paint and rough, spontaneous brushwork. The influence of Fauvism on her work can be clearly seen in this painting, which employs color to create pattern and movement. Before returning to the United States from Paris, Thompson took an adventurous seven-month trip through Egypt, Palestine, India, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Korea, and Japan. Although the location of this painting isn’t known, you can see how Thompson may have drawn inspiration for this small, striking painting from the remarkable places she encountered on her travels.


Zoe Leonard’s photograph, aptly titled Brooms, might just inspire you to get a head start on spring-cleaning this year. In the photograph, ten multicolored brooms stand upright in weighted bags waiting to be put to use, their vertical forms punctuated by the horizontal red Coca-Cola sign and reflective glass in the background. This work is from Leonard’s series Analogue, an 11-year project during which she documented the transformation of her neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. For this series Leonard used analog tools—a 1940s Rolleiflex camera and chemically processed film—instead of a digital camera to create photographs that visually and physically represent urban change. Brooms conveys both the beauty of a moment of stillness within a busy city and the inevitability of change, something to embrace in this season of inherent newness. 


Of all the flowers that bloom in spring, tulips may be the most emblematic. Although they are closely associated with Holland, where the craze for tulips reached its height during the Dutch Golden Age, passion for the brightly hued flower extended far beyond the Netherlands—as evidenced by this ceramic Turkish tankard, or hanap. Decorated with a delicate motif of blue tulips, hyacinths, red roses, and carnations, this vessel was produced in the late 16th century in Iznik, located southeast of Istanbul. Iznik pottery, one of the most technologically refined and aesthetically arresting traditions in the history of Islamic ceramics, is characterized by a white background, transparent glaze, and distinct decoration. The tulip and carnation design on this tankard was popular in the Ottoman Empire and appeared on everything from precious objects to bookbindings, paper borders, and textiles. In fact, tulips were cultivated in the gardens of Istanbul and the bulbs were even exported to Europe. Today, Istanbul hosts a tulip festival in early April celebrating the flower that has marked the arrival of spring for centuries. 

Marguerite Thompson Zorach (American, 1887–1968). Landscape (recto), 1911/12. Roger and J. Peter McCormick Endowment; Zoe Leonard (American, born 1961). Brooms, 1999/2006 from the series Analogue (1998-2009), edition 5/6. Through prior gift of the Mary and Leigh Block Collection; through prior purchases with Harriott A. Fox Endowment and Mary L. and Leigh B. Block Endowment Fund. © Zoe Leonard; Tankard (Hanap) with tulips, hyacinths, roses, and carnations, Ottoman dynasty (1299–1923), late 16th century. Iznik, Turkey. Mary Jane Gunsaulus Collection.