Robert Allerton was one of the great benefactors of the Art Institute of Chicago during the 20th century, both in terms of enlarging the building and expanding the collection. In 1968, four years after his death, the museum honored his legacy by naming the museum’s original building on Michigan Avenue the Robert Allerton Building.
Among Allerton’s gifts to the museum in the 1920s were 74 contemporary European textiles—printed dress or furnishing fabrics or machine-made embroidered-lace curtain fabrics. All were the work of designers in Vienna, Dresden, Munich, and Paris, and all were acquired directly from the producer or his agent for the benefit of the museum. Allerton was simply doing what other museum patrons and collectors—people such as Frederic Clay Bartlett, Annie Swan Coburn, Arthur Jerome Eddy, and Martin Ryerson—were doing in growing the Art Institute’s collection in modern and contemporary painting and sculpture, but Allerton did it with textiles. This exhibition of 33 fabrics gifted by Allerton is a tribute to his vision and highlights his little-known role in promoting the Art Institute’s commitment to modern and contemporary art.