Over the last several decades, longtime Chicagoans David and Celia Hilliard have gathered a richly diverse and fascinating collection of works of art on paper ranging from the 16th to the late 20th century.
Their collecting interests have evolved over the years—widening, deepening, and coming full circle. They began with a focus on prints of the 19th and 20th centuries and bravely ventured into areas that were then somewhat underrepresented within the Art Institute’s collection, such as the mysterious world of Northern European Mannerist artists, French artists of the 17th century, and landscapes by Dutch, Italian, French, and British masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Hilliards gradually found their way back to the 19th century through British and then French landscapes, achieving, along the way, a rather effective art historical survey. One artist who appealed to them repeatedly from their earliest engagement was Odilon Redon. By the time the Art Institute’s landmark show Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams opened in July 1994, they owned three significant Redon drawings, all of which were included in the exhibition.
Also among their in-depth 19th-century French holdings are three distinct, compelling drawings by Jean-François Millet and three by Edgar Degas—two very early and one very late drawing. Increasingly, their interest has focused on other 19th-century European masters such as James Ensor, Jan Toorop, Giovanni Segantini, and William Degouve de Nuncques as well as 20th-century visionaries including Alfred Kubin, Giacomo Balla, and Henri Matisse. Their latest passion is for 19th-century small-scale sculpture by Romantic and Symbolist artists. This seamless return to the 19th century expresses the remarkable consistency of their sensibility: in all periods, in all works, there is an interest in transporting the viewer to another era, another reality.
In addition to their bold and astute collecting, the Hilliards have been involved with the Art Institute for almost 40 years in many different capacities. As a trustee, David has held leadership positions on three curatorial advisory committees, and Celia two; both are deeply involved in the museum’s libraries. A cultural historian, Celia authored an entire issue of the Art Institute’s Museum Studies devoted to the decisive role played by the museum’s first president, Charles L. Hutchinson. Together and individually they have shown a rare and profound dedication to the museum.
The Art Institute is delighted to present this beautiful assemblage of 115 works from the couple’s collection, selections that not only showcase the Hilliards’ impressive vision but also their remarkable generosity, with 61 pieces given or promised to the museum.