Chicago is renowned for its collections of master drawings both publicly and privately held. The Art Institute of Chicago has been collecting these works for over a century and has substantial world-class holdings—particularly with regard to drawings of the French and Italian schools.
This exhibition highlights a selection of master drawings from the 17th to mid-20th century that have been purchased by the museum over the past 25 years but have not yet had occasion to be shown. Arranged chronologically, the selection opens with masterpieces of the French school dating from the 17th century through Neoclassicism. New representatives of Swiss, German, and Austrian Romanticism, midcentury Realism, and Belgian Symbolism complement other important works enhancing our already strong 19th-century group, including an early beach landscape by Edgar Degas, a haunting self-portrait by Henri Fantin-Latour, and a large preparatory drawing for the beloved Art Institute painting Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte. The survey culminates with images from the first half of the 20th century, among them the momentous pastel January by Grant Wood, creator of another Art Institute icon, American Gothic.
The Art Institute received its first major gift of drawings—almost 4,000 European and American works from Walter Gurley in memory of his mother, Leonora Hall Gurley—nearly 100 years ago in 1922. In 1940, the museum brought on its first professional curator dedicated to the medium, Carl O. Schniewind, and began an ambitious program to acquire signal works of drawings. Ongoing curatorial commitment was demonstrated in a 1991 show of the Art Institute’s then-recent drawing acquisitions at the Frick Collection in New York. Twenty-five years later, this presentation offers the chance to experience the debut of these major works in the Art Institute galleries and appreciate how they enrich the museum’s esteemed and wide-ranging collection.