The Ryerson & Burnham Libraries constitute a major art and architecture research collection serving The Art Institute of Chicago and scholars in the fields of art and architectural history with more than 500,000 print titles, 100,000 auction catalogs, 1,200 current serial subscriptions, and extensive digital collections. Approximately 10,000 volumes are added annually. All periods and media are covered, but special emphasis is placed on architecture of the 18th through 20th centuries and 19th century painting, prints, drawings, and decorative arts. Special collections include the Percier and Fontaine Collection of 17th-19th century architectural books, the Mary Reynolds Collection on Dada and Surrealism, the George R. Collins Archive of Catalan Art and Architecture, and the Mrs. James Ward Thorne Collection of illustrated books.
The Reading Room ("Open Shelf") collection contains reference bibliographies, indexes, dictionaries, surveys, current periodicals and auction catalogs, as well as copies of Art Institute publications and exhibition catalogs. All other materials are housed in the Libraries' book stacks and must be requested by following the Libraries' paging procedures.
Art books have been purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago since 1879, when each student paid a two-dollar fee for library acquisitions; by 1885 there were 240 books in the collection. In 1900 trustee Martin A. Ryerson donated $50,000 to build a new library. Named after its benefactor, the Ryerson Library was designed by the firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge of Boston and built in a former light court of the 1893 building. The skylight was designed by Louis J. Millet and the decorative color scheme was designed by Elmer Garnsey, who created the decorative scheme for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
In a response to a request in 1905 from W.M.R. French, Director of the Art Institute, for a list of architectural titles that the Institute should purchase, Daniel H. Burnham, architect, urban planner, and trustee, replied with a list of seventy-five titles and stated: "An adequate architectural library is one of the notable lacks in the intellectual resources of Chicago..."1 Burnham died in 1912, bequeathing $50,000 for the creation of a library of architecture. A trustee Committee on Burnham Library was immediately formed to provide guidance for the creation of the Burnham Library.
Although funded separately by the Art Institute, the Ryerson Library and the Burnham Library shared many resources over the years, including a single administrative director. Due to financial necessity, the two libraries merged their operations in 1957 as the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries. 1967 saw the opening of an expanded four-story reading, stack, and exhibition space designed by C.F. Murphy Associates and Brenner Danforth Rockwell. The Art Institute's Department of Architecture was formed in 1981 with the transfer of some 40,000 drawings and architectural fragments from the Burnham Library collections. The Reading Room of the Libraries, which was the centerpiece of the original Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge Ryerson Library, was fully restored in 1994 by Vinci|Hamp Architects (the Louis Millet skylight was restored in 1988).
Additional library history and information on collections can be found in issues of Museum Studies, vol. 13, no. 2 (1988) and vol. 34, no. 2 (2008).
1 This history is drawn extensively from Mary Woolever's "The Burnham Library of Architecture: A History," The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 13, no. 2 (1988): 107-117, 169-170. Burnham is cited from his letter of August 11, 1905 (Woolever: 107).
The Franke Reading Room, the original Ryerson Library, was designed in 1900 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the architects of the 1893 building on Michigan Avenue. It was restored to its original design and finishes in 1994 by Vinci|Hamp Architects and today serves as the main workspace for readers.
Works of art from the Art Institute’s permanent collection hang in the American Renaissance space and temporary exhibitions highlight aspects of the Libraries’ collections. For a more virtual experience of the Reading Room, explore the Google Art Project.
WORKS OF ART IN THE READING ROOM (revised 3/24/2016) (Numbers refer to room plan below)
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) Alice, 1892 Oil on canvas, Gift of Ernest A. Hamill, 1893.7
Louis Messidor Lebon Petitot (1794-1862) Pierre François Leonard Fontaine, c. 1839 Plaster painted to look like bronze, 1988.276
Louis Messidor Lebon Petitot (1794-1862) Charles Percier, c. 1838 Plaster painted to look like bronze, 1988.275
Wilson H. Irvine (1869-1936) Autumn, c. 1914 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1915.558
Louis Betts (1873-1961) Martin Antoine Ryerson, c. 1913 Oil on canvas, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1933.1183
Leopold Gould Seyffert (1887-1956) Myself, 1925 Oil on canvas, Gift of Percy B. Eckhart, 1925.1509
Marcel François Loyau (1895-1936) Edward H. Bennett, Sr., c. 1927 Bronze, Edward H. Bennett Collection. Gift of Mrs. Edward H. Bennett, Jr., 1995
Paul Trebilcock (1902-1981) Portrait of a Painter, 1928 Oil on canvas, Mr. And Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase PrizeFund, 1928.228
Albin Polasek (1879-1965) Charles W. Hawthorne, 1917 Bronze, Frank G. Logan Fund, 1918.30
Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962) Snow-Crowned Hills, c. 1920/24 Oil on canvas, Walter H. Schulze Memorial Collection, 1924.918
Jo Davidson (1883-1952) Dr. Frank W. Gunsaulus, c. 1911 Bronze, 1959.20
Rudolph F. Ingerle (1879-1950) Swappin' Grounds, c. 1928 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1928.523
Albin Polasek (1879-1965) Howard Shaw, 1920 Bronze, Gift of Mrs. Howard Shaw, 1926.587
Chiurazzi and De Angelis Foundry, Naples, Italy. Seleucus Nicator of Syria, late 19th century copy of an original from the Valla of the Papryi, Herculaneum. Gift H.N. Higinbotham, 1893.118
Chiurazzi and De Angelis Foundry, Naples, Italy. Scipio Africanus, late 19th century copy of an original from the Valla of the Papryi, Herculaneum. Gift H.N. Higinbotham, 1893.123
Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925) Teucer, Brother of Ajax, 1884, cast 1891 Bronze, Gift of George A. Armour, 1891.80
Louis Henri Sullivan (1856-1924) for Holabird and Roche. Fragment of the Gage Building facade, 1898-1900 Cast iron, Gift of Dubin, Dubin and Black in memory of Henry and Anne Dubin, 1964.424
Chiurazzi and De Angelis Foundry, Naples, Italy. Bust of Sulla. late 19th century copy of a Roman original, found in Herculaneum. Gift H.N. Higinbotham, 1893.127
Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962) Norman Rice, 1953 Painted plaster, Gift of Susan Lewis.
Chiurazzi and De Angelis Foundry, Naples, Italy. Heraclitus, late 19th century copy of a Roman original. Gift H.N. Higinbotham, 1893.128
Oliver Dennett Grover (1861-1927) June Morning, Lake Orta, 1913 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1913.789
Julia Bracken Wendt (1871-1942) Edward B. Butler, 1918 Bronze, Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund, 1920.245
Edward Willis Redfield (1869-1965) Centre Bridge, 1904 Oil on canvas, W. Moses Willner Fund, 1905.152
Albin Polasek (1879-1965) Frank G. Logan, before 1920 Bronze, Gift of the artist, 1920.36
Harihara, Plaster cast painted to imitate stone, from the French Colonial display at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 Gift of Robert Allerton, 1932.925 (Original now in National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh)
Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) Albin Polasek, 1917 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1917.266
Albin Polasek (1879-1965) Charles L. Hutchinson, c. 1921 Bronze, 1921.125
Will Barnet (1911- ) Homage to Leger – With K.K., 1982 Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Y. Hutchinson 2002.634
Leon Kroll (1884-1974) Leo Ornstein at the Piano, 1918 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1919.874
Richard E. Miller (1875-1943) Sunlight, c. 1913 Oil on canvas, Friends of American Art Collection, 1915.557
Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) Selectmen of Provincetown, c. 1924 Oil on fabric on pulp board, Friends of American Art Collection, 1924.952
Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851-1929) Springtime and Love, c. 1878 Oil on canvas, A.A. Munger Collection, 190l.429
Bennett, Parsons & Frost (1922-1938) A Century of Progress / Chicago World’s Fair Centennial Celebration: General Circulation Plan, Ink and graphite on linen, red ink contour lines on verso. Gift of Edward H. Bennett, Jr. to Burnham Library, 1953, 1991.202.
A. F. Nyholm (1866-1927) (after Anders Zorn) Daniel H. Burnham, Oil on canvas, 1987.251
Anders Leonard Zorn (1860-1920) Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1893 Oil on canvas, Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.450
John Donoghue (1853-1903) Young Sophocles Leading the Chorus of Victory after the Battle of Salamis, modeled 1885, cast 1911 Bronze, Gift of Robert Allerton, 1911.583
1 day 20 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem
In this landmark collaboration, two major figures in American art and literature aimed to make the black experience visible in postwar America.
Image: Gordon Parks. Off On My Own, Harlem, New York, 1948. The Gordon Parks Foundation.
4 days 21 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT 1960: A visitor to the Art Institute gets a closer look at Naum Gabo’s Linear Construction No. 4.
5 days 48 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SOON—Dennis Oppenheim: Projections
See three intimate and personal works from pioneering sculptor and media artist Dennis Oppenheim. The exhibition closes May 30.