When Monet’s paintings first appeared alongside his contemporaries’ in a Chicago gallery in 1888, he was singled out for praise by the press. And when his works were shown in the city again as part of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago (also known as the “American Salon”) in 1890, they not only captured the eye of local collectors—they ignited a collective passion. From that point until the artist’s death in 1926, collectors in Chicago, more than in any other American city, aggressively acquired works of art by Claude Monet.
“Why go to Paris since Paris has come to Chicago?”—CHICAGO DAILY TRIBUNE, 1888
Martin A. Ryerson, who served as an Art Institute trustee and would go on to become the board’s honorary president, bought his first of many paintings by Monet in 1891 and in 1920 made a special pilgrimage to the artist’s home in Giverny with the hope of acquiring more. Also in 1891, Bertha and Potter Palmer acquired 20 of Monet’s canvases, a fraction of the 90 they would come to own, including several of the Stacks of Wheat series, which they displayed prominently in their home to welcome visitors. Bertha was so excited by the artist that she included his works in the Woman’s Building during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the international fair that showcased a city still reimagining itself after the Great Fire and one eager to embrace the technology and aesthetics of modernity. And who had a more modern artistic vision than Monet?
Monets at the Art Institute
Inspired by these influential tastemakers, private groups eagerly began to follow their lead. In 1895, the Union League Club of Chicago purchased Apple Trees in Blossom (1872), which was also shown at the Art Institute that year in the exhibition 20 Works by Claude Monet, the artist’s first solo show at a museum in the United States. In 1903, the Art Institute became the first American museum to purchase one of Monet’s paintings. In keeping with the theme of firsts, Monet and Chicago is the first exhibition to explore Chicago’s pioneering connection to the great Impressionist artist.
Today, the museum’s 33 paintings and 13 drawings constitute the largest collection of works by the artist outside of Paris. Among the more than 65 paintings in the exhibition—from the Art Institute’s exemplary holdings and esteemed Chicago-based collections—are beloved major works as well as rarely seen still lifes, figural scenes, seascapes, and landscapes, spanning his long career from early caricatures made at Le Havre to the last splendid canvases inspired by his garden and water lily pond at Giverny. Monet and Chicago also benefits from new art-historical research and in-depth scientific study of his materials and techniques and offers an opportunity to look more closely at the artist’s oeuvre through our ever-advancing understanding of his creative process.
It’s not difficult to see what inspired such devotion and passion in these early Chicago collectors. It’s the same appeal that drew a million visitors to a Monet retrospective at the Art Institute in 1995 and draws crowds to the galleries today. Perhaps Claude Monet said it best:
“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things,” he wrote. “It’s enough to drive one mad.”
Lead Corporate Sponsors
Major funding for Monet and Chicago is provided by Lesley and Janice Lederer, the Shure Charitable Trust, Richard F. and Christine F. Karger, Mark and Charlene Novak, and Margot Levin Schiff and the Harold Schiff Foundation.
Additional support is contributed by the Alice M. LaPert Fund for French Impressionism, Alison R. Barker in honor of Ruth Stark Randolph, the Kemper Educational and Charitable Fund, the Rose L. and Sidney N. Shure Endowment, Gail Elden, and Michelle Lozins.
Members of the Exhibitions Trust provide annual leadership support for the museum’s operations, including exhibition development, conservation and collection care, and educational programming. The Exhibitions Trust includes an anonymous donor; Neil Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation; Jay Franke and David Herro; Karen Gray-Krehbiel and John Krehbiel, Jr.; Kenneth C. Griffin; Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation; Josef and Margot Lakonishok; Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy; Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff; Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel; Anne and Chris Reyes; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.