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What to See in an Hour


Short on time? Never fear, you can still see some of the most iconic and beloved works in the Art Institute’s collection on this quick spin through the galleries. Ready, set—art!

If you entered at Michigan Avenue, start at the top. If you entered through the Modern Wing, go in reverse order. 

Please note that artworks occasionally go off view for imaging, treatment, or loan to other institutions. Click on the images to ensure the work is currently on view.

Design attributed to Agnes F. Northrop, made by Tiffany Studios

More than 100 years ago, Agnes F. Northrop designed the monumental Hartwell Memorial Window for Tiffany Studios as a commission from Mary Hartwell in honor of her husband, Frederick Hartwell, for the Central Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island (now Community Church of Providence). Composed of 48 panels and numerous different glass types, the window is inspired by the view from Frederick Hartwell’s family home near Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire. The majestic scene captures the transitory beauty of nature—the sun setting over a mountain, flowing water, and dappled light dancing through the trees—in an intricate arrangement of vibrantly colored glass.

On view at the top of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase

  • India, Tamil Nadu, Nagapattinam

    This 12th-century statue of the Buddha comes from the south Indian coastal town of Nagapattinam, where Buddhist monasteries flourished and attracted monks from distant lands. He is seated in a lotus posture of meditation, with hands and feet resting atop one another. The mark on his forehead is called the urna, which distinguishes the Buddha as a great being.

    On view in Gallery 140

  • Nigeria

    Headdresses of this type, made of fresh, uncured antelope skin stretched over a softwood carved head and attached to a wickerwork skullcap, are a distinctive art of the Cross River region in southeastern Nigeria and western Cameroon. Evoking ideal feminine beauty and featuring a complex hairstyle with curving hornlike braids, this example was most likely worn by an Ejagham woman in the context of a female association called Ekpa, which was responsible for the education of girls in preparation for marriage. The spiral forms of the hairstyle and the painted facial markings refer to a secret writing system known as nsibidi.

    On view in Gallery 137

    South German, Nuremberg

    Caught in the heat of battle with sword raised and horse rearing, this mounted figure may match many notions of a knight in shining armor but actually represents a common hired soldier. The armors for both man and horse were produced in Nuremberg, Germany, in the 16th century, but the clothing was meticulously recreated in 2017 from period designs. Look for the special leggings: small plates of steel are sewn between two pieces of linen to protect the soldier’s legs. You’ll also spot some splashes of mud and grime from the battlefield.

    On view in Gallery 239

    Georges Seurat

    For his largest and best-known painting, Georges Seurat depicted Parisians enjoying all sorts of leisurely activities—strolling, lounging, sailing, and fishing—in the park called La Grande Jatte in the River Seine. He used an innovative technique called Pointillism, inspired by optical and color theory, applying tiny dabs of different colored paint that viewers see as a single, and Seurat believed, more brilliant hue.

    On view in Gallery 240

  • Vincent van Gogh

    Over his short five-year career, Vincent van Gogh painted 35 self-portraits—24 of them, including this early example, during his two-year stay in Paris with his brother Theo. Here, Van Gogh used densely dabbed brushwork, an approach influenced by Georges Seurat’s revolutionary technique in A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 (on view Gallery in 240), to create a dynamic portrayal of himself. The dazzling array of dots and dashes in brilliant greens, blues, reds, and oranges is anchored by his intense gaze. 

    On view in Gallery 241

    Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986)

    Painted in the summer of 1965, when Georgia O’Keeffe was 77 years old, this monumental work culminates the artist’s series based on her experiences as an airplane passenger during the 1950s. Spanning the entire 24-foot width of O’Keeffe’s garage, the work has not left the Art Institute since it came into the building—because of its size and because of its status as an essential icon.

    On view in Gallery 249

    Grant Wood

    One of the most famous American paintings of all time, this double portrait by Grant Wood debuted at the Art Institute in 1930, winning the artist a $300 prize and instant fame. Many people think the couple are a husband and wife, but Wood meant the couple to be a father and his daughter. (His sister and his dentist served as his models.) He intended this Depression-era canvas to be a positive statement about rural American values during a time of disillusionment.

    On view in Gallery 263

  • Edward Hopper

    This iconic painting of an all-night diner in which three customers sit together and yet seem totally isolated from one another has become one of the best-known images of 20th-century art. Hopper said of the enigmatic work, “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

    On view in Gallery 262

  • Pablo Picasso

    Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist is a work from his Blue Period (1901–04). During this time the artist restricted himself to a cold, monochromatic blue palette and flattened forms, taking on the themes of misery and alienation inspired by such artists as Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin. The elongated, angular figure also relates to Picasso’s interest in Spanish art and, in particular, the great 16th-century artist El Greco. The image reflects the 22-year-old Picasso’s personal sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden; he knew what it was like to be poor, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902.

    On view in Gallery 391

  • René Magritte

    Magritte made this work from the home of Edward James, one of Surrealism’s most important patrons. (James also commissioned works from Salvador Dalí, including his iconic lobster telephone and Mae West lips sofa.) James invited Magritte to paint three canvases for his London home. Magritte made On the Threshold of Liberty during his stay there in 1937, reworking the motif of a cannon aimed at a female torso from an earlier horizontal painting of the same title (now in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) into a vertical format in order to meet the specifications of the work’s destined site in James’s ballroom.

    On view in Gallery 396

    Alma Thomas

    In the 1970s, Alma Thomas was enthralled by astronauts and outer space. Starry Night and the Astronauts not only captures her fascination with space flight but also shows the signature style of her abstract works, which use short, rhythmic strokes of paint. “Color is life,” she once proclaimed, “and light is the mother of color.” Thomas made this work in 1972, when she was 81—the same year she became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

    On view in Gallery 291

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