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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.
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.
Hero Construction, created in 1958, just a year after Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt graduated from the School of the Art Institute, is composed of found objects—old pipes, bits of metal, and automobile parts—that the artist discovered in junkyards and on the street. Inspired by mythology and heroic sculptures past and present, the welded figure suggests a hero for our times, humble yet resilient in the face of past, present, and future injustices and uncertainties.
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.”
New York–based Jordan Casteel is known for her expressive and sensitive depictions of people she encounters in her everyday sphere. Her portrait of the former president, Barack, was painted to accompany a 2020 interview in the Atlantic with Obama. As a painting of an iconic individual, Barack is somewhat of an outlier in her body of work. It is also, unlike her other portraits, based on a photograph that was not taken by the artist herself. And yet the painting process remained intimate and empathic: as Casteel remarked, “There is another level of ‘knowing’ that occurs when you take the time to paint the likeness of someone.”
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.
This sun-drenched composition with its vivid palette, dramatic perspective, and dynamic brushwork depicts Van Gogh’s bedroom in his house in Arles, France, his first true home of his own. Van Gogh dubbed it the “Studio of the South” in the hope that friends and artists would join him there. He immediately set to work on the house and painted this bedroom scene as a part of his decorating scheme. Van Gogh liked this image so much that he painted three distinct versions—the other two are held in the collections of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
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.
The densely painted and geometrically patterned Kuba mask is a ngady mwaash, an idealized representation of a woman that honors the role of women in Kuba life. Ngady mwaah most often appear as part of a trio of royal masks in reenactments of the Kuba Kingdom’s origins, which are staged at public ceremonies, initiations, and funerals. In these masquerades, the ngady mwaash dances together with the mooshamb-wooy mask, which represents the king (who is both her brother and her husband), and the bwoom mask. Male mask characters like bwoom display aggression and heaviness while female characters like ngady mwaash dance in a sensuous and graceful manner even though the mask is always worn by a man.
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.
In this celebrated painting, Chicago artist Archibald Motley portrayed the vibrancy of African American culture, depicting young, sophisticated city dwellers crowding a cabaret in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. A pervasive burgundy tone bathes the drinkers and dancers in intense light, while the dancers’ dynamic poses and repeated diagonals give the composition an exuberant, upbeat energy.
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.
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.