“125th Anniversary of Art Institute’s Opening Ceremony” by S.M. O’Connor

The Art Institute of Chicago (A.I.C.) combines in one institution an art museum and a school of art.  This month, The Art Institute is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its move into the building in Grant Park that had held the World’s Congress Auxiliary during Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).  Tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, 2018 is the 125th anniversary of the opening ceremony.  Yesterday, Elvia Malagon reported in the Chicago Tribune that tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. The Art Institute of Chicago will use members and the volunteers from the general public to recreate a famous photograph of what appears to be several thousand people standing in front of The Art Institute of Chicago at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.[1]

According to the historian Bessie Louise Pierce, in 1877 a number of prominent businessmen were invited to join a group of artists on the board of trustees of the Chicago Academy of Design – ignoring the fact there were already businessmen on the board of trustees who had lost everything in the Great Fire of 1871 – in an attempt to revive the project, but they soon resigned and founded the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879.  The businessmen she identified were William B. Doggett, Marshall Field I’s mentor Potter Palmer, Franklin McVeigh, Nathanial K. Fairbank, Marshall Field I’s business partner Levi Z. Leiter, First National Bank President Samuel M. Nickerson, Blue Island Land & Building Company Treasurer George C. Walker, clothier Henry W. King, lawyer Mark Skinner, and contractor William B. Howard.[2]   Its leaders benefited from being able to purchase the assets of the Chicago Academy of Design, which had barely survived the Great Fire of 1871.  Banker Charles Lawrence Hutchinson (1854-1924) succeeded Levi Z. Leiter as president, and held the office for forty-two years from 1882 until his death in 1924.[3]  In 1882, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts changed its name to The Art Institute of Chicago.  That same year, The Art Institute of Chicago moved from rented space at the intersection of State & Monroe to property owned by the Art Institute at the southwest corner of Michigan & Van Buren, and the Art Institute purchased adjacent land in 1885.[4]  In 1885-86, John W. Root (1850-1891) of Burnham & Root designed a Romanesque[5] building to house the Art Institute, at 404 South Michigan Avenue, which opened on November 19, 1887.[6] The A.I.C. organization soon outgrew the Romanesque building designed by J. W. Root and a new home had to be found. [7]   For Hutchinson, who served a one-year-long term as president of The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1889, promoting the city by bringing the World’s Fair to Chicago and securing a new home for the Art Institute could be combined.  If a permanent building were to be erected to temporarily house fine arts exhibitions lent to the World’s Columbian Exposition Company from governments all over the world, then when the World’s Fair ended, the Art Institute could occupy the building.  According to historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, the proposal to construct a building that would temporarily serve the World’s Columbian Exposition and permanently house the Art Institute was discussed by The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1890.[8]

In 1892, the A.I.C. sold Root’s Romanesque building to the Chicago Club.[9]  Mail-order retail kingpin Aaron Montgomery Ward (1844-1913), who had won a lawsuit to force the City of Chicago to clean up Lake Park (later re-named Grant Park) did not object to the A.I.C. building being erected in Lake Park, though he later regretted it because it established a precedent that it was acceptable to build structures in Lake Park and he would go on to spend a fortune on lawsuits to prevent other museums and monuments from subsequently being built there.[10]   The only property owner on Michigan Avenue to refuse to sign a consent decree allowing for the A.I.C. building to be erected with a 400-foot-long frontage on Michigan Avenue was Mrs. Sarah Daggett, who was accused of being part of “a New York clique aiming at crippling” Chicago’s effort to host the World’s Fair.[11]  Ultimately, her husband signed her name, and city officials and courts decided he had a right to do so.[12]  Charles A. Coolidge with the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed the Italian Renaissance-style structure at the west end of Lake Park along Michigan Avenue, where Adams Street terminates in a T-intersection at Michigan Avenue. While the A.I.C. project was underway, Coolidge was also awarded the contract to design the Chicago Public Library, the city’s first purpose-built public library building, which opened in 1897, and in 1977 became the Chicago Cultural Center.[13]   The A.I.C. building was erected on the former site of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition Building.[14]  [Coolidge also designed the Georgian Revival style mansion for Chicago Tribune publisher and post-Great Fire Mayor of Chicago (1871-73) Joseph Medill (1823-1899), built in 1896, which was later enlarged in the 1930s by Medill’s grandson and Chicago Tribune publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick (1880-1955) and is now the McCormick Museum at Cantigny Museum and Gardens in Winfield, IL.]  In 1897, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld Ward’s lawsuit against the City of Chicago to clean and improve Lake (now Grant) Park, and prevent the City from building a civic center there, but exempted the A.I.C. in Lake Park and the library in Dearborn Park, where Lincoln once spoke.[15]  Before the A.I.C. took possession of the building, it was used as a lecture hall during the World’s Columbian Exposition, the World’s Congress Auxiliary.

The “Congresses” (international conferences and symposiums) were the brainchild of Chicago lawyer, judge, teacher, author, and orator Charles Carroll Bonney (1831-1903), and covered such topics as women, labor, medicine, education, finance, temperance, evolution, religion, philosophy, literature, architecture, and art.[16]

The Art Institute opened in its new home on Friday, December 8, 1893. The gala opening of the new A.I.C. building was on Sunday, December 31, 1893.

There are enormous bronze lions flanking the stairs at the main entrance of The Art Institute of Chicago, on that building’s west side, facing the intersection of Michigan and Adams, which also date back to the World’s Columbian Exposition. They are roughly the size of Aslan from the C.S. Lewis children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The lions were the work of Captain Edward Kemeys (1843-1907), a self-taught artist who served as an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.  Back in the 1970s, the Landmarks Preservation Council and Service stated flatly the bronze lions were by Kemeys.[17]  More recently, Whitman attributed the lions to Kemeys, and explicated at the end of the World’s Columbian Exposition “the plaster lions were removed [from the Palace of Fine Arts], recast in bronze with funding from Mrs. Henry Field,[18] and donated to The Art Institute of Chicago.”[19]  [According to the more common edition of The Dream City, the sculptors of these lions at the South Portico of the Palace of Fine Arts were Theodore Bauer and A. P. Proctor, but this is a mistake, as those sculptors made other lions for other stairs of the Palace of Fine Arts.[20]]  The Palace of Fine Arts down in Jackson Park served as an art museum during the World’s Columbian Exposition.  [It is the last palace from the White City that remains standing in Jackson Park.]  Subsequently, it housed The Field Museum of Natural History, until 1920, when it moved into its new building in Burnham Park.  Since 1933, the Palace of Fine Arts has housed the Museum of Science and Industry, which opened during Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34).  The bronze lions were unveiled on May 10, 1894.




[1] The original photograph they want to recreate has a surreal quality because the three figures closest to the camera look like ghostly apparitions.  This does not mean the photographer captured an image of real ghosts, but rather that those three people were moving while the others were relatively still.  There are many such 19th and early 20th century photographs.

[2] Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III: The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893. Alfred A. Knopf, 1957, 1975.  Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (1957, 2007),

pages 494 & 495

[3] Jane H. Clarke, “The Art Institute’s Guardian Lions,” Museum Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1988, p. 49

[4] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Vol. III , p. 495

[5] Examples of Romanesque architecture include the Cathedral of Trier in Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany; the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham in Durham, England; and the Cathedral of Saint-Front in Perigueux, France.  In The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Trilogy (2001-2003), the capital of Gondor, Minas Tirith (also known as the White City) is depicted in Romanesque style.

[6] Carl Smith, The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City.  Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2006), p. 49

See also Donald F. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (1996), pages 385-387

See also Pierce, Vol. III, p. 495

See also Joseph M. Siry, The Chicago Auditorium Building: Adler and Sullivan’s Architecture and the City. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (2002), p. 3

[7] Miller, pages 385-387

See also Pierce, Vol. III, p. 495

[8] Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Culture & the City: Cultural Philanthropy in Chicago from the 1880s to 1917. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (1976, 1989), p. 57

She cites Annual Report of the Chicago Art Institute 13 (1891-92), p. 15

[9] Pierce, Vol. III, p. 495

[10] Lois Wille, Forever Open, Clear, and Free: The Struggle for Chicago’s Lakefront. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (1972, 1991) , p. 75

[11] Wille, p. 75

[12] Wille, p. 75

[13] Miller, p. 385 and Bach, p. 389

See also Cathleen D. Cahill, “Chicago Public Library,” Encyclopedia of Chicago (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/261.html) Accessed 03/10/09

[14] Siry, The Chicago Auditorium Building, p. 32

[15] Wille, pages 23 and 75

[16] Stanley Appelbaum, Spectacle in the White City: The Chicago 1893 World’s Fair. Mineola, New York: Calla Editions, an imprint of Dover Publications, Inc. (2009), p. 138

[17] Landmarks Preservation Council and Service, Chicago’s Landmark Structures: An Inventory, Part 1: Loop Area Chicago (1974), p. 8

[18] Henry Field was Marshall Field I’s younger brother.  See Axel Madesn, The Marshall Fields: The Evolution of an American Business Dynasty.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons (2002), pages 19, 32, and 33

[19] Timothy N. Whitman, “Museum of Science and Industry,” Submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, January 5, 1994, p. 16

See also Jane H. Clarke, “The Art Institute’s Guardian Lions,” Museum Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1988, p. 55

[20] The Dream City: A Portfolio of Photographic Views of the World’s Columbian Exposition with an Introduction by Halsey C. Ives.  St. Louis, Missouri: N. D. Thompson Publishing Company, 1893-1894.

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