“Exhibit ‘Monet and Chicago’ Opens at the Art Institute”

The exhibit Monet and Chicago opened at The Art Institute of Chicago (A.I.C.) on Saturday, September 5, A.D. 2020 and will remain on view through Monday, January 18, A.D. 2021.  The exhibit illustrates the special relationship between the de facto capital of the American Midwest and the great French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926).  It consists of paintings from both the A.I.C.’s holdings and other collections in Chicago.

In 1891, Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918) and Potter Palmer (1826-1902) – the retailer- turned-hotelier-and-real estate developer who gave shape to State Street – acquired twenty of Monet’s paintings.  [Potter Palmer was one of the businessmen who in 1879 founded the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, which changed its name to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1892.]  That first group of Monet paintings they acquired in 1891 included multiple works from his Stacks of Wheat series.  Ultimately, they would go on to acquire a total of ninety Monet works.  That same year, 1891, Martin A. Ryerson (1856-1932), a trustee and patron of the A.I.C. since 1880, and would later go on to become vice-president of the A.I.C., bought his first work by Monet.  As President of the Board of Lady Managers for Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), Bertha Palmer superintended the creation of the Woman’s Building at the White City fairgrounds, and it included 129 artworks from collections of American private citizens, including four of Monet’s paintings.  The World’s Columbian Exposition was an opportunity for Chicago’s leaders to show how they had rebuilt the city in the wake of the Great Fire of 1871 and were keen to adopt modern technology and aesthetics.

It was within this context that, in 1895, the Union League Club of Chicago purchased Apple Trees in Blossom (1872), which the A.I.C. also displayed that same year in the exhibit 20 Works by Claude Monet, which was the painter’s first solo show at an American museum.  [The Union League Club of Chicago traces its origins to the Union League of America, a movement to establish patriotic clubs to marshal support for President Abraham Lincoln and the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865).] In 1903, the A.I.C. became the first American museum to purchase a painting by Monet.  Subsequently, the A.I.C. received other works of his thanks to the generosity of the Palmers, Annie Coburn, former two-time Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, Junior (1860-1953) – whose father, Mayor Carter Harrison, Senior (1825-1893), was assassinated during the World’s Columbian Exposition – the Searle family, and others.

Figure 1 Credit: Claude Monet, Water Lilly Pond, 1900. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection (Accession #1933.441).

Over the course of the 20th Century, the A.I.C. mounted numerous exhibits and exhibitions of Monet’s work.  Notably, Claude Monet: 1840-1926 drew approximately 1,000,000 visitors from across the world.  That exhibit broke A.I.C.’s previous attendance and sales records.  The research for those exhibits culminated in the digital catalogue Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, a scholarly work published (on the Web) in 2014.  It examines Monet’s works in the light of both scholarship by art historians and scientific studies of his techniques and materials.  The A.I.C. stated, “Monet and Chicago will offer wide audiences the revelatory results of that research, allowing them to gain new insights into Monet’s oeuvre and advance their understanding of his creative process.”

Today, the A.I.C.’s holdings include thirty-three paintings and thirteen drawings by Monet.  This is the largest collection of his works outside Paris. 

Amongst the over seventy paintings in the exhibit Monet and Chicago from the A.I.C.’s holdings and other collections range from the world-famous to the obscure.  The A.I.C. stated these include “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 proves.”

The organizer of the exhibit is Gloria Groom.  She is both the David and Mary Winton Green Curator of Painting and Sculpture of Europe at the A.I.C. and Chair of Painting and Sculpture of Europe.  The A.I.C. has also issued an exhibit catalogue that can be purchased in the gift shop.

Lead support for the exhibit comes from The Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund.  Chase and J.P. Morgan are the Lead Corporate Sponsors.  Major funding comes from the following individuals and organizations: 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 comes from 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.

In addition, the A.I.C. recognizes the support of the Luminary Trust, members of which “provide annual leadership support for the museum’s operations, including exhibition development, conservation and collection care, and educational programming.”   Further, the A.I.C. stated, “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.”  Note that Kenneth C. Griffin and his foundation are being thanked separately. 

The A.I.C. added, “This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.”  The Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities is part of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.  It is comprised of senior-level officials from several agencies of the executive branch of the Federal Government (including people of ministerial rank), plus the Librarian of Congress.  It is comprised of the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Secretary of Education; the Director of the National Science Foundation; the Librarian of Congress; the Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts; the Archivist of the United States; the Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service (P.B.S.) of the General Services Administration (G.S.A.); the Administrator of the General Services Administrator (G.S.A.); the Director of the United States Information Agency; the Secretary of the Interior; the Secretary of Commerce; the Secretary of Transportation; the Chairman of the National Museum Services Board; the Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (I.M.L.S.); the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; the Secretary of Labor; the Secretary of Veterans Affairs; and the Commissioner of the Administration on Aging.

The A.I.C. re-opened in July.  To find out what procedures the A.I.C. is following to protect staff and visitors alike during the COVID-19 pandemic, read my article about the re-opening in July or go to this Webpage: https://www.artic.edu/visit.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s museum sits at the west end of the Chicago Park District’s Grant Park.  It has two entrances.  The Michigan Avenue Entrance is 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60603.  The Modern Wing Entrance is 159 East Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603.  Click here to download the Visitor Guide.  The Website is https://www.artic.edu/.  The phone number is (312) 443-3600.

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