Savoring the Art Institute of Chicago

Posted: October 5th, 2011 under Travel.
Tags: , ,

Landscape with Two Poplars by Kandinsky






How thankful I am for talented artists!  Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.  I went alone, able to absorb and ponder great works of art.  My viewing was limited only by the museum’s closing hours.  Five and a half hours were not long enough.  Studying pictures of art masterpieces is worthwhile and culturally relevant, but does not substitute for the experience of connecting with them in person.  It is an intimate experience, sort of like finally meeting someone you have always heard about.  “I am so glad to finally meet you; I have heard so much about you.”

Alas, upon arriving at the museum I discovered that the camera I brought to Chicago was a 45 minute train ride away in my hotel.  Sigh.  I did my best to capture a few snapshots with my cell phone before the battery plunged into the red zone.

An exhibit called “Belligerent Encounters:  Graphic Images of War and Revolution, 1500-1945” was powerful and moving.  How seamlessly Otto Dix’s images of World War I horrors and the brutality of the Weimar Republic flowed into Francisco de Goya’s portrayal of Napolean’s war atrocities in Spain.  These artists so powerfully communicated where words fail.  From a series called Der Krieg, Dix captures civilians fleeing an aerial raid.

Lens wirdt mit Bomben belegt

Here we see depicted homes destroyed and cities trampled by soldiers.






This poster depicts the evacuation of civilians from a ship that was attacked by German u-boats.  The child’s face beneath the sailor’s arm seems to glow angelically.

My favorite image came from a collection of prints depicting the aftermath of war and the hardships of soldiers, especially amputees.  This print by Heinrich Hoerle is called The Married Couple, from Krueppel.  Their faces show such sorrow, yet see how gently she holds his hooked arm, and how tenderly his other hooked arm embraces her waist.


The Married Couple, from Krueppel

My experience at the Art Institute of Chicago was not all heavy and introspective.  I enjoyed lighter subjects as well.  The museum has a fantastic collection of modern art.  When I was a child, my family often played a board game called “Masterpiece”.  Even when I was very young, I would always trade my Rembrandt card for a Van Gogh or a Marc Chagall.  I don’t know why.  They make my eyes feel good.   So I was delighted to encounter a large collection of works by modern favorites, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Miro, and these by Georges Braque:


Landscape at L'Estaque


I think I have found a new favorite.  Piet Mondrian is perhaps best known for curious abstract paintings, such as Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Blue, Black, Red, and Gray:

Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray

But look at this terrific landscape!

Farm Near Duivendrecht

The Art Institute of Chicago displays quite a number of very famous paintings.  The gallery with Grant Woods’ American Gothic was quite crowded.  I was content to view it from afar. I suppose there is no painting that has inspired as many parodies, except perhaps The Mona Lisa.

American Gothic

In the same gallery was a painting I had never seen before by Charles Sheeler.  The artist looks down upon a surreal landscape.  Even though his shadow is cast upon the grass, he seems to hover above the wall.  The painting he is composing is not the visible landscape, but instead a monochromatic painting of a cellar.  It makes you ponder.  Or at least, it makes me ponder.

The Artist Looks at Nature

I had to wait  for a crowd to clear so that I could view George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884.  I wanted to take it all in, unhindered.  It was magnificent.

A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, 1884


Seeing a painting in person allowed me not only to stand back for the “big picture”, but also to move in for a closer view.

John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of a lovely, elegant woman.  It seemed life-like.

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth)

I could move in close to marvel at the brushwork, then step back again to appreciate the effect.

Detail of gown

In many ways visiting a museum is like attending a party.  You not only become acquainted with familiar names, but also you get to meet new friends.  Francis Picabia’s painting, Edtaonisl, shows whirling, swirling colors.  The painting was inspired by the artist’s observation of a Catholic priest who was captivated watching dancers rehearsing on the deck of a ship.

Edtaonisl (Ecclesiastic)

Thanksgiving, by Doris Lee, is amusing and sentimental.  I can not help but smile.


There are many paintings which I feel can only be appreciated when seen in person.  An example would be Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water.

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water

Photographs and prints make this painting appear to be a mere gray blob with an orange spot.  But not in person!  There are flecks of gold light that penetrate the mist, and draw you in to the painting.  For me, it was one of those “WOW” moments.  I had to go back for a second look.

There are many who would argue that the study of fine art is not a legitimate career; that painting is not a worthwhile pursuit.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  As Stephen Sondheim said in his musical, Sunday in the Park with George, “Give us more to see!”


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment