240 Minutes at The Art Institute of Chicago

Labyrinth Conquered (Almost)

Navigating the Art Institute of Chicago may be like navigating O’Hare airport for the first time, just without the crowds, but helpful guides are on hand to out you straight. PLUS, the museum allows visitors to photograph most works of art!!!

Even with plenty of signage pointing the way, and with a color-coded floor plan map as reference, I had difficulty locating several sections on a recent visit. Each time, Sandy was right there to graciously point me in the right direction, even saying, “I’ve been here a while and am still learning my way around.”

With only four hours to roam the museum, I focused on viewing paintings and started with the Impressionist section for which the Institute is know, and then moved to the special Rodin exhibit (they’re not paintings, but couldn’t pass up seeing the sculptures!).

The gallery of Modern paintings was my favorite, which surprised me. Abstracts, stark lines and dull or dark colors usually don’t move me. But not this time.

Below are some of the paintings that drew me in. All are oil on canvas unless otherwise noted. Dimensions are in inches. Sorry for the inconsistency in how each work is framed… I shot the pics with an iPhone. Happy Browsing!

Art Institute Photos

Louis Anquetin, An Elegant Woman at the Elysee Montmartre, 1888 (28 3/8 x 35 5/8).

This painting’s bright colors caught my eye, and then I noticed the unusual black outlines. Wikipedia writes, “Around 1887, Anquetin and Emile Bernard developed a painting style that used flat regions of color and thick, black contour outlines. This style, named Cloisonnism by critic Edouard Dujardin, was inspired by both stained glass and Japanese ukiyo-e.” 


Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1900 (39 3/4 x 35 3/8).

Monet re-routed a river to create his marshy backyard specifically as a subject for his paintings… and to please his eyes. He created 18 Versions of this scene.


Vincent Van Gogh, The Poet’s Garden, 1888 (28 3/4 x 36 1/4).

In a letter written around mid–September, van Gogh wrote that he had created a painting of “a corner of a garden with a weeping tree, grass, round clipped cedar shrubs and an oleander bush…there is a citron sky over everything, and also the colors have the richness and intensity of autumn.” This was the first of a four-painting series that would eventually hang in Gauguin’s house.


Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1889 (29 x 36 5/8).

Van Gosh painted three similar pictures of his bedroom in the “yellow House” he rented in Arles, France. This was the second one, which he painted it while living at an asylum in St. Remy. 


George Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -1884. (81 3/4 x 121 1/4).

The La Grande Jatte, which means “the big platter,” was an island in the River Seine. Seurat used tiny brushstrokes of complementary colors next to each other so they blend at a distance but add dimension (and even a little sparkle). Art critics named this technique Divisionism, or Pointillism. His use of geometric shapes and accurate proportions contrasts with works of the Impressionists, making him a post-Impressionist.

Detail of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -1884.


Claude Monet, Poppy Field (Giverny), 1890/91 (24 1/16 x 36 3/4).

Monet painted this poppy field four times, the same summer he started painting the stacks of wheat in 25 versions. It’s visually appealing.

Bonham Family Portraits, William Bonnell, 1825 (12 x 9 14/16).

William Bonnell, an Amerian painter, painted William Bonham, his son  J. Ellis Bonham from his first marriage, and Mrs. William Bonham (Ann Warford), his second wife. This queer, yet charming, little trio were completed in three successive days. I like the varied shading of the backgrounds, yet everything else is similar; biggish heads, smallish bodies made to recede even more in black, and each holding an object representing their interests. The man smokes a cigar, the boy reads a book and the woman holds a scarf.

Charles Biederman, American, Untitled, Paris, March 1937 (45 5/8 x 35).

Biederman first studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then went on to study and paint in New York and Paris, where he was exposed to Cubists, Surrealists and other modern artists. Interestingly, he was dedicated to starting a new work each day.

Charles Sheeler, Western Industrial, 1955 (22 7/8 x 29).

Sheeler was a painter and photographer known as a Precisionist. I love how the diagonal lines add movement to Inland Steel plant in East Chicago, Indiana.

Charles Sheeler, The Artist Looks at Nature, 1943 (21 x 18).

Is he really looking at the disproportionate nature? Looks instead like he is drawing an antiquated stove based on a photograph he took in 1917. The museum says, “His self-portrait also relies upon a photographic self-portrait he took in 1931.” I like the lines.

Jacob Lawrence, American, The Wedding, egg tempera on hardboard, 1948 (20 x 24).

Lawrence painted from his every day life in Harlem and about the history of African-Americans in the U.S. This painting reflects a solemn wedding ceremony but also joy in the colorful flowers and, my favorite, the stained glass framing the scene.

Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Nightlife, 1943 (36 x 47 3/4).

Motley depicts nightlife in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and paints diagonal lines and geometric shapes to represent jazz and motion.

Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Self-Portrait

Motley painted this self-portrait after the Chicago race riots of 1919. The museum says,”The violence convinced him that he should use his art to influence perceptions of African Americans in a positive manner.”

Thomas Hart Benton, Cotton Pickers, 1945 (32 x 48).

Benton painted this scene based on a trip he made to Georgia in the 1920s. It illustrates the dignity of sharecroppers, and how sharecropping kept agricultural laborers impoverished. The museum writes, “Benton held progressive views on race, social relations, and politics, and he believed ardently that African American history was central to the understanding of American culture.”

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1939. Oil on beaver board (30 3/4 x 25 3/4).

Wood publicly exhibited this painting for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, winning a $300 prize and instant fame. It’s still there! This photo is iconic, of course. Wood used his sister and dentist as his models.

Niles Spencer, Cape Cod, 1926-27.

I was unable to find any details about this painting.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Spring, 1923-24 (18 x 14).

O’Keeffe painted the building that held Alfred Stieglitz’s darkroom in Lake George, NY. Best known for her sensuous flower paintings, O’Keeffe portrays care and simplicity in this version of her husband’s humble studio.

Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Landscape, 1911-12 (23 1/4 x 19 1/4).

The museum says, Marguerite Thompson Zorach was one of the first Americans to embrace abstract art, and she exhibited her vividly colored canvases at some of the most important early exhibitions of modern art, including the 1913 Armory Show.”

Diego Rivera, Portrait of Marevna, c. 1915 (57 3/8 x 44 3/8).

Husband of Frida Kahlo and best known for his murals (and Socialist activism), Rivera early on studied in Paris and practiced Cubism. This is his Russian mistress, Maria Virobieff-Stebelaka, whom he called “a she-devil.” 

Mary Cassatt, On a Balcony, 1878-79 (35 1/2 x 25 5/8).

One of Cassatt’s early Impressionist paintings. It’s pretty and shows the woman reading a newspaper rather than a novel. That’s a little progress for women.

John Singer Sargent, 1907, The Fountain, Villa Torino’s, Frascati, Italy (28 1/8 x 22 1/4).

All the international high society folks of his day wanted Sargent to paint their large portraits. Here he paints his friends,Wilfrid and Jane Emmet de Glehn, who are also artists.

John Singer Sargent, Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver, c. 1879 (36 5/8 x 28 3/4). 

Sargent painted this Impressionist piece as a student. Very different in perspective and technique from his well-known portraits of the global wealthy elite.

Shepard Fairey, Barack Obama Hope poster, 2008 (24 x 36).


Willem de Kooning, Interchange, (sometimes called Interchanged), 1955 (79 x 69).

This painting sold at Sotheby’s of NY in 1989 for $18.8 million, the highest auction price ever paid for a contemporary artwork at that time. David Geffen privately sold the painting in 2015 for an estimated $300 million. I liked it for the powerful color bursts before learning about it’s value.

Alma Thomas, Starry Night and the Astronauts, 1972. Acrylic on canvas (60 x 53).

Thomas was the first fine arts graduate from Howard University. Born in Georgia, she taught art at a junior high school in Washington, D.C. for 35 years. Eventually, unfortunately, she stopped pursuing painting. The deep blue pulled me in, as did the brushstrokes and overall effect that reminds me of geometric quilts made by African-American women. This is one of my favorites!!

Roy Lichtenstein, Ohhh… Alright… 1964. Oil and manga on canvas (36.6 x 38).

This is relatively small compared to his usual giant pieces. Looking closely, it’s a marvel how he painted the dots so straight, like a machine.

Roy Lichtenstein, Artist’s Studio: Foot Medication, 1974 (96x 128).

Had to share this one because it involves an artist’s Cre8-space, and Lichtenstein modeled some features, like the plant and patterned wallpaper and tablecloth, on Matisse’s famously colorful home interiors.

Wanda Pimental, Brazilian, Involvement Series. 1968-69 (51 1/5 x 38 3/5).


Benny Andrews, Flag Day, 1966 (31 x 16 inches).

I love Benny Andrews’ art! With this painting, Andrews is believed to be making a commentary on how African American men are imprisoned; this gentleman is trapped in the stripes of the U.S. flag.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1962. Oil on Linen (69 1/2 × 69 1/2)

Ryman’s painting may seem white, which attracted me, but other colors pop up, along with the burlap-colored linen background around the edges. He painted a series of these large-scale works in 1962 .

Cy Twombly, American, Untitled (Bolsena), 1969. Oil-based paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas (78 1/2 x 94 1/2).

Lots to look at here. Twombly has ardent fans, one of which is Ralph Rucci, the couture designer who collects Twombly’s works. Rucci has even used Twombly canvasses in playful French needlework on some of his clothing.

Andy Warhol, Four Mona Lisas, 1978, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen (50 x 40).

Well, I had to share at least one Warhol, and this one is based on the work of a master, rather than a soup company (not that there’s anything wrong with appropriating every day items for art).

Jackson pollock, The Key, 1946. Oil on linen (59 x 82 inches).

An expressive abstract, this work was painted in an upstairs bedroom and worked from all sides. It predates Pollock’s famous drip paintings, which were released the following year. The museum writes, “The Key belongs to Jackson Pollock’s Accabonac Creek series, named for a stream near the East Hampton property that he and his wife, the painter Lee Krasner, purchased in late 1945.”


  1. So, – I LOVE this. I am speaking as one who is not well educated at all in paintings or the visual arts. The pieces you chose to photograph are wonderful to my untrained eye and I loved your comments. Do you mind if I ask which Iphone you have? You got beautiful pics with it. I’m coveting and 8 because of the camera. It’s too difficult to walk with my camera and my specs. This might be my favorite post. You made it all so accessible and chose such variety. Cannot wait to see the final post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much, Susan!! My iPhone is a 6s. Some people take gorgeous pics with their phones, but those are the ones who can use any camera and create startling images. I wish I was one of those… but will keep trying. Good luck with your photography and other creative doings!!

    Liked by 1 person

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Cindi Brown


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