When first-time visitors ascend the Grand Staircase and enter Gallery 201, they are drawn immediately to the monumental Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte. The painting—a perennial visitor favorite since it joined the collection in the 1960s—shows the (then) new boulevards of Paris and the modern, fashion-conscious crowd attempting to stay dry. The picture seems both real and choreographed, dreary yet optimistic. It’s no wonder so many find it magnetic.
The painting made a special appearance in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity in 2013, and then went off view to undergo conservation. But it was what happened next that landed it a special profile in the Wall Street Journal and its very own video.
Conservator of paintings Faye Wrubel began work on conserving the painting last fall after its big cameo. Her routine conservation and cleaning turned into something much larger once Ms. Wrubel removed the varnish and discovered the painting took on a different tone: the skies are now more blue and dynamic, there are more pronounced contrasts, and there’s more light—almost like the rain is ending and the sun is about to break from the clouds. So you can better see the change, our “before” image is immediately below and the “after” image is below that.
The conservation team used x-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet analyses to survey the painting. The ultraviolet photos told a story different than what most assumed about the painting—she learned that sometime between when Caillebotte finished the work and it joined the Art Institute’s collection, the work had been retouched to make the sky more consistent. After examining painted sketches and the ultraviolet photos, Ms. Wrubel concluded that Caillebotte painted a sky of greater complexity than what most of us were accustomed to.
The conserved work has elicited “wow”s from those who have seen it. There’s definitely more sparkle to an already beloved Art Institute piece. And to decode what that means, we invite you to see the painting for yourself. Paris Street; Rainy Day will be back on view in Gallery 201 on April 23.
And by everywhere, we really do mean everywhere. In fact, we mean Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor national art show ever conceived. Starting in August, approximately 50 masterpieces of American art from the five participating museums—the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art—will pop up on as many as 50,000 displays nationwide, including billboards, subway platforms, and on bus shelters, and the selection will be curated with the help of an online vote. Which is where you come in. Currently there are 100 artworks that will be culled down and every day through May 7, you can vote for 10. Over the years, we’ve highlighted a number of our paintings in contention, but we thought we’d take a look at one of the lesser known works, Winslow Homer’s The Water Fan.
This painting depicts a young black man intently searching for coral using a glass-bottomed bucket. Referred to as a “water glass” or “sponge glass,” this device was used to stabilize the surface of moving water in order to improve visibility. Homer may have been attracted to the subject because it draws attention to the constantly moving surface of the water as well as its transparency, aspects of the sea that especially intrigued him in the Bahamas. This work originally had more visible red washes in the water, hinting at the pink coral beneath the surface. While these areas have faded over time, the fluid strokes of darker blue over layers of transparent turquoise are effective in suggesting the play of light, both direct and reflected, over water.
So start thinking now about your summer road trip and what you might want to see along the way. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often!
Image Credit: Winslow Homer. The Water Fan, 1898/99. Gift of Dorothy A., John A., Jr., and Christopher Holabird in memory of William and Mary Holabird.
Full disclosure: there are quite a few of us here at the museum who are big fans of (or mildly obsessed with) the HBO series Game of Thrones, which premiered its fourth season last night. And while you might think that it’s a bit of a stretch to discuss the show here, there are actually quite a few connections we could make between aspects of Westeros and the museum’s collection.
But we decided to start with the titular throne. The Iron Throne that Joffrey Baratheon currently sits on does not look very cozy. Made from the blades of one thousand swords, it is the seat of ultimate power, but also the seat that makes you the biggest target in Westeros. In fact, in the words of Ned Stark, “it is a monstrous uncomfortable chair. In more ways than one.”
And while all thrones do indicate some kind of power, not all thrones are quite so forbidding. We took a closer look at the museum’s holdings to find some examples:
This 15th-century Netherlandish print illustrates a story from the life of King Solomon, who was renowned for his wisdom. He’s seated on a throne at the top of this dramatic print and judges a case case of two children, one of whom had recently died, and two women claiming to be the mother of the survivor. He threatened to divide the child between them (using the sword held by a servant at left) in order to determine the truth. With this clever ruse, he easily identified the child’s mother, who would rather her child live with another woman than be killed.
In this composition of four figures, the king is not the largest, but as the only person who is seated and crowned, he is seen as the most powerful. His senior wife stands prominently behind him, her imposing height conveying the powerful role she plays in maintaining his power. But her position behind him indicates her support for and loyalty to him. The two smaller figures represent a junior spouse and another attendant. This vertical piece would have served as an architectural embellishment in a palace and would have projected the authority, prosperity, and power of royalty.
This statuette is thought to depict Concordia, the Roman personification of harmony, one of the four principal virtues of the Roman Empire. Concordia sits on a high-backed throne and wears an ornamental headband, a long tunic tied above her waist, and a cloak, which drapes over her left shoulder and lap. The figure likely held a libation dish in her extended right hand and a cornucopia (horn of plenty) in her missing left hand.
The materials that make up this throne are a bit more atypical. The crowned Buddha is seated in the pose of meditation on a throne formed by the coils of the serpent king Muchalinda, whose own seven heads form a sheltering canopy around the figure.
If this hasn’t dissuaded you from coveting the Iron Throne, you can purchase your very own replica for a mere $30,000. But a final warning from Cersei Lannister: “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
The Judgment of Solomon, c. 1475–1500. Netherlands. Clarence Buckingham Collection.
Olowe of Ise. Veranda Post of Enthroned King and Senior Wife (Opo Ogoga), 1910/14. Major Acquisitions Centennial Fund.
Statuette of an Enthroned Figure. 1st century A.D. Roman. Wirt D. Walker Endowment.
Buddha Shelttered by Muchalinda, 11th-12th century. Cambodian. Samuel M. Nickerson Endowment.
Closing this weekend in the Ando Gallery, The Year of the Horse celebrates Chinese New Year and this year’s featured animal within the Chinese zodiac. As far back as the 3rd century B.C., animals have been associated with each year in a 12 year cycle and their respective characteristics are supposed to relate to the attributes of humans born in that year. The horse is associated with strength, energy, intelligence, communication, and popularity, but also impatience and stubbornness. This year of the horse officially began at the end of January and lasts until the next Chinese New Year in February 2015.
Horses have been long revered in Asian culture and this small exhibition includes several prints that show young men on horseback. In the image above, the youthful rider takes part in “first riding,” an element of the coming-of-age ceremonies for a boy of the samurai class. He tentatively rides the prancing horse, while a maid carrying a parasol shields the rider from the sun.
It also features a new acquisition, a pair of folding screens (shown both above and below) from the turn of the 18th century that each measure over 12 feet long. These panels illustrate an expansive tableau with six tethered horses in various energetic positions. Several other horses are in the process of being washed by grooms in the lake between the buildings. Other groups of people work, nap, and even play board games in this idyllic scene. Screens like this one were popular at this time and were often commissioned by warriors to show off their horses, their prized possessions, or to remind them of military culture.
The Year of the Horse closes this Sunday and might be particularly interesting to those of you born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, and 2002.
Suzuki Harunobu. The Young Horseman, c. 1766/67. Clarence Buckingham Collection.
Horses in Stables (Umaya-zu byobu), c. 1688-1704 (Genroku Period). Japanese. Shinkokai Japanese Art Acquisition Fund, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, Gookin FUnd, restricted gift of Roger L. Weston; Avery L. Brundage and Roger L. Weston funds.
You’ve waited patiently and we are happy to announce that we’re ready to share some truly shocking findings from the recent CT scans of our Egyptian mummies. But first, let’s back up for a minute.
In 1988, while on loan to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the mummy Wenuhotep underwent a CT scan. Based on the information obtained from the scans, a reconstruction (pictured below) was created showing a woman—the daughter of a priest—combing her hair while holding a mirror.
After the mummy returned to Chicago in 2007 the existing data was re-examined by Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter from the Oriental Institute Museum. The results lead to the first major discovery—that the coffin and the mummy were not a stylistic match. It states on the coffin that we have an inscription naming “Wenuhotep.” But while the coffin dates to around 780 B.C., the mummification style of the body is that of the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 B.C.). The two could have been created as many as 500 years apart. We now had an anonymous female mummy with little information other than the time period from which it was created. So last month we set out to see if new, high-tech CT scans could help us learn more about this mystery woman. And what we learned was completely unexpected.
We enlisted the help of radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier, from the University of Chicago Medical Center and Dr. Teeter to rescan the two Art Institute mummies on February 19. Both had recently collaborated on the mummy “Meresamun” in the Oriental Institute Museum’s collection. For this project Dr. Vannier devised a new protocol using a Philips iCT spiral CT scanner on four energies (80, 100, 120, 140 KV), combining the data to give superior resolution and definition. To our knowledge, this is the first time Egyptian mummies have been examined with four energies. Dr. Vannier and Robert Klein, RT begin painstakingly reviewing the scans and creating state-of-the-art renderings.
But even as early as when the female mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, was on the scanning table, did Dr. Vannier begin to notice some peculiarities. For one thing, the skeleton is robust and the stature is atypically large for a female. Additionally, the pelvis is more characteristic of a male. We had hoped to learn details of her life—if she had had children or how she may have died—but our findings began to raise different questions.
To prove his suspicions, Dr. Vannier prepared 3D and multiplanar reconstructions (MPR). The telltale sign that something was amiss was verified by the presence of male genitalia. Turns out, the mummy is a … daddy!
In the above image two parallel forms can be seen between the legs. In front of the penis is a larger object. According to Dr. Teeter it is not uncommon to have some sort of structure wrapped with the penis, such as a reed, an extra roll of linen, or another type of structure thickly coated with resin. By using multi-energy scans, Dr. Vannier should be able to discern the material used for this structure. Stay tuned for more exciting results and for theories as to why the Egyptians may have mummified the male member in this manner. (A hint: Osiris, the fertility god.)
While reinstallation of the Egyptian galleries is still a ways off, we hope to make much of the data and images gained from this research available to the public on our website. The funding for this project, including the extensive conservation of the mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, is generously provided by the Perucca Family Foundation. We are deeply grateful to Terry and Cynthia Perucca for their support and encouragement.
—Mary Greuel, The Elizabeth McIlvaine Assistant Curator of Ancient Art, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art
Reconstruction of Wenuhotep, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, approximately 1989–2009
Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)
Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)