Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte rarely moves. As one of the masterpieces in the collection, it’s almost always in the galleries for your viewing enjoyment. It’s also one of the very few works in the Art Institute’s collection that absolutely does not travel.
In fact, the last time it left the museum was over 50 years ago. The occasion was a Seurat retrospective that began at the Art Institute and traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in March 1958. The painting was famously insured for one million dollars and accompanied by a conservator and an armed guard during its trip. The exhibition was a hit in New York and all was fine until Tuesday, April 15. On that day, workmen were busy installing a new air-conditioning system and when they left for lunch, combustible painting materials close by caught fire. The blaze quickly spread and although the consequences were severe—one electrician was killed, dozens of firefighters were injured, and a Monet water lily was destroyed—the fire narrowly avoided La Grande Jatte, which was quickly ushered to another building. After that close call, trustees made the decision that the painting would never again leave Chicago.
So here it stays. But it will be included in our upcoming Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, so just this morning, a multitude of art handlers, conservators, and the exhibition’s collection manager had the complicated task of moving this 10-foot painting from our Impressionist galleries to Regenstein Hall, where the exhibition will open to members on June 23 and to the public on June 26. We’re pleased that the move was successful and here are some pictures of the journey. . .
Image Credit: Georges Seurat. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte–1884, 1884-86. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection