Still a Paris Street, But a Less Rainy Day

POSTED BY , ON April 18, 2014, 4 COMMENTS

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.

Pre-Treatment, Octobert 2013


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.


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When the Greeks Ruled Egypt

POSTED BY , ON January 24, 2014, Comments Off on When the Greeks Ruled Egypt

“This country has more marvels and monuments that defy description than any other.”

That’s Greek historian Herodotus’s account of Egypt in the 5th century B.C., then a land of wealth and exoticism that intrigued Greeks. A century later when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in his successful war against the Persian Empire, the fusion of the two cultures led to the creation of new gods and ways of showing them (which you can see for yourself in When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, on display in Gallery 154).


To represent the combined cultures, Alexander joined the Greek god Zeus and Egyptian god Amon to create (wait for it). . . Zeus Amon. Egyptians thought of pharaohs as gods on earth, so descent from this god, as Alexander and his successors claimed, was an important part of adapting to their new home. Wander through the exhibition and you’ll notice figures with distinctive head gear: ram’s horns. In this tetradrachm, for example, Alexander is shown with this distinctive feature curling around his ear—an image that unmistakably identifies him as the son of Zeus Amon and consequently the legitimate leader of Egypt.


On another coin, Zeus Amon himself appears. Not only is he a hybrid of faiths, but so is the way he’s shown: with the symbolism of Egyptian religion, but in a naturalistic, Greek style.


It’s fitting that an exhibition about cultures coming together is presented at the crossroads of the museum, which itself is at the center of a vast, global city. See the over 75 fascinating objects, including mummy masks, portraits, coins, and magical amulets for yourself, along with enlightening quotes printed on the gallery walls, through July 27.

Image Credits:

Installation view of When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great.

Greek, minted in Ephesus, Asia Minor. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great. 306-281 B.C., Issued by Kind Lysimachus of Thrace. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.

Greek, minted in Cyrene, North Africa. Stater (Coin) Depicting the God Zeus Ammon, about 322-308 B.C. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.


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Ladies Who Lunch

POSTED BY , ON August 15, 2013, 1 COMMENTS

Luncheon on the Grass

Sorry to say, summer is fleeting. Summer fashion? It changes so fast it’ll make your top hat–covered head spin.

In 1863 Edouard Manet painted a scandalous work titled Luncheon on the Grass which showed voluptuous nudes striking classical poses in the company of men dressed in the fashions of 1860s Paris. In the minds of the public, making the outdoor scene contemporary corrupted the work in a shocking way.

Perhaps in a nod to Manet’s Luncheon, several years later Claude Monet began work on a group of figure drawings also named Luncheon on the Grass. Monet, like Manet, sought to use imagery of the Parisian middle class at leisure in the forests of Fontainebleau to push the envelope. While the ambitious goal of presenting this large project at the Salon of 1866 didn’t pan out, two large, life-sized panels (the central panel above and the left panel below), as well as a number of sketches and studies, show the scope of what Monet aimed to accomplish.

Standing atop the artificial grass among fashionable visitors from around the country and world, Monet’s groundbreaking explorations come into full focus.

Left Luncheon on the Grass

The middle-class crowd sprawled out in the woods is not organized according to some classical calculus. The faces of the figures are not the focus (you can’t even see the faces of three of the women!), nor are the food, drink, or trees. What does pop, however, is the fashion that most certainly was the very epitome of style at the very moment depicted. The brightly-colored accents on the dress on the left panel, the brilliant white of the dress at center, the complicated motion of the beige dress, and the cut and fit of the men’s suits are, in my mind, Monet’s tour de force. The ephemerality of these garments—very much alive in the panels—are sure to fall from favor at the end of the season just as the leaves will fall from the forest trees. What strikes me about this painting is that it’s timeless by not showing the timeless, classic by rejecting the classical. It, through fashion, shows how life really is: momentary, colorful, and always in flux.

Monet’s beautiful snapshot of modern life is still contemporary today even after 150 cycles of summer fashion have passed. And, just like hot summer fashions of 2013, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity will go off view at the end of September.

Image Credit: Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass, 1865–66. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, acquired as a payment in kind, 1987, RF 1987-12.

Work of the Week: In Free Fall

POSTED BY , ON January 18, 2013, Comments Off on Work of the Week: In Free Fall

Jets have complicated lives, too.

From first flight to plane graveyard, commercial jetliners have long careers with more than just figurative ups and downs. I’m a confessed airliner enthusiast, so Hito Steyerl’s In Free Fall (2010) piqued my interest because it lays out the life, death, and reuse of a Boeing 707. The moving-image work is separated into three chapters: Before the Crash, After the Crash, and Crash. When we join the main character, Boeing 707 4X-JYI, it’s in pieces in Mojave—the place where planes go to die. We’re told that 4X-JYI started its life at the glamorous airline TWA ferrying the trendy jet-set. The plane descended to serving utilitarian functions for the Israeli military in the 1970s, made an explosive cameo in the 1994 film Speed, and then was sent to China as scrap—its fuselage chewed up and, presumably, turned into products like pirated DVDs of American action films.

The story of the classic jetliner is told through appearances by Hito Steyerl, actor Imri Kahn, and even the cameraman. The production of In Free Fall also plays a role. So essentially, it’s telling the story of the airplane, but it’s also telling the story of telling the story of the airplane. Follow me?

Regardless, the plane’s many lives, shown in the immersive environment of the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery for Film, Video, and New Media, offer a visually compelling look at the processes of production, consumption, destruction, and reuse. This exhibition is on view through January 27.

Image Credit: Hito Steyerl. Still from In Free Fall, 2010. © Hito Steyerl. Courtesy of Wilfried Lentz Rotterdam.


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A Look Back at a Brilliant Year

POSTED BY , ON December 31, 2012, 2 COMMENTS

An election, an Olympiad, and Gangnam Style: 2012 was a momentous year, especially for the Art Institute. Blockbuster exhibitions, shiny new galleries, and big technology updates were the talk of the town.

One of the biggest happenings of the year was Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, which brought together nearly 170 iconic works like Brushstroke with Spatter (1966) and attracted nearly 350,000 visitors.

The new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art also took shape around McKinlock Court. Designed by wHY Architecture, the new sun-drenched galleries now hold over 550 works from 4,000 years of life in the Mediterranean region. The location of the galleries—right at a crossroads in the museum—is definitely fitting considering the huge influence of the Greek and Roman world on Western art.

The Art Institute continued to go high-tech in 2012. Members can now show their member card on an iPhone, over 133,000 people like us on Facebook, and LaunchPads—specialized iPads chock full of info and fresh new perspectives on works—are now in two spaces (the Jaharis Galleries and the European Decorative Arts galleries).

As usual, the curators presented shows worthy of a blizzard of superlatives. Here’s just a small sample of the exhibitions that filled the galleries in 2012:

Rarely seen Renaissance and Baroque drawings showed the creative spark behind the work of prolific Italian painters.

A photography exhibition took a deeper look at the groundbreaking work of two highly influential surrealists.

1:1 scale copper replicas of pieces of the Statue of Liberty filled Pritzker Garden.

Moving, moving-image works by prominent artist Steve McQueen went on display in an innovative presentation in Regenstein Hall.

And exhibitions explored the cutting-edge designs of fashion houses Bless, Boudicca, Sandra Backlund; as well as the impressive accomplishments of Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

Yes, it’s been a big year for the museum, but 2013 promises to be even more grand. More news in the New Year, but for now, we’re off to toast a great year and to ring in the next. Happy New Year!

Image Credits:

Roy Lichtenstein. Brushstroke with Spatter, 1966. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Art Institute of Chicago, Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith Purchase Fund.

View of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art.

View of LaunchPad technology in the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called Il Grechetto. The Creation of Adam, late 1640s. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of an anonymous donor; restricted gifts of Dr. William D. and Sara R. Shorey, and Mr. and Mrs. George B. Young.

Installation view of Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2012.

Danh Vo. Installation view of We The People (detail), 2010–2013.

Steve McQueen. Installation view of exhibition Steve McQueen at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2012.

Installation view of Fashioning the Object: Bless, Boudicca, Sandra Backlund at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2012.

Studio Gang Architects. Installation view of Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago September 24, 2012–Sunday, February 24, 2013.