Check Out Our Rack

POSTED BY , ON March 20, 2015, 3 COMMENTS


Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 opened this week and features over 300 objects in a huge array of media—painting, sculpture, furniture, glass, silver, musical instruments, bookbinding—the list goes on. And while this is a first-of-its-kind exhibition, most of what you’ll see in the show does hold the similarity of having been created by human hands (predictable, I know).

One object stands out in this regard, though. Hanging above visitors as they enter the exhibition are the skull and antlers of Megaloceros giganteus, more commonly called the Giant Irish Elk. Dating from somewhere around the late-Pleistocene/early-Holocene (give or take a few years), skeletons of the Irish Elk were often discovered, fully-preserved, in Irish bogs by workers harvesting peat.

The antlers welcome guests to our exhibition, just as they would have welcomed guests into an eighteenth-century Irish country house. This particular specimen denotes an important theme of cultural exchange fundamental to the exhibition. Given to the American College of Surgeons in Chicago by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland over 100 years ago, the antlers represent the widespread diaspora and exchange of Irish art since the eighteenth century. In fact, despite the exhibition’s size and depth, it is drawn entirely from North American collections.

So yes, in the true spirit of an art museum, we are celebrating an 11,000-year-old elk skull not as a scientific specimen but as a symbol of the healthy exchange of art and ideas. Come get a dose of that at Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, open through June 7.

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Your Favorite Art Throbs

POSTED BY , ON March 06, 2015, 3 COMMENTS


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Vincent van Gogh once said, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread,” and while I’d guess most if not all of you were snacking when you took our love-themed Art Throb quiz, it’s still clear many of you are looking for that perfect romantic match. In fact, 13,000 of you took the Art Throb quiz in just one week! Looking at the collection of final results, it was fascinating to see exactly what types you found most appealing.

Here are the romantic types you chose in order of popularity:

The Romantic—27.17%
The Unicorn—22.78%
The Seducer—19%
The Psycho—10.30%
The Life of the Party—5.97%
The Tortured Genius—5.63%
The Alpha Dog—5.37%
The Sporty Type—2.03%
The Fling—1.75%

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There you have it! The Romantic proved the most popular of paramours by a significant margin. Second place went to the Unicorn, that mythological creature so perfect and beautiful, and yet unattainable. These results come as no surprise. If nothing else, our vast Impressionist collection brings many a hopeless romantic through our doors, and honored we are to have them. But the subsequent results are slightly more troubling.

Okay, sure, the Seducer. Who hasn’t fallen under the spell of someone they’d be better off without? And yet the Fling was our least popular result! Does this mean we are more likely to fall under the seductive spell of the callous charmer rather than take fate in our hands? Are we more willing to allow deception rather than commit to an evening of passion with all the cards on the table?

But that’s not nearly as troubling as the fourth most popular type: The Psycho. Really, people, the Psycho?! In this case, of course, we mean the cold and calculating type who only loses it behind closed doors, à la Patrick Bateman. And here it makes sense again. While we fall head over heels for just the right type—the Romantic, the Unicorn—we seem to be almost as prone to fall for those who are superficially charming instead. I suppose that’s not all that unusual. If anything these are the pratfalls we all try to avoid in love, and nobody said dating is easy.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from our admittedly tongue-in-cheek love quiz, it’s that our followers admire beauty and romance in any form, especially if it comes from the heart. But we’ll take the glibly attractive if nothing else. Something for us all to keep in mind as we go out and seek our perfect mates. We wish you all success in love and hope you’ll consider the strength of the Obamas’ marriage. Their first date was at the Art Institute—just saying.

Thanks to everyone who made Art Throb a success!

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Mezzotint

POSTED BY , ON February 20, 2015, 3 COMMENTS


Mezzotint is the spookiest medium. This engraving process is perfect for nocturnal effects, as it starts with a roughed-up printing plate that prints in pure black. Any light sources—especially candles, fires, and glowing ingots—are added by burnishing in smoother areas, which print in lighter tones. Two exhibitions opening at the Art Institute this spring feature an abundance of mezzotint engravings. Fans of society portraiture will appreciate the velvet textures and pearl-strewn accessories lavished throughout Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design 1690-1840 (opening March 17 in Regenstein Hall). For those seeking a more sinister bedtime story, Burnishing the Night: Baroque to Contemporary Mezzotints from the Collection (opening February 21 in the Prints and Drawings Galleries 125-127) revels in artificial light, Old Testament lightning bolts, and garishly colored disembodied heads.


Yet two of the scariest head studies to 18th-century eyes might not have been Jacques Gautier d’Agoty’s Cranial Dissection. Instead, they are the Irish artist Thomas Frye’s Young Man with a Candle (top image), whose bulging eyes scan the room for inexplicable horrors, and the English artist Philip Dawe’s Female Lucubration (image immediately above), which hangs next to it in the show. Dawe’s maidservant, reaching up for a book in the dead of night, is clearly up to no good. Is she is actually “lucubrating” (studying at night using artificial light)? Or is she simply pilfering her mistress’s saucier novels (perhaps the banned Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure). The “Novel-Reading Panic” throughout Europe in the 18th century expressed the moral anxiety over what, and if women were reading, just as the first Gothic novel was published. Literacy was a deeply frightening topic.


As the popularity of the mezzotint continued (the latest item in the show is from 2007), in 1905, the English writer M. R. James wrote a short story, called “The Mezzotint,” in which an image of an anonymous country house changes of its own accord. While the story does not refer to a real print, Allaert van Everdingen’s Baroque Landscape in the Dark Manner (above) gives a similar feeling of ambiguity. Like the children in Roald Dahl’s The Witches ,who vanish into paintings and grow old in them, or Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels, who only move when no one is watching, a kidnapping or murder is reenacted within the space of the print. From “The Mezzotint”:

At last, some time past midnight, he was disposed to turn in, and he put out his lamp after lighting his bedroom candle. The picture lay face upwards on the table . . . What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now that if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit. But, as that did not happen he was able to put down the light on the table and take a good look at the picture. It was indubitable—rankly impossible, no doubt, but absolutely certain. In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was crawling on all-fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.

The protagonist, a print curator at Oxford or Cambridge, keeps watch as the print turns from day to night, the ghostly figure enters the house, and then sneaks away, with a child under his arm. The curator buys the print for his collection, but keeps a careful eye on it. As with any mezzotint, the textures lead to multiple interpretations. Once the tragic story within the mysterious print ran its course, however, that was that: “. . . though carefully watched, [the mezzotint] has never been known to change again.” In the flickering candlelight of Burnishing the Night, who knows what you’ll see?

Image Credits:

Thomas Frye. Young Man with a Candle, 1760. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.

Philip Dawe. Female Lucubration: Étude Nocturne, 1772. Gift of Langdon Pearce

Allart van Everdingen. Landscape in the Dark Manner, 1657–61. Alsdorf Fund


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Head to Head: Helmets of the Art Institute

POSTED BY , ON January 30, 2015, Comments Off on Head to Head: Helmets of the Art Institute

This Sunday the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, and watercoolers and message boards are abuzz with talk of Deflategate, the Legion of Boom, and unauthorized “Beast Mode” hats. While Chicago may not have a dog in this race, we thought, why not show off a collection of helmets sure to put both teams to shame? Though most of these helmets were probably fashioned for murderous or ceremonial intentions, I think we can agree the game would be all the more exciting with some age-old battle armor thrown in the mix.

Most of the helmets seen here were donated by collector George F. Harding. A colorful figure in Chicago business and politics, Harding assembled an enviable collection of arms and armor in his lifetime, much of which he displayed in a two-story annex to his South Side home. Completed in 1927, the annex was built as a Gothic Revival stone turret, complete with a dungeon, secret passages, and cannonballs embedded in the exterior walls. In 1982, the collection was donated to the Art Institute, fulfilling Harding’s intention to offer his remarkable array of arms and armor to the people of Chicago.

helmet Turban Helmet, c. 1475 1500

helmet Closed Burgonet (Siege Helmet), c. 1620

helmet Helmet, 4th century B.C.

helmet Funerary Close Helmet, 1600 1700

helmet Spider Helmet, 1650 1700

Image credits:

[Now on view in Gallery 50] Western Iranian. Turban Helmet, c. 1475/1500. George F. Harding Collection.

Northern Italian. Closed Burgonet (Siege Helmet), c. 1620. George F. Harding Collection.

Greek, Macedon. Helmet, 4th century B.C. Costa A. Pandaleon Endowment.

English. Funerary Close Helmet, 1600/1700. George F. Harding Collection.

English or French. Spider Helmet, 1650/1700. George F. Harding Collection.

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Capturing El Capitan

POSTED BY , ON January 15, 2015, Comments Off on Capturing El Capitan

Adams El Capitan

Yesterday Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. This granite monolith soars 3,000 feet above the floor of the Yosemite Valley and while it has long enticed climbers, it has also fascinated artists.

The image above by Ansel Adams—who has created some of the most famous images of Yosemite— illustrates how the early morning light hits the face of El Capitan and how the Dawn Wall gets its name.

Carleton Watkins (images below) took these photographs of El Capitan in 1861, years before Yosemite became a national park. In fact, it is said that Watkins’ majestic images of Yosemite helped to persuade President Lincoln to sign the bill that first protected the valley. Mount Watkins in Yosemite is named after the photographer and honors this contribution.

Watkins El Capitan

Watkins El Capitan 2

Image Credits:

Ansel Adams. El Capitan, Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, 1956, printed 1960. Photography Gallery Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

Carleton Watkins. Tutocanula, or El Capitan, 3600 ft., from the foot of the Mariposa Trail, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal., 1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.

Carleton Watkins. Mirror View of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal., 1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.


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