Fine Arts

Paintings, Sculpture, and Works-on-Paper

The Museum has a nationally renowned portrait collection. The majority of the painting and works-on-paper holdings consist of portraits of national political and military figures from the late-18th to early-20th centuries, as well as prominent Chicagoans of the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. The collection is also strong in works depicting Chicago’s frontier and urban landscapes, with scenes from early Chicago (1830–70), the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933–34), the built environment of Chicago in the 1920s–1940s, and urban life in the 20th century. The sculpture component of the collection consists primarily of portrait busts and relief sculptures of prominent Chicagoans and national figures of the 19th century, as well as smaller decorative sculptures, life and death masks, and memorial plaques. The Painting and Sculpture holdings include approximately 140 works depicting Abraham Lincoln.

The Museum also documents the history of Chicago's vibrant artistic community with work by prominent Chicago and Illinois artists, as well as work by individuals pursuing art as students, professionals, or hobbyists.


Research

Requests for information about objects in the Fine Arts collection can be submitted online. Research inquiries by telephone are not accepted. Please complete the Object Research Inquiry Form to submit your request. You will receive a response to your inquiry from a member of the Museum’s staff within two weeks.

In-person research of objects is available by appointment only. To inquire about the availability of research appointments, complete the Object Research Inquiry Form and check the appropriate box. Please note the in-person research guidelines.

Requests for images of objects in the Fine Arts collection can be made directly through the Rights and Reproductions Office if you have any of the following information: object accession number; creator name and title; or image reference number. If this information is not available to you, please submit an object research inquiry.

> Submit an Object Research Inquiry

Paintings

The collection includes about 1,300 paintings, primarily oil on canvas, dating from the 18th century to the present. Approximately 75 percent of the works are portraits. Other canvases record the appearance of Chicago as it developed from a frontier landscape to a modern cityscape, American landscapes, and significant events in American history.

Highlights of the Painting Holdings

  • Approximately 100 individual portraits by George P.A. Healy, active in Chicago 1850 –1869, including national figures such as Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, and Ulysses S. Grant and early Chicago notables Cyrus Hall McCormick, Mrs. John DeKoven, William B. Ogden, Lambert Tree, and Colonel James Mulligan
  • Approximately 30 works by Alonzo Chappel, including Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775, 1859 and The Death of Lincoln, 1868
  • Thomas Hicks, portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1860
  • Charles Bird King, portrait of Ne-Sou-A-Quot (The Bear in the Fork of the Tree), 1837
  • Portraits from the American Institute of Architects of Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler, Daniel Burnham, William A. Holabird, John Welborn Root. William, LeBaron Jenney, and other Chicago architects, early 20th century
  • Eyre Crowe, After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond, 1853
  • Norman Rockwell, Catherine O’Leary Milking Daisy, c. 1935 and The Clock Mender, 1945
  • Julia Lemos, Memories of the Chicago Fire in 1871, 1912
  • Roffe Beman, In the Old 57th Street Art Colony, 1937
  • Alexander Raymond Katz, Democratic Convention of 1932, Chicago, 1933
  • Richard Chase, works documenting Chicago bridges, buildings, roadways, and parks, 1920–40
  • Gary Sheahan, Birth of the Atomic Age, 1957
  • Roger Brown, Lost America, 1989
  • J. Jofray, Farragut’s Fleet Passing Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip, Louisiana, April 24, 1862, c. 1862
  • Taylor, American Slave Market, 1852
  • Aaron E. Darling, portraits of John and Mary Jones, c. 1865
  • Harry M. Pettit, A Century of Progress Exposition, 1934
  • Alice Kellogg Tyler, portrait of Jane Addams, 1893
  • Theodore Wust, Caricature of William McKinley, c. 1895
  • James Bolivar Needham, Sailboat at Dusk, 1895–1915

Sculpture

The collection includes more than 500 sculptures in marble, bronze, plaster, and wood, as well as more unusual media, such as plastic, found objects, and macerated currency. Portrait busts of notable Chicago and national figures and plaques compose the largest segment of the sculpture collection.

Artists’ models for large-scale bronzes, pedestals, life masks, and death masks are also found in the collection.

Highlights of the Sculpture Holdings

  • Forty Leonard Volk marble and bronze sculptures of figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Gurdon Hubbard, Myra Bradwell, and Jonathan Young Scammon, as well as several bronze copies of Lincoln’s life mask and casts of Lincoln’s hands.
  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens, bust of Abraham Lincoln, 1933
  • Gutzon Borglum, head of Abraham Lincoln,
  • Herman A. McNeil, Arrival of Marquette at the Chicago River, 1894
  • J. Fielde, I Will, 1893
  • Death mask of John Dillinger, 1934
  • Daniel Chester French, Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1912

Works-On-Paper

Approximately 2,100 works-on-paper, including those executed with pencil, tempera, watercolor, chalk, pastel, and ink, are preserved in the collection. Some items are preparatory sketches, others are finished compositions intended for publication.

Highlights of the Works-On-Paper Holdings

  • Childe Hassam, watercolors depicting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition
  • Richard Chase, watercolors documenting Chicago bridges, buildings, roadways, parks, and A Century of Progress World’s Fair, 1920–40
  • Franklin McMahon, drawing and watercolors of the murder trial of Emmett Till (1955) and the trial of the Chicago Seven (1969–70)
  • Watercolor sketches of American flags by an unknown Dutch artist, 1795
  • Jules Guerin, series of city views used to illustrate Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, 1907–08
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