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The Chicago Art Institute
Source: "The Structuring of a State 1899-1929"
By Donald F. Tingley

c. 1943

By 1900 the Art Instutite was thriving and it elected Charles L. Hutchinson as president and he continued this post until his death in the early 1920’s. Among other officers, trustees, and governing members were: Lyman Gage, Treasurer; Trustees – Martin Ryerson, Albert A. Sprague, Chauncy J. Blair, Stanley Harrison, Frank Lowden, Robert Todd Lincoln, Victor Lawson, P.A. Valetine, P.D. Armour, Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor, Harold Fowler McCormick, Cyrus Hall McCormick and Potter Palmer and his son Honore.

Some remarkable bequests and gifts came to the Institute from individuals such as Edward V. Butler, a business executive of Chicago who was fond of collecting and donating paintings by George Inness. During the year 1910-11, he gave the Art Institute 18 paintings. In 1911 and 1912, he added other paintings to the collection, which ultimately occupied a whole gallery.

The most valuable collection of paintings came from the estate of Mrs. Potter Palmer, who died in 1918. According to her will, the Art Institute was to receive paintings from her collection to the value of $100,000 to be selected by her sons, provided a special gallery was set aside for them. Ultimately, the two sons, Potter Palmer Jr., and Honore Palmer, supplemented this generosity, and the institute received fifty-two paintings from the collection of Mrs. Palmer. The most valuable of these were forty-seven French paintings which included four Reniors, three Corots, five Millets, two Manets, and six Monets. Also included were American paintings and a portrait of Mrs. Palmer by Anders Zorn.

Another important collection which went to the Art Institute was that of Mrs. W.W. Kimball, who died in June of 1921. In her will she bequeathed to the Institute twenty paintings valued at $1,000,000. Among these were paintings of the Barbizon school and a Rembrandt portrait of his father. Also included were works by English artists Sir Joshua Reynolds, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, Gainsborough, Sire Thomas Lawrence, and George Romney, and some works of French painters including Corot, Monet, and Pissarro.

With the death of Charles L. Hutchinson in 1924, the Art Institute came to the end of an era. Hutchinson, president of the Institute since 1882, provided much of the leadership in building the collection. After his death, there was a shake up in the officers of the Institute. Martin Ryerson, who had long been vice-president, became honorary president, and Frank G. Lowden and William O. Goodman became honorary vice-presidents. The active president was Potter Palmer, Jr. Robert Allerton and Cyrus McCormick Jr. were vice- presidents, so the older men had given up active leadership.

One Chicago painter, Grace Gassette, was included in the Armory Show. Among the locally famous artists in the years before World War I, B.J. Nordfeldt, a friend and neighbor of Floyd Dell, painted in the Postimpressionist style. Martha Baker was called “the greatest living miniaturist”. William Claussen painted scenes of the Chicago River, and Pauline Fulmer was represented in a painting show at the Art Institute in 1913. Among the sculptors was Stanislaus Szukalski, who claimed to have learned anatomy by dissecting the body of his father after he was killed in an accident. Szukalski maintained a studio in a loft over Wabash Avenue and was regarded as something of an oddity even among the avant-garde of the time. The most prestigious of all the artists was Lorado Taft, Chicago sculptor who had studied in Paris. His work is well known to most Illinoisians, the great statue of Black Hawk overlooking the Rock River, the Alma Mater in Urbana, and the Fountain of Time on the Midway in Chicago.

An important school of architecture appeared in Chicago in the years after 1900. An important precursor of this group, John Wellborn Root, created the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Among the practicing architects in the years after 1900, Daniel Burnham was the least creative. He designed important buildings in Chicago and surrounding areas before his death in 1912 and deserves credit for the “Chicago Plan”, which created the parks along the lake shore. Louis Sullivan created the Carson Pirie Scott store in 1904. He was the teacher of Frank Lloyd Wright, the most important figure in Chicago architecture. In 1900, Wright established his Oak Park studio, which became a center of training for a number of important architects in Chicago. Among those who followed Wright’s lead was Myron Hunt, Robert Clossen Spencer Jr., Dwight Perkins, Arthur Heun, George Dean, Hugh Garden, George W. Maher, Birch Long, Max Dunning, and William Drummond.

Another of the great cultural events in Chicago was the Columbian Exposition of 1893 which became the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The first conductor, Theodore Thomas, was among the traveling conductors who came to Chicago. When Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago business executive approached him in 1889 to come to Chicago to start an orchestra, he quickly seized the opportunity. Then 51 years old he accepted the offer. Fifty people donated $1,000 each to run the orchestra for three years. In the original group were George Pullman, P.D. Armour, Marshall Field, Martin Ryerson, Cyrus Hall McCormick, and A.A. Sprague.
[Submitted by Debbie Quinn]

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