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What to See in an Hour


Short on time? Never fear, you can still see some of the most iconic and beloved works in the Art Institute’s collection on this quick spin through the galleries. Ready, set—art!

Please note: artworks occasionally go off view for imaging, treatment, or loan to other institutions. Click on the images to ensure the work is currently on view.

Grant Wood

One of the most famous American paintings of all time, this double portrait by Grant Wood debuted at the Art Institute in 1930, winning the artist a $300 prize and instant fame. Many people think the couple are a husband and wife, but Wood meant the couple to be a father and his daughter. (His sister and his dentist served as his models.) He intended this Depression-era canvas to be a positive statement about rural American values during a time of disillusionment.

See American Gothic on view in Gallery 263.

  • Georges Seurat

    For his largest and best-known painting, Georges Seurat depicted Parisians enjoying all sorts of leisurely activities—strolling, lounging, sailing, and fishing—in the park called La Grande Jatte in the River Seine. He used an innovative technique called Pointillism, inspired by optical and color theory, applying tiny dabs of different colored paint that viewers see as a single, and Seurat believed, more brilliant hue.

    See this work on view in Gallery 240.

  • Richard Hunt

    Hero Construction, created in 1958, just a year after Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt graduated from the School of the Art Institute, is composed of found objects—old pipes, bits of metal, and automobile parts—that the artist discovered in junkyards and on the street. Inspired by mythology and heroic sculptures past and present, the welded figure suggests a hero for our times, humble yet resilient in the face of past, present, and future injustices and uncertainties.

    See Hero Construction on view on the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase.

    Edward Hopper

    This iconic painting of an all-night diner in which three customers sit together and yet seem totally isolated from one another has become one of the best-known images of 20th-century art. Hopper said of the enigmatic work, “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

    See Nighthawks on view in Gallery 262.

  • Alma Thomas

    In the 1970s, Alma Thomas was enthralled by astronauts and outer space. Starry Night and the Astronauts not only captures her fascination with space flight but also shows the signature style of her abstract works, which use short, rhythmic strokes of paint. “Color is life,” she once proclaimed, “and light is the mother of color.” Thomas made this work in 1972, when she was 81—the same year she became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

    See Starry Night and the Astronauts in Gallery 291.

    Pablo Picasso

    Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist is a work from his Blue Period (1901–04). During this time the artist restricted himself to a cold, monochromatic blue palette and flattened forms, taking on the themes of misery and alienation inspired by such artists as Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin. The elongated, angular figure also relates to Picasso’s interest in Spanish art and, in particular, the great 16th-century artist El Greco. The image reflects the 22-year-old Picasso’s personal sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden; he knew what it was like to be poor, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902.

    See The Old Guitarist on view in Gallery 391.

  • Vincent van Gogh

    This sun-drenched composition with its vivid palette, dramatic perspective, and dynamic brushwork depicts Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in his house in Arles, France, his first true home of his own. Van Gogh dubbed it the “Studio of the South” in the hope that friends and artists would join him there. He immediately set to work on the house and painted this bedroom scene as a part of his decorating scheme. Van Gogh liked this image so much that he painted three distinct versions—the other two are held in the collections of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

    See The Bedroom on view in Gallery 241.

  • South German, Nuremberg, about 1520

    Caught in the heat of battle with sword raised and horse rearing, this mounted figure may match many notions of a knight in shining armor but actually represents a common hired soldier. The armors for both man and horse were produced in Nuremberg, Germany, in the 16th century, but the clothing was meticulously recreated in 2017 from period designs. Look for the special leggings: small plates of steel are sewn between two pieces of linen to protect the soldier’s legs. You’ll also spot some splashes of mud and grime from the battlefield.

    See Field Armor for Man and Horse on view in Gallery 239.


    The densely painted and geometrically patterned Kuba mask is a ngady mwaash, an idealized representation of a woman that honors the role of women in Kuba life. Ngady mwaah most often appear as part of a trio of royal masks in reenactments of the Kuba Kingdom’s origins, which are staged at public ceremonies, initiations, and funerals. In these masquerades, the ngady mwaash dances together with the mooshamb-wooy mask, which represents the king (who is both her brother and her husband), and the bwoom mask. Male mask characters like bwoom display aggression and heaviness while female characters like ngady mwaash dance in a sensuous and graceful manner even though the mask is always worn by a man.

    See this ngady mwaash on view in Gallery 137.

    Nagapattinam, Chola period

    This 12th-century statue of the Buddha comes from the south Indian coastal town of Nagapattinam, where Buddhist monasteries flourished and attracted monks from distant lands. He is seated in a lotus posture of meditation, with hands and feet resting atop one another. The mark on his forehead is called the urna, which distinguishes the Buddha as a great being.

    See this work on view in Gallery 140.

  • Archibald John Motley Jr.

    A native Chicagoan and graduate of the School of the Art Institute, Archibald Motley used his art to represent the vibrancy of African American culture, frequently portraying young, sophisticated city dwellers out on the town. One of Motley’s most celebrated paintings, Nightlife depicts a crowded cabaret in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. The dynamic composition, intense lighting, and heightened colors vividly express the liveliness of the scene.

    See Nightlife in Gallery 263.

  • Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986)

    Painted in the summer of 1965, when Georgia O’Keeffe was 77 years old, this monumental work culminates the artist’s series based on her experiences as an airplane passenger during the 1950s. Spanning the entire 24-foot width of O’Keeffe’s garage, the work has not left the Art Institute since it came into the building—because of its size and because of its status as an essential icon.

    See Sky above Clouds IV on view in Gallery 249.

    Design attributed to Agnes F. Northrop, made by Tiffany Studios

    More than 100 years ago, Agnes F. Northrop designed the monumental Hartwell Memorial Window for Tiffany Studios as a commission from Mary Hartwell in honor of her husband, Frederick Hartwell, for the Central Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island (now Community Church of Providence). Composed of 48 panels and numerous different glass types, the window is inspired by the view from Frederick Hartwell’s family home near Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire. The majestic scene captures the transitory beauty of nature—the sun setting over a mountain, flowing water, and dappled light dancing through the trees—in an intricate arrangement of vibrantly colored glass.

    See the Hartwell Memorial Window on view at the top of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase.

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