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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.

A work made of oil on beaver board.
American Gothic, 1930
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.

  • Large painting of people in a crowded park, brushstrokes are dots
    A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884, 1884/86
    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.

  • A work made of acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen.
    Liz #3 [Early Colored Liz], 1963
    Andy Warhol

    One of Warhol’s signature approaches was using the silkscreen process to transfer photographic images onto canvas—in this case, a publicity photograph of actress Elizabeth Taylor. This work is one in a series of 13 images Warhol made of Taylor, each with a different jewel-toned background and exaggerated “makeup” highlighting her eyes and lips.

    Strangers in a brightly lit diner, seen from shadowy exterior
    Nighthawks, 1942
    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.”

  • A work made of oil on linen.
    City Landscape, 1955
    Joan Mitchell

    In City Landscape, a tangle of various colors—pale pink, scarlet, mustard, sienna, and black—evoke the streets of a bustling metropolis. The spontaneous energy conveyed in the composition is at odds with Mitchell’s slow and deliberate process. She repeatedly stepped back from her work and looked at it from a distance so she could plan her next brushstroke.

  • Painting of the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven amongst multitude of angels.
    The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577–79
    Domenico Theotokópoulos, called El Greco

    Shortly after El Greco arrived in Spain, a church in Toledo commissioned the artist to paint a work to hang above its main altar. The Assumption of the Virgin was the central panel of this commission. The monumental canvas is divided into two regions—at the bottom, the earthly sphere of the apostles, and at the top, the heavenly realm of angels welcoming Mary as she rises from her grave.

  • A work made of oil on canvas.
    Stacks of Wheat (End of Day, Autumn), 1890/91
    Claude Monet

    In the summer and fall of 1890, Claude Monet, now known as the father of Impressionism, embarked on an ambitious series of landscapes, capturing the subtle effects of changing light, weather, and seasons on piles of threshed wheat. The Art Institute has one of the largest groups of works from the Stacks of Wheat series, including this painting, which captures the dwindling light of a fall day.

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    Field Armor for Man and Horse (on left)
    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.

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    Andō Gallery, 1992
    Tadao Andō (Japanese, b. 1941)

    This secluded room, nestled among galleries devoted to Japanese art, was designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Tadao Andō and includes 16 pillars that change the experience of the space as visitors walk among them. Andō said that he hopes visitors “feel as if the wind is passing through these columns and creates something that reminds them of something beyond physicality.”

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    Buddha Shakyamuni Seated in Meditation (Dhyanamudra) India Tamil Nadu, about 12th century
    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.

  • A work made of oil on canvas.
    Nightlife, 1943
    Archibald John Motley Jr.

    In this celebrated painting, Chicago artist Archibald Motley portrayed the vibrancy of African American culture, depicting young, sophisticated city dwellers crowding a cabaret in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. A pervasive burgundy tone bathes the drinkers and dancers in intense light, while the dancers’ dynamic poses and repeated diagonals give the composition an exuberant, upbeat energy.

  • A man stands at the top of a staircase looking at a large artwork.
    Sky above Clouds IV, 1965
    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.

    Blue stained glass windows depicting angels, musicians, trees
    America Windows, 1977
    Marc Chagall

    In response to the city’s enthusiasm for his work and the Art Institute’s great support, French artist Marc Chagall offered to create a set of stained-glass windows for the museum. After three years of planning, Chagall determined that the windows would commemorate America’s bicentennial, celebrating the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom and detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance. The windows might be familiar to some from their appearance in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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