History of Art Institute of Chicago

In 1866, a group of 35 artists founded the Chicago School of Design, now called the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The school constructed a building in 1870, but in less than a year, the Great Fire of Chicago destroyed it.  As a result, the School operated from temporary space until moving into its present location, a Beaux-Art building made for the 1893 Columbian Expo.

Since then, The Art Institute of Chicago has added exhibition space, including a 264,000 square foot Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano.


George Seurat. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884. 1884-1886. Oil on canvas, 81 3/4″ by 121 1/4″. Art Institute of Chicago.

Famous Paintings at Art Institute of Chicago

The sheer number of influential paintings here makes a visit to this museum a must for fans of art history. With some 300,000 works of art exhibited in nearly a million square feet, the Art Institute also has all the trappings of an overwhelming experience!

Take along this curated list of famous paintings at Art Institute of Chicago as a starting itinerary (and read below about the research backing selection of these works):

Bacon, FrancisHead Surrounded by Sides of Beef  (Figure with Meat)*

Bonheur, RosaGoing to Market. Read about another Bonheur work, Plowing in the Nivernais

Caillebotte, GustaveParis Street: Rainy Day.  Now one of the most famous Impressionist painters, he was better known in his time as a collector – the works he bequeathed to the Louvre Museum formed its foundation of Impressionist paintings.

Cassatt, MaryThe Child’s Bath.


David Hockney. American Collectors, 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 84″ by 120″. Art Institute of Chicago.

Cezanne, PaulThe Basket of Apples.  Explore more famous paintings by Cezanne  like Bathers and Card Players Read about the astonishing Paul Cezanne paintings of his wife, shown in a 2015 Met show. 

Cezanne, PaulMadame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair. How many of these major 20 Cezanne paintings from U.S. and European art museums have you seen? 

Cole, ThomasDistant View of Niagra Falls

Courbet, GustaveMere Gregoire

David, Jacques LouisMadame de Pastoret and Her Son.  Learn about other David paintings, like Napoleon Crossing the Alps (actually done by donkey, and not by the glorious steed David painted), Death of Marat and Death of Socrates 

de Kooning, WillemExcavation.  Read an analysis of Excavation and discover how de Kooning paintings shaped and helped define modern art.

Delacroix, Eugene. The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan.  Read an analysis of Liberty Leading the People, one of the best paintings by Delacroix, and learn why hats matter.  Yes, hats.

El GrecoAssumption of the Virgin. One of Greece’s most famous painters, El Greco is well known for his Burial of Count Orgaz. Explore his View of Toledo, too!


Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. Oil on canvas, 33 1/8″ by 60″. Art Institute of Chicago.

Gauguin, PaulMahana no atua (Day of the God)

Gogh, Vincent vanThe BedroomExplore other Vincent van Gogh paintings like Potato Eaters, and the seldom seen van Gogh paintings at the Hermitage including Portrait of Madame Trabuc. And who isn’t smitten with his Starry Night

Gonzales, EvaGirl with Cherries. Taught by one of the most famous painters of art history, Edouard Manet, Gonzales was his sole known student.  Her stunning Girl with Cherries is evocative of one of the lesser known Manet paintings, Street Singers.  Think cherries! 

GoyaFriar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off. One of a charming series of small, intimate works. Explore some influential Goya paintings, including his heart-wrenching The Third of May 1808.  And don’t miss Duchess of Alba, and one of the most poignant self-portraits in art history, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. 

Hockney, DavidAmerican Collectors*. Above left. 

Homer, WinslowCroquet Game 

Hopper, Edward.  Nighthawks*. Above right. One of the most famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. Learn about Nighthawks

Lawrence, Jacob.  The Wedding.  Learn about the extraordinary series of Jacob Lawrence paintings called The Migration Series.

Magritte, ReneTime Transfixed (La Duree poignardee)

Manet, EdouardBeggar with Oysters (Philosopher) and Beggar with a Duffle Coat (Philosopher). Discover these works by Edouard Manet: Luncheon in the Studio, The Street Singer, Olympia, and The Old Musician


Henri Matisse. Bathers by a River. Oil on canvas, 102 1/2″ by 154 3/16″. Art Institute of Chicago.

MatisseBathers by a River (left) , which he considered to be one of his five most pivotal worksand Interior at Nice.  Read about the recent Metropolitan Museum’s blockbuster show of Matisse paintings.   Discover two of his best paintings, The Dance and The Music, which are in the Hermitage  Read about The Yellow Dress, and learn about one of his most renowned paintings anywhere, Red Studio.

Miro, JoanThe Policeman.   

Mitchell, JoanCity Landscape.  Explore in this historical survey of female artists some of the overwhelming obstacles they faced and overcame.   

Modersohn-Becker, PaulaStill Life with Green Vase.  One of the most influential female painters of the 19th century, Modersohn-Becker influenced art history in her brief 31 year life. 

Monet, Claude.  Stacks of Wheat (End of Day, Autumn).

Morisot, BertheWoman at Her Toilette.  Discover some of the best-known paintings of Berthe Morisot.  Learn about The Cradle. 

Munch, EdvardGirl Looking out the Window.  Learn about his iconic painting, The Scream – and why the sky is so wildly colored. And here, learn more about Edvard Munch himself.  

O’Keeffe, GeorgiaCow’s Skull with Calico Roses.  Explore the series of O’Keeffe paintings titled Jack in the Pulpit. 

Picasso. Mother and Child and Old Guitarist.  Explore Girl Before a Mirror; Portrait of Gertrude Stein; and his astonishing series of 58 paintings titled Las Meninas


Juan Sanchez-Cotan.  Still Life with Game Fowl, 1600-03.  Oil on canvas, 26 11/16 x 34 15/16 in. Art Institute of Chicago.


Pippin, HoraceThe Wedding. Learn about the life and works of Horace Pippin. 

Poussin, NicolasLandscape with Saint John on Patmos*. Compare it with Assumption of the Virgin. 

Puvis de Chavannes, Pierre Cecile. The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and the Muses.*

RembrandtOld Man with a Gold Chain.  Explore some of the leading Rembrandt paintings in the Rijksmuseum.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895. Oil on ca vas, 48 7/16″ by 55 1/2″. Art Institute of Chicago.

Rivera, DiegoThe Weaver.  Learn about one of the most astonishing female artists, Frida Kahlo, the wife of Rivera. 

Rubens The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth & John the Baptist.  Read an analysis of Rubens’ Venus and Adonis.  

Sanchez-Cotan, JuanStill Life with Game Fowl (see above). One of Spain’s most famous painters, Juan Sanchez-Cotan is Spain’s first still life painter.  There are only 6 Juan Sanchez Cotan paintings still existing… so don’t miss this.  

Sargent, John Singer. The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy.  Explore Sargent’s Madame X.  Looking at it now, you wouldn’t know it ranks as one of the most controversial paintings in art history! Don’t miss his mysterious Smoke of Ambergris and El Jaleo. 


Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. Oil on beaverboard, 30 11/16″ by 26 11/16″. Art Institute of Chicago.

Seurat, GeorgesA Sunday on La Grande Jatte*. Above. One of the most famous paintings at Art Institute of Chicago, this work is an example of the theory of Divisionism.  In it, each color is divided into its component parts instead of being mixed as pigments and painted onto a canvas.  As a result, the colors mix in the viewer’s eye when viewed at the right distance. 

Tanner, Henry OssawaThe Two Disciples at the Tomb.  Now recognized as one of the 19th century’s famous painters, Henry Ossawa Tanner had a remarkable background.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de.  At the Moulin Rouge*. Above. Toulouse-Lautrec, a dwarf, stands to the left of the very tall man in the back of the room.

Turner, Joseph Mallord WilliamFishing Boats with Hucksters Bargaining for Fish.  Learn about one of Turner’s most highly regarded paintings, The Fighting Temeraire

Warhol, AndyMao.  At nearly 15′ tall, you can’t (and don’t want to) miss this. Explore his Gold Marilyn and the Marilyn Diptych. 

Whistler, James McNeil.  Nocturne: Blue and Gold–Southampton Water, 1872.  Read about the painting by which he is best known, Whistler’s Mother. 

Wood, GrantAmerican Gothic*. Above left. Not only one of the most famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago… but one of the best know works by any American painter.

Zurbaran, Francisco deThe Crucifixion

Are you a fan of famous paintings?

We thought so!  So is Masterpiece Cards.  We researched which paintings were most often discussed in some 17,000 pages of art history books, identified the top 250 works, selected art historians’ essays about them, secured images of each work… and packaged all this into Masterpiece Cards. The paintings marked by an * asterisk are ones featured in the Cards. 

This set of art history flashcards explores and explains 250 of the most highly regarded paintings made from the Renaissance through Pop Art.

Each 4″ by 6″ Card tells the history of the work and its vital facts along with a museum-approved reproduction.

Look at sample Cards

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