Happy Friday! Today on Museum Bites we’re touring the Art Institute of Chicago. From patriotic panes to a swift ride through the Swiss countryside, we’ll sample a colorful and eclectic collection of artwork. We begin with a Ferris Bueller favorite…
My art is perhaps a wild art, a blazing quicksilver, a blue soul flashing on my canvases.
Blue Man Group: Our first colorful display is America Windows (1977) by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Created in honor of the United States’ bicentennial, these three stained glass windows emit a heavenly glow. On a backdrop of Blue-Man-Group blue, Chagall’s ethereal figures drift among icons of Americana, and the effect is stunning.
Born in Vitebsk (modern-day Belarus) and raised in a Hasidic Jewish family, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910. During World War II he escaped to the United States and was thankful for the religious freedom practiced in this country. He had strong ties to Chicago and prior to America Windows, was commissioned to create the Four Seasons (1974), a colorful mosaic located on Dearborn Street. A multi-talented, modern artist, Chagall worked in a variety of mediums including, ceramics, costume design, mosaics, painting, and stained glass. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Marc Chagall link. If you’d like to take a deep dive into the backstory of America Windows, click on this America Windows link.
Motley Crew: Our next painting is a lively look at the Chicago club scene, circa 1940. The rosy glow of Nightlife (1943) by Archibald Motley, Jr. (1891-1981), highlights dancers swinging to the beat while onlookers sip cocktails and bartenders earn their keep.
Born in New Orleans, Motley moved with his family to the Chicago suburb of Englewood at the tender age of two. He rose to fame during the Harlem Renaissance, and is best known for his paintings of African American culture during the 1920s and 30s. Motley credits Edward Hopper’s Nighthawk (1942), as the inspiration behind Nightlife. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Archibald Motley, Jr. link.
Fun Nutty Fact: If you look closely at Nightlife you can see a head sitting atop a jukebox (far right and midway up). No gruesome decapitations here, Motley included a Smilin’ Sam from Alabam peanut dispenser in his painting. Just insert a penny, pull the tongue, and out pop a cache of peanuts. Click on this Smilin Sam video courtesy of Mike Hasanov to see this antique machine in action.
Bowl Over: Our next colorful display hails from old world Iran. Crafted from fritware during the Timurid Dynasty (1370-1507), this dazzling turquoise bowl is a blend of both traditional Iranian (black with turquoise glaze) and Chinese (duck and cloud motifs) designs. This colorful bowl provides further evidence of the economic and artistic collaboration shared between Iran and China during this era.
Since the ingredients for porcelain were not readily available in old world Iran, fritware was created to mimic the smooth, lush lines of Chinese porcelain. Fritware is made of clay, silica, and frit (aka fused bits of glass). Click on this fritware link to view more stunning examples.
Colorful Fields: Our final colorful installment is Ellsworth Kelly’s Train Landscape (1953). These bold bands of green and yellow were inspired by a train trip the artist took to Zurich. While zipping across the Swiss countryside, Kelly gazed out the window and was captivated by blurs of light green, dark green and yellow as the train sped by fields of lettuce, spinach, and mustard.
Train Landscape is an example of color-field painting, a style of abstract art where large swaths of color are intended to extend beyond the field of the canvas. Click on this Museum Bites: Blank Canvas link to view more of Ellsworth Kelly’s work and learn more about color-field painting.
That concludes our colorful tour through the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ll be back next week with more gems from this fascinating museum. Until then, have a lovely week.
Cover photo by Natassa64, courtesy of Pixabay.