It may not have the worldwide fame of the Louvre in Paris or New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the Art Institute of Chicago is certainly up there among the world’s best art museums when it comes to the masterpieces in its permanent collection. On EF Explore America’s student trips to Chicago, visitors have the chance to see these amazing works of art in person.
As a sampling, of the Art Institute of Chicago famous paintings, here’s a list of 5 popular artworks:
The bedroom by Vincent Van Gogh
The bedroom is one of Van Gogh’s most famous works, and it’s a classic example of the artist’s one-of-a-kind use of brush strokes and color. The troubled Dutch artist actually painted three versions of this perspective on his bedroom in Arles, France. The second of the three, which was painted in 1889, is the one at the Art Institute.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat
Probably Seurat’s most celebrated masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon is a classic example of the pointillism technique, where countless little dots of paint are used to create the illusion of a full image. Seurat, who was very interested in optical and color theory, took two years to complete the painting. Many people know it from its cameo in the movie Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (Ferris and friends visit the Art Institute during their wild afternoon in Chicago, and Cameron spends a long time gazing at the details of Seurat’s remarkable handiwork).
American Gothic by Grant Wood
Painted in 1930, American Gothic is one of the most recognizable images in the history of American art. It has been adapted in countless parodies, with various characters replacing the old farmer, his somber daughter, and the famous pitchfork. The painting was a bit controversial when it was finished, as some Americans thought it was lampooning rural life—Wood insisted it was an appreciation.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
Hopper’s 1942 masterpiece is also up there on the list of most recognizable works of American art. Depicting some late-night patrons lingering at a New York diner, the painting was treasured for its unusual use of perspective, color, and light. Like American Gothic, Nighthawks has been the subject of many adaptations. The most famous is probably Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which has Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean as the diner patrons, and Elvis behind the counter.
The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso
Picasso painted The Old Guitarist during his so-called Blue Period, when he was struggling with depression due to a series of tragedies in his life. Today this somber and dark portrait of an old blind man playing a guitar remains one of Picasso’s most well-known works. Interestingly, recent x-rays and other analyses have detected three more figures painted behind the old man, meaning Picasso painted over some other half-finished projects when he created this masterpiece.
These five paintings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Art Institute’s amazing collection. And of course, any visit to an art museum is about much more than just the famous masterpieces—after all, it could be some unknown painting in a quiet gallery that catches your eye, captures your imagination, and sticks with you forever.
Inspired? Check out our student tours to Chicago and experience the Art Institute of Chicago famous paintings yourself!
Editor’s note (2021): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.