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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 4: Two Americans Abroad

On a Balcony!

Before folks spent six hours a day scrolling through their social media feeds, they had morning newspapers to bore or disgust them.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, memories of past images awakened, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

As we walked along the many halls and galleries, Anne spotted two names in particular she’d encountered before. Among the many books she’s read by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough was one called The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, which explored the uncommon subject of the wave of 19th-century personalities with family ties to the relatively new country of America, who later spent a significant part of their lives in Europe, and who not only saw their lives changed, but who also brought those changes back home with them.

Of the two name-checked artists she recalls from the book, the Art Institute seems to love John Singer Sargent most. Either that, or the previous owners let them all go for a song. Though Sargent was born and largely raised abroad, his parents were Americans who frequently moved from country to country for a variety of reasons. Once U.S. citizenship was his, he never officially let it go. Beyond some dabbling in landscapes, Sargent was best known as a portrait artist, delivering commissioned profiles of his paying subjects in the era before families could get their photos taken at Sears or JCPenney. His career went well until Impressionism and other modern movements came along and made his work feel five-minutes-ago. But he had his dedicated fans.

Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra!

Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver, 1879. Before he became the master of the portrait studio, for a time he experimented with subjects and techniques.

Madame Paul Escudier!

Madame Paul Escudier (Louise Lefevre), 1882. A bit more light-and-dark interplay than typical portraits.

Madame Escudier!

Once again we approach more closely to examine the brush strokes and choices.

Escudier nametag!

Sometimes the frames have their own details to add.

Mrs. George Swinton!

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth), 1897. Again we see him favoring medium shots over closeups.

Mind-blowing trivia I just learned a few minutes ago: Mrs. George Swinton here was the great-grandmother of Tilda Swinton. Yes, THAT Tilda Swinton. I Am Not Making This Up.

Sargent's signature!

More fun with close-ups: Sargent’s signature on his painting of the regal ancestor of Tilda Swinton, costar of the new film The Dead Don’t Die, coming to theaters June 14th.

Syrian Goats!

Syrian Goats, 1905-06. Sargent relapsed into landscapes during a trip to the Middle East. Without any known Tilda Swinton connections in sight, the greatest things in her vicinity were these producers of goat cheese, which is differently cool.

Villa Torlonia!

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy; 1907. Our painter painting a painter painting a painting. PAINTCEPTION.

More fun trivia-by-association: the painter in this painting was Jane Emmet de Glehn, aunt of Robert E. Sherwood, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Best Years of Our Lives.

Three Boats in Harbor!

Three Boats in Harbor, San Vigilio; 1913. The older he got, the more Sargent wanted to spend his working hours outside where all the best Vitamin D is.

Portrait of Charles Deering!

Portrait of Charles Deering, 1917. His family tree has a few distant names of note in Illinois, but none of them are Tilda Swinton or, despite my own pet theory, Tom Wolfe.

Also covered in McCullough’s book was Mary Cassatt, who was born in Pittsburgh but lived most of adulthood in France. She was a lone American among the original Impressionists when they became a thing, a longtime close associate of Edgar Degas, and quite the strident feminist decades before suffrage was cool. Sargent’s presence at the Institute dwarfed hers, but to me her portraits exuded more personality and candor.

On a Balcony!

On a Balcony, 1878-79, the full work magnified in our lead photo. Note how she’s chosen a newspaper over some dusty 1700s romance novels because the modern woman wants to know what’s happening in the now.

The Child's Bath!

The Child’s Bath, 1893, inspired by Japanese art. Though it’s toured extensively over the ages, the Art Institute has owned it since 1910.

After the Bullfight!

After the Bullfight, 1873, retroactively rated R due to a scene of smoking. Viewer discretion is advised.

More to come! Other chapters in this very special MCC maxiseries:

Gallery 1: The Grounds Alone
Gallery 2: The Old Modern Americans
Gallery 3: Georgia on Her Mind
Gallery 5: Ye Olde Tyme America
Gallery 6: Very Contemporary
Gallery 7: Monet Growing on Trees
Gallery 8: Posting Post-Impressionist Impressions
Gallery 9: Picasso and the Surreal
Gallery 10: The Last of the Famous International
Gallery 11: Caveat Sculptor
Gallery 12: An Omnibus of Outtakes

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