On the western edge of Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, is the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier art museums and schools in the United States, known especially for the extensive collection of impressionist and American art in its museum.
Chicago Academy of Design
In 1866, a group of 35 artists founded the Chicago Academy of Design in a studio on Dearborn street, with the intent to run a free school its own art gallery. The organization was modeled after European art academies, such as the Royal Academy, with Academians and Assosciate Academians. The Academy's charter was granted in March of 1867.
Classes started in 1868, meeting every day and costing $10 a month. The Academy's success enabled it to build a new home for the school, a five story stone building on 66 West Adams Street, which opened on November 22nd, 1870.
However, the Great Chicago Fire the following year destroyed the building, along with a great deal of the rest of Chicago, and threw the Academy into debt.
Chicago Academy of Fine Arts
Attempts to continue in spite of the loss, using rented facilities, failed. By 1878, the Academy was $10,000 in debt. Members tried to rescue the ailing institution by making deals with local businessmen, before finally abandoning it in 1879 to found a new organization, named the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. When the Academy of Design went bankrupt the same year, the new Academy of Fine Arts bought its assets at auction.
Art Institute of Chicago
In 1882, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts changed its named to the current Art Institute of Chicago. The same year, they purchased a lot on the corner of Michigan and Van Buren for $45,000. The building already there was leased and a new one constructed behind it, to house the school's facilities.
With the announcement of the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in 1892-93, the Art Institute pressed for a building on the lakefront to be constructed for the fair, but to be used by the Institute afterwards. The city agreed and the building was completed in time for the second year of the fair. The construction costs were paid by selling the Michigan/Van Buren property and on October 31st, 1893, the Institute was allowed to move into their new building.
Between 1959 and 1970, the Institute was a key site in the battle to gain art & documentary photography a place in galleries, under curator Hugh Edwards and his assistants.
The School today
Today, the Art Institute is most famous for its collection of Impressionist and American paintings, such as Claude Monet's Haystacks, Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.
However, the museum has much more than paintings. In the basement you can see the Thorne Rooms, exact miniatures demonstrating American and European architectural and furniture styles. On the main floor is the George F. Harding collection of arms and armor reflecting armaments throughout the Medieval period.
The Art Institute's famous western entrance on Michigan Avenue is guarded by two bronze lions created by Edward L. Kemeys. When a Chicago sports team makes the playoffs, the lions are frequently dressed in that team's uniform. Just inside the eastern doors is a reconstruction of the trading room of the old Chicago Stock Exchange. Designed by Louis Sullivan in 1894, the Exchange was torn down in 1972. Salvaged portions of the original room were brought to the Art Institute and reconstructed. Leaving the Art Institute through the east doors at the end of the driveway is the Stock Exchange entrance, the only other piece of this Chicago landmark salvaged by preservationists.