Numerous resources are available for learning more about the art and artists of Chicago from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The following selection offers a launching point for further exploration and research.
AIC = Art Institute of Chicago
R&BL = Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago
Many of the publications listed here are available only in Chicago-area research libraries, notably the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago. Some may be purchased from Chicago-area bookstores or from online vendors. For more sources, check the bibliographies and endnotes found within these publications.
Bach, Ira, and Mary Lackritz Gray. A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Barter, Judith A., and Lynn E. Springer. Currents of Expansion: Painting in the Midwest, 1820–1940. Exh. cat. St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 1977.
Barter, Judith A., and Andrew J. Walker. Window on the West: Chicago and the Art of the New Frontier 1890-1940. Exh. cat. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago in association with Hudson Hills Press, 2003.
Becker, Heather. Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.
Cozzolino, Robert. Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism. Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2007.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1888–1950. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1990.
___. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
The Friedman Collection: Artists of Chicago. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2002.
Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710–1920. The South and the Midwest. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.
Gray, Mary Lackritz. A Guide to Chicago’s Murals. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Greenhouse, Wendy, and Sharon S. Darling. Art of Illinois: Paintings, Sculptures, and Decorative Arts. Exh. cat. Springfield, Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association, 2018.
Greenhouse, Wendy, and Susan Weininger. Chicago Painting 1895–1945: The Bridges Collection. Exh. cat. Springfield: University of Illinois Press with the Illinois State Museum, 2004.
Kennedy, Elizabeth, ed. Chicago Modern, 1893–1945: Pursuit of the New. Exh. cat. Chicago: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2004.
Mavigliano, George J., and Richard A. Lawson. The Federal Art Project in Illinois, 1935–1943. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
Newton, Judith Vale, and Carol Weiss. A Grand Tradition: The Art and Artists of the Hoosier Salon, 1925–1990. Indianapolis: Hoosier Salon Patrons Association, 1993.
Oehler, Sarah Kelly. They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration 1910-1950. Exh. cat. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, distributed by Yale University Press, 2013.
Perry, Rachel Berenson. T. C. Steele and the Society of Western Artists, 1896–1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
Prince, Sue Ann, ed. The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago, 1910–1940. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Re: Chicago. Exh. cat. Chicago: DePaul Art Museum, 2011.
Richter, Marianne, and Wendy Greenhouse. Union League Club of Chicago Art Collection. Chicago: Union League Club of Chicago, 2003.
Sparks, Esther. “A Biographical Dictionary of Painters and Sculptors in Illinois 1808–1945.” 2 vols. PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1971.
Yochim, Louise Dunn. Role and Impact: The Chicago Society of Artists. [Chicago]: Chicago Society of Artists, 1979.
Unless otherwise noted, these websites are freely accessible through any internet connection or through many public libraries.
AIC Collections (database includes most but not all artworks in AIC collection)
AIC Exhibition History (digitized exhibition catalogues for most AIC exhibitions)
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (digitized archives of selected artists’ papers)
ARTINFO Art Sales Index (index to major auctions)
ArtNet (index to major auctions; available at R&BL)
AskArt (includes artist biographies, sample images, etc.; limited free availability, full version available at R&BL)
Chicago Artists’ Archive (artist files in the Fine Arts Collection, Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center)
Chicago Collections (directory of archival collections and digital images relating to Chicago history and culture at member institutions throughout the Chicago area)
Chicago History Museum Online Collections (access to a limited selection of artworks in the museum’s collection)
Chicago Tribune (digitized on Proquest Historical Newspapers, available through many Illinois public and research libraries)
Chicago’s Art-Related Archival Materials: A Terra Foundation Resource (directory of local archival collections containing material relating to American and Chicago art)
GSA Fine Arts Collection (searchable database of artworks owned by the federal government and located throughout the U.S.)
Illinois Digital Archives (digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other libraries and cultural institutions in Illinois)
Illinois Historical Art Project (information on artists born before 1900)
Illinois Women Artists Project (biographical information for more than 450 women artists active in Illinois between 1840 and 1940)
Modernism in the New City: Chicago Artists, 1920-1950 (online catalogue of the Bernard Friedman Collection)
Smithsonian American Art Museum Art Inventories Catalog (records of individual works by American artists)
Significant collections of works by Chicago artists from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century are held by (but not necessarily on view at) these and other institutions, which may have useful information on file.
Newberry Library (mostly paintings by George P. A. Healy)
An Introduction to Researching Chicago Artists
Highlighted items are cited in full above.
Research on any Chicago artist of the late-nineteenth or early twentieth century is best begun at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries (R&BL) at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), which offers all the printed works listed above as well as several unique resources.
For basic biographical information, Sparks and Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art are good starting points. Where relevant, also consult specialized biographical dictionaries of women and women artists; of artists identified with individual ethnic and minority groups; and of artists in specific regions or states, as many artists associated with Chicago also worked elsewhere professionally.
Exhibition records can provide insight into an artist’s media and subject matter (via titles), as well as data on patronage, awards, preferred form of name, address, and prices. The professional memberships and exhibiting activity listed in biographical dictionaries can be followed to indexes and histories of annual salons and artists’ organizations that held regular shows, such as those for the AIC (Falk, ed., Annual Exhibition Record of the AIC), the Chicago Society of Artists (Yochim), and the Society of Western Artists (Perry). For copies of catalogues and other records of local organizations with which an artist exhibited, check the holdings of R&BL and other local research libraries, as well as Chicago Collections for such materials in manuscript and archive collections. Thanks to the support of Chris Schwartz and others, catalogues for AIC’s three annual salons and many special group and solo exhibitions have been digitized for online access through the AIC Museum Exhibition History page of the R&BL website; Falk’s index, however, has not. Many Chicago artists participated in important annual exhibitions beyond Chicago; indexes have been compiled for only a few of the most prominent: the Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design in New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
Few Chicago artists or art organizations have been sole subjects of books, but a check of the R&BL catalogue can lead to useful pamphlet collection miscellanea such as exhibition announcements, press releases, and minor solo and group exhibition catalogues. Accessible from R&BL are digitized indexes to secondary periodical literature and JSTOR, a digital archive of journals that includes the full run of the Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago. The hardcover Ryerson Index to Art Periodicals can help in locating earlier articles mentioning individual artists and organizations in a range of art periodicals held in the library. Useful printed, manuscript, photographic, and other material by and on individuals and organizations is embedded in archival collections in area institutions. Many can be searched via Chicago Collections and Chicago’s Art-Related Archival Materials: A Terra Foundation Resource.
The Ryerson Index also covers (though by no means exhaustively) two important series of scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings compiled by library staff from the 1870s to the 1990s: Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbook and Scrapbook of Art and Artists of Chicago. Arranged chronologically, the clippings are invaluable for documenting artists’ exhibiting activities, social lives, travels, critical reputations, and other matters; for descriptions and illustrations of artworks; and as a day-by-day chronicle of art life in the city during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Sources include numerous Chicago newspapers (of which the Chicago Tribune is the only one digitized) plus others that covered Chicago exhibitions and art activity. The scrapbooks are available on microfilm, exclusively at R&BL.
Also available only at R&BL is Illinois Artists: Art Institute Questionnaires [sic] 1918 and Illinois Academy of Fine Arts Biographical Data 1929, a compilation of two series of forms completed by many artists with such important information as addresses, training, professional memberships and honors, significant publications about them, and titles of some important works and commissions. Similarly gathered into a volume at R&BL, “Artists of Chicago Past and Present” is a series of illustrated articles by critic Clarence J. Bulliet published in the Chicago Daily News between 1935 and 1939. Including both historical artists and Bulliet’s contemporaries, these lively profiles are anecdotal and occasionally inaccurate but nonetheless useful for information on many now-forgotten Chicago artists that can be found nowhere else.
For tracking specific works of art or for gaining a general familiarity with an artist’s production, auction records can be invaluable. The ARTINFO Art Sales Index is freely available online; ArtNet, available at R&BL, offers more complete results. Many of the auction catalogues indexed in these databases are available at R&BL. The freely available online Smithsonian American Art Museum Art Inventories Catalog is a guide to the locations or publication of many artworks. Records can be outdated or restricted, making the database most useful for finding works in more-stable locations, such as museum collections, or for locating reproductions.
Biographies of artists and sample images of their artworks are available through AskArt.com, although the entries should be read with caution. The uncaptioned images are typically taken from recent auction catalogues. Complete entries are available by subscription or at R&BL; partial entries are available free through any connection; the biography texts in full are freely available every Friday.
The digitized Chicago Tribune can be searched for exhibition reviews, dealers’ ads, obituaries, and other notices. In searching for individuals in any digitized source, users should consider variant forms of names (especially for married women artists), artists’ use of initials rather than first names, misspellings (especially for foreign names), and other creative approaches to ensure complete results. Many regional and local newspapers, including Chicago suburban and neighborhood papers, have been at least partially digitized at newspapers.com (operated by ancestry.com) and newspaperarchive.com; both offer free trial or short-term subscriptions. Articles, obituaries, notices, and announcements may document artists’ visits, exhibitions, and other activities in unique and surprising detail.
Finally, searches in Google Images and in Google Books for artist names, artwork titles, and organizations can yield surprising, if occasionally frustrating, results for even the most obscure subjects. For artists, the Social Security Death Index and census, immigration, military, and family history records available on genealogy websites such as ancestry.com and rootsweb.com often provide clues to basic biographical questions.
Because online resources, notably genealogy and newspaper websites, are proliferating and growing rapidly, periodically repeated searches may yield new results.