Paintings and Sculpture

The Museum’s Paintings and Sculpture holdings comprise approximately 3,400 paintings and works on paper and more than 500 sculptures. The Paintings and Sculpture materials, including some of the Museum’s earliest acquisitions, are heavily requested for use by researchers and are frequently utilized in exhibitions, publications, and loans to other institutions.

The majority of the Museum’s painting and works-on-paper holdings consist of portraits of national political and military figures from the late-eighteenth to early-twentieth centuries, as well as prominent Chicagoans of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The portrait collection is nationally renowned. The collection is also strong in works depicting Chicago’s earliest days and urban landscapes, with scenes from early Chicago (1830–70), the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1933–34 A Century of Progress International Exposition, the built environment of Chicago in the 1920s–1940s, and urban life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The Museum’s sculpture holdings consist primarily of portrait busts and relief sculptures of prominent Chicagoans and national figures of the nineteenth century, as well as smaller decorative sculptures, life and death masks, and memorial plaques. The Paintings and Sculpture holdings include approximately 140 works depicting Abraham Lincoln.

The Museum also documents the history of Chicago’s vibrant artistic community with work by prominent Chicago and Illinois artists, as well as work by individuals pursuing art as students, professionals, or hobbyists.

Research Inquiries and Collection Access

Researching Paintings and Sculpture

Requests for information about the Museum’s Paintings and Sculpture items may be submitted online using the Object Research Inquiry Form. The Museum’s staff will do its best to respond to your inquiry within two weeks. However, due to the high volume of inquiries – and depending upon the nature of your request – we may occasionally need additional time to respond.

In-person access to Paintings and Sculpture holdings is available by appointment only

Due to the extensive resources required to handle and retrieve the Paintings and Sculpture holdings, access to these materials is limited to researchers who are able to demonstrate that in-person access is required to support substantive research, and that the results of that research will be disseminated widely. To request access, submit an Object Research Inquiry Form. Please also note that not all objects will be available for researcher access due to condition, location, staff availability, and/or other factors. Scheduling an appointment to view available material may require several additional weeks.

Image Requests

Images do not exist for all of the items in the Paintings and Sculpture collection. Requests for new photography may occasionally be accommodated for an additional fee; however, the Museum reserves the right to limit new photography based on an item’s condition, storage location, size, and other factors. For information about obtaining copies or high-quality digital image reproductions of collection materials, see the Rights and Reproductions page. Note that the Museum’s ability to reproduce requested materials may be limited by US copyright law.

Donate to the Collection

The vast majority of the Paintings and Sculpture holdings were donated to the Museum. If you would like to donate an artifact to the Museum, please submit the Online Collection Donation Form.

Support the Collection

The Museum requires ongoing resources to maintain its collection of more than 23 million objects and documents. This work includes cataloging, storing, and preserving the collections – and the specialized activity necessary to make this unique resource available for use in exhibitions, publications, public programs, scholarly research, and loans to other institutions. We encourage you to consider making a financial contribution to help support this important work.

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