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Highlights of the Smart Museum of Art: A Chicago Family Day Trip

Updated on October 27, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Furniture Stands Out Among the Museum's Exhibits

The Smart Museum of Art is small but well worth seeing if you are near the University of Chicago campus. Though the museum says it has more than 12,000 items in its collection ranging from ancient ceramics to modern art, only a fraction seems to be on display at any one time since the museum building isn't very big.

We were able to walk through all the exhibits in less than an hour. It would have taken longer if we had sat through some of the visual presentations that were included in the modern art area, but none of them seemed all that interesting. Perhaps the best part of the Smart Museum is that admission is free.

Here are some of the highlights of our visit. All photos are by us unless otherwise stated. Shown here is 2007 piece by Korean artist Yeesookyung entitled Translated Vases.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Dining Room Furniture For the Robie House

Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Smart Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Smart Museum

We went to the Smart Museum mainly to see this dining room set, which was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright for his famous Robie House on the other side of the campus. Because Lloyd Wright saw his buildings as whole works of art, he would design everything inside as well -- including all the furnishings.

The backs of the dining-room chairs were tall to help create an intimacy at the table, while the pattern of the attached lead-glass lamps repeats the wheat motif found in the house's windows. The museum says the thickness of the table may have been an echo of Robie House's cantilevered roof, though I didn't really see that.

The set is really beautiful and I can see why it would be shown in a museum.

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More Robie House Furnishings on Display

Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Smart Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Smart Museum

In addition to the dining table and chairs, there are other items from the Robie House on display. In this photo, the dresser and the window were designed for the house by Lloyd Wright.

The side chair in the middle was designed for the Robie House by Milwaukee interior architect George Mann Niedecken, who was a longtime collaborator of Lloyd Wright. I can see why, as the two men had very similar styles.

Thomas Sully George Washington Smart Museum
Thomas Sully George Washington Smart Museum

Thomas Sully's Portrait of George Washington

At first glance this painting looks like the famous one done by Gilbert Stuart, but it isn't. Instead it is a copy by Thomas Sully, and while undated probably was done in the mid-1850s, according to the museum.

It is interesting to note that Sully studied under Stuart for a few weeks early in his career, and became well known for his portrait of John Quincy Adams that hangs in the National Gallery of Art.

I'm not entirely sure why the Smart Museum wanted to highlight this piece in particular, though it is a nicely done painting.

Smart Museum Chicago
Smart Museum Chicago

Modern Art in the Museum's Entrance

I am not a major fan of modern art but I really liked the installation that greets visitors in the entrance lobby of the Smart Museum.

Called City Unclaimed, the artwork consists of a 12-foot-high working fountain in front of a combines a photo-based mural of an imaginary cityscape. The artist, Gigi Scaria, used photos he took of his hometown of Delhi to make the collage of images.

I also found it neat that he included a photo of the fountain in the mural itself.

Rodin, Whistler, Wood and the Grand Canyon - Other Highlights of the Museum

Rodin Smart Museum Chicago
Rodin Smart Museum Chicago

The photo here is of a 14-inch high statue of Titan by Auguste Rodin. It's a very nice piece. The museum says it may have been just a clay model when it was completed in 1879-1880 and was later cast in bronze, maybe even after the artist's death.

One of the more interesting displays is a series of prints of the Grand Canyon by surveyor William Bell in 1872. The pictures emphasize how desolate the canyon was back then, and it's easy to imagine how impressive the landmark was to people who saw it for the first time.

Also worth checking out are three lithographs by Grant Wood, who of course is famous for his American Gothic painting. The three works here are from 1938-1940 and focus on farmers and farming. They really seem to capture the respect and admiration that Americans had for farms back then.

I also found a series of etchings by James McNeill Whistler to be worthwhile. They were from a series called the French Set that he did in the late 1850s while living in Paris, and they give the viewer a very realistic idea of what life in the French capitol was like during that period. One of the sketches accompanies our poll below.

There were many other objects on view, and the museum's web site says it changes what is on display regularly so it may be that some or none of these items will be shown if you visit. Still, I would say it's worthwhile to take a chance and go because you never know what might catch your eye.

Have You Visited the Smart Museum?

Whistler Unsafe Tenement Smart Museum
Whistler Unsafe Tenement Smart Museum

Have You Visited the Smart Museum?

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      You do visit the most fascinating historical sites and museums. It is always a pleasure to peruse your articles.

    • michaelangelo1 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is very interesting and very informative

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Frank Lloyd Wright's dining room furniture design is quite nice :)


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