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Art Collection

 

Collecting art has been a tradition at the Union League Club since 1886. Today, the art collection is a vital part of the Club's identity and a significant part of Chicago's art history. The Club's art collection is one of the oldest and most important private collections of American art in the Midwest, and it has one of the best collections of Illinois art.

 

The majority of the art collection is on view throughout the Club. There are nearly 800 works in the Club's collection which represent more than 150 years of art making in America. The collection features a range of art movements, styles, and subjects, from traditional to contemporary art, and it includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolors, prints, photographs, and decorative arts. 






Ivan Albright


Reflections of a Cypress Swamp (Cypress Knees)

1965
gouache on panel
16 x 20 inches


The son of Adam Albright, Ivan Albright is one of Chicago's most important 20th-century painters. While representational, his paintings are noted for their combination of minute technique and distortions of forms.


 


 

Charles Dudley Arnold


Suite of Photographs of the World’s Columbian Exposition
1893
37 albumen prints
sizes vary: 14 ½--18 x17 ½--21½ inches
Gift of C. W. Bergquist, 1948

 

The World’s Columbian Exposition has long been acclaimed by historians as the greatest American world’s fair because of its architectural achievements, technological innovations, and long-reaching influence on American life. The Union League Club of Chicago takes pride in having played an important role in its planning. Many meetings were held at the Club’s original building, at this location, and Club members were on the fair’s board of directors. The Club enjoys 37of Arnold's original photographs of the World’s Columbian Exposition, taken in 1892 and 1893. The official photographer of the fair, Charles Dudley Arnold, was hired to document the fair from construction until closing.


In all, Arnold took over 1,000 photographs, which served as the primary visual documents of the fair. His photographs documented exhibits, individual buildings, and the overall architecture of the exposition. Buildings, rather than people, are emphasized in most of the photographs, with the result that the pristine and monumental beauty that characterized the “White City” is amply captured for 21st-century viewers.



Edwin Blashfield


Patria
1926
oil on canvas mounted on plaster wall
144 x 94 inches

 


Painted by the leading mural painter of the day, this mural embodies the Club's motto as it appears on the mantlepiece: "Welcome to loyal hearts. We Join ourselves to no party which does not carry the flag and keep step to the music of the union." Blashfield's grand mural was commissioned for the opening of the Clubhouse. The allegorical figure of Country is flanked by those of Justice and Fortitude, with the handmaidens of Liberty shown beneath.



 

Frederick Bridgman


Hot Bargain in Cairo
1884
oil on canvas
33 x 52 1/2 inches

 

Bridgman worked in Paris, where he, along with many other artists of the period, concentrated on scenes of the Near East. This was one of the first works purchased by the Club for its collection.


Roger Brown


Chicago Taking a Beating
1989
oil on canvas
48 x 72 inches
© Courtesy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brown family

Chicago Imagist Roger Brown typically used humor as the means to convey a more ominous message, as is the case with this work, in which the manmade world is ultimately no match for the natural one. Brown drew from popular culture, seen here in the cartoon-like silhouetted figures, and folk art, seen in the flattened sense of space and emphasis on repetitive patterns.



 

Manierre Dawson


Untitled
1913
oil on panel
14 1/16 x 9 13/16 inches



 
Dawson was a pioneer of modern art, and between 1910-14, he painted some of the most remarkable avant-garde paintings being created in the United States. He was one of the first artists to do non-objective work and it was done independently of European developments. Rooted in his engineering background, Dawson’s non-objective style was instead influenced by his interest in mathematical formulas and spatial relationships. The Club’s painting dates to Dawson’s most prolific year. Although they share similarities with Cubism, paintings from this period have a distinctive style of their own, seen in the artist’s preference for strong, dynamic black lines and less defined shapes than found in the work of Picasso or Braque.



 

Thomas Hill


Crescent Lake (Yosemite Valley)
1892
oil on canvas
36 x 54 1/4 inches



Although seemingly faithful in his depiction of Yosemite, Hill has romanticized the view, making it even grander.  Such paintings intrigued Americans and were an impetus for many to travel to the West.



 

Richard Hunt



Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
1998
welded bronze and brass
22 x 15 x 11 inches



Richard Hunt's expressionistic and organic sculptures are based on natural forms and are made in a variety of mediums, including bronze, Cor-Ten steel, aluminum, and found materials. He creates his bronze sculptures by cutting bronze sheets into shapes, hammering them, and then welding the sheets together. In this rare figurative sculpture, Hunt's lifelong interest in African masks is evident.


 

   

George Inness


Picnic in the Woods, Montclair, New Jersey (The Picnice Party: Beech Woods: The Beeches)
1894
oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard
30 1/4 x 45 1/4 inches



The Picnic Party was completed the year Inness died. The introspective quality is typical of the artist's late works and reflects his mystical attitude towards nature.



 

William Keith


High Sierras
oil on canvas
17 5/8 x 35 ½ inches


 

In the early twentieth century, William Keith was one of the most successful painters in America. Called both the “Dean of California Artists” and “California’s Old Master,” Keith was famous for his numerous paintings of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Club’s painting, a depiction of an unknown location in the Sierra Nevadas, is realist in style and characteristic of his earlier work.



   

Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low


Blossoming Time in Normandy

1901
oil on canvas
38 1/2 x 63 5/8 inches



The artist’s garden at Giverny is the subject of this impressionist painting. Low painted the mural, Primitive Woman, for the Woman's Pavilion at the 1893 World's Fair, while Mary Cassatt painted Modern Woman.





Kerry James Marshall


Brownie
1995
Color lithograph
19 ¾ x 15 inches
Gift of Kerry James Marshall




Kerry James Marshall examines African American identity and history in paintings, installations, photographs, and public projects. Marshall, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in South Central Los Angeles.

 
Brownie is part of a group of work that the artist created in the early to mid-1990s that explored the tragedy of gang violence in America’s inner cities.  The artist notes, “for a lot of kids growing up in the inner city, the question isn’t whether they want to grow up, but whether they will have the opportunity.”  The halo behind the figure’s head is meant to connote innocence; many works from the series are funeral portraits. The profound blackness of the figure of Brownie is characteristic of Marshall’s work and is a reductive device by which the artist exposes the inherent beauty, grace, and power of extreme blackness.  Marshall explains, “I see the figures as emblematic; I’m reducing the complex variations of tone to a rhetorical dimension: blackness.”


 

Claude Monet


Pommiers en fleurs (Apple Trees in Blossom)
1872
oil on canvas
24 x 28 ½ inches



Claude Monet painted Pommiers en fleurs in the spring of 1872, shortly after he and his family moved to Argenteuil, a resort town on the Seine River. Remaining there until 1878, Monet found great inspiration in the town and the surrounding country side, producing more than 170 paintings in roughly seven years. The broken brushwork and pastel colors of Pommiers en fleurs convey the beauty of the rural scene. The Club’s painting was included in the second exhibition of the Impressionists, held in 1876.

Much folklore surrounds how the Union League Club came to acquire the Monet, and for many years, the facts were unknown. Recent research indicates that the Club purchased it from Art Committee chair and art collector Judge John Barton Payne in March 1895. Payne had purchased the painting only the previous year. Pommiers en fleurs appeared in the 1895 Monet exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago; a review states that the painting belonged to Payne. Payne sold the painting to the Club at a reduced price of $500; notes in the Club’s 1895 register of the collection give the value as $1,500. Although Payne was enormously generous in selling the painting at such a discount, some members still considered it too expensive. Most famously, the president of the Club is said to have scoffed, “Who would pay five dollars for that blob of paint?” Significantly, the purchase made the Club—along with Mrs. Potter Palmer and Club member Martin Ryerson—one of the early Chicago collectors of Monet.

 

Elizabeth Nourse


Good Friday (Vendredi Saint)
1891
oil on canvas
61 1/2 x 55 1/2 inches


Originally from Cincinnati, Nourse spent her career in France. The religious observances of peasant women are the subject matter of Good Friday. This painting was exhibited in at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where it was awarded a medal.

 

 

Jim Nutt


Look this Way
1977
oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches



An influential figure in contemporary art, Jim Nutt is one of Chicago’s leading Imagists. Look this Way dates to the period when the artist began surrounding a central scene with a painted border, as in the plaid one seen here. At that time, Nutt also began decorating the frames of his paintings. The idiosyncratic physiognomy of the main figure has been a characteristic of his style throughout his career.



 

Ross Turner


Cologne Cathedral
1884
Watercolor and Chinese white on paper
38 x 25 inches



 

This watercolor, a gift from a member, was the Club's first acquisition. The cathedral is shown in great detail and reflects Turner's training as a miniaturist.


 

Walter Ufer


Near the Waterhole

1921
oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches

 

Walter Ufer spent much of his career in Taos, New Mexico and was a member of the Taos Society of Artists. The figure of the man in this painting is Jim Mirabal, one of Ufer's favorite models. The free brushwork reveals Ufer at the height of his powers.


   

James Valerio


Night Fires

1984
oil on canvas
92 x 100 inches



James Valerio is best known for his large-scale still lifes, interiors, and narrative figurative paintings that have the hyper-real aesthetic of Photorealism. Night Fires is a tour de force of paint technique and enigmatic subject matter. A woman, the artist's wife Pat clad in a blue terrycloth robe, slumbers on a floral patterned couch. In front of her is a sumptuous display of flowers, lace, candy, and assorted china, crystal, and silver wares; above her head dance brilliant yet ominous orange flames. The painting is a contemporary vanitas addressing the transience and vanity of material possessions and the brevity of life. Painted when he lived in Los Angeles, Valerio wished to explore the destructive effect that the area’s brush fires had on physical property. He remarked: “Sometimes we collect very opulent, beautiful things which cost a lot of money. They are often very luxurious. Yet there are in the world things like fire which can in an instant take everything away... I wanted to introduce the fact that one needs to have caution in life.”


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