Unlike in Rome, Context had some difficulty locating a guide for the Art Institute of Chicago. We had specifically requested a guide who could give a deep dive into the extensive Impressionist art housed in this museum as well some time spent on the Italian renaissance. Our first choice of guide who seemed to specialize in these areas was unavailable. Context eventually found Sally to be our guide. Sally was very warm and welcoming and a pleasure to be with.
As visitors from out of state, we were seeking insights into the actual art and artists, a deeper understanding of the Impressionists. This is what I requested, and indicated online that I was NOT interested in spending a lot of time on the ‘Chicago’ history and connections of each piece. My sister, who lives in Chicago, joined us; she’s also been on Context tours before – so we have insights from two different perspectives.
Sally has an affinity for the Thorne miniatures, so we started there. It was fun to watch her share her passion. My sister’s kids have read ‘The 68 Rooms’ by Marianne Malone which connects those little rooms with time travel and she LOVED it. It’d be fun to read Malone’s books with your kids and then visit these little rooms. These miniatures are NOT my passion, but it was kinda cool to see Sally so excited about them – and thankfully she highlighted only a few and then moved on (or we would have asked her to do so).
Sally provided a great overview of the Chicago families that were the benefactors of the Impressionist pieces. Ms. Berthe Potter Palmer, Bartlett, Ryerson, Annie Coburn, John Singer Sargant… she shared which pieces were from which collection, how they were acquired, bought, and sold over the years. Then she’d step back and say, ‘do you want to wander around and look at the art?’ My heart dropped. This was exactly what I wasn’t looking for – but didn’t think pressing Sally for artistic insists she didn’t have would be helpful. My sister, from Chicago, did enjoy all the Chicago connections, Chicago stories, and prominent Chicago families. I had hoped to learn more about people like Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne… Sally did open my eyes to an Impressionist artist I wasn’t really aware of: Mary Cassatt. I would have loved more of THAT kind of emphasis with all the Impressionist artists and their art.
At the end of the tour, Sally showed us where the Italian renaissance art was – but this was neither her area of expertise nor her passion, unlike the Thorn Miniatures. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – ask for Sally if want to get a feel for Chicago’s history with the acquisition of art for the Art Institute, connections to Chicago history, and insights into Chicago’s prominent families (or a tour of Chicago, she does those too!) and especially if want to learn more about the Thorn Miniatures. She literally wrote the book on them: Mrs. Thorne's World of Miniatures by Sally Sexton Kalmbach.
Oct. 31, 2019