John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age is a mesmerizing exhibition, filled with ethereal beauty and penetrating insight into the life of one of the nation’s most celebrated artists. 

Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, Portrait of Mrs Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis, 1890. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Frances and Armand Hammer Purchase Fund
Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, La Carmencita, 1890. Musee d"Orsay, Paris​

On view at the Art Institute of Chicago through September 30, the exhibition traces Sargent’s impact on Chicago’s Gilded Age, as well as bringing to light the sheer breadth of the artist’s work — not only his best-known society portraits, but his lesser-known early work, with all its atmospheric moodiness , his landscapes, watercolors and public murals.

Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection
Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, Lake O'Hara, 1916. Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Louise E. Bettens Fund

Most notable, though, is the Chicago angle — this is the very first time an exhibition has focused specifically on Sargent’s relationship with the city. “Sargent, whose work was shown in more than twenty exhibitions in the city between 1888 and 1925, played a noteworthy role in its quest for cultural prominence,” the exhibition introduction explains.

Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, Mrs Hugh Hammersley, 1892. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr and Mrs Douglass Campbell, in memory of Mrs Richard E. Danielson​

Whether you take an audio tour or simply study the instructive descriptions throughout the exhibition, do take your time roaming the various galleries devoted to Sargent's work — soak in the grandeur and marvel at the incomparable technique of this beloved artist.

Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeJohn Singer Sargent, Mrs George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth), 1897, The Art Institute of Chicago, Wirt D. Walker Collection

While you’re at the Art Institute

Alongside such world-famous museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Le Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago ranks #4 on TripAdvisor's “Top 10 Travelers’ Choice Museums in the World” list, and #3 in the nation. Which is why you should make the very most of your visit.  

The Art Institute of Chicago

Founded in 1879, the Art Institute is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. It houses the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art outside the Louvre among its more than 300 thousand pieces of art. Works span thousands of centuries, from Etruscan pottery and Ancient Greek reliefs to Pablo Picasso's The Guitarist and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

Liz LarnerInstallation view of Liz Larne on the Bluhm Family Terrace (2015), The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute's Modern Wing is home to Terzo Piano, led by Chef Tony Mantuano, During the summer months, patrons clamor to be seated on the Bluhm Family Terrace, dining among rotating art installations and sculpture, and overlooking spectacular Millennium Park.

While you’re on your visit, also take a wander to Regenstein Hall (right next door to Sargent) to view Georg Jensen: Scandinavian Design for Living. This exhibition, on view through September 9, presents over 100 rare works in silver, celebrating Jensen’s vision for the Scandinavian home, with products ranging from the monumental to the everyday. 

Art Design ChicagoCharles White, Harvest Talk, 1953. The Art Institute of Chicago

In Galleries 182-184 on the main level, you can view Charles White: A Retrospective through September 3. Part of the citywide Art Design Chicago initiative, the exhibition traces the work of Chicago born and educated Charles White, who emerged as a preeminent artist of the city’s Black Renaissance in the 1930s and 1940s. White was not only an avid mural and easel painter, but a superb draftsman — skills he used to poignantly interpret African American history and culture. The realism that is a trademark of his aesthetic makes his work both powerfully expressive and uniquely accessible. This exhibition is presented on the 100th anniversary of White’s birth.