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Chicago and the Art Institute

At the end of March, I took a trip to Chicago. It was my first time planning and taking a trip on my own and I hope to make a habit of it. The city itself was wonderful. I used to think Seattle was a pretty large city, but now my eyes have been opened. Chicago is endless and infinitely flat. You can stand in an intersection and look down any street until the streetlights converge to a point. The "L" train and subway were a fantastic way to travel, making the city accessible and easy to navigate. Not to mention a few funny stories on them as well.

The food was delicious. The city was impressive and my friends were the best part. Thanks Kyle, Peggy and Emily. Like I told them, the as great as the city is, it is just an interesting backdrop for hanging out.

We also went to the art institute twice.

The collection was massive. In the 2 trips we took, I managed to see the European and American painting from the Renaissance to about WW1. Some of my favorite pieces in the collection were "At the Moulin Rouge" by Toulouse Latrec and the "Millinery Shop" by Dega. I have not seen work by either of these artists.

Dega was an impressionist painter and is known for painting dancers and women bathing (often in Pastel). He is an expert draftsmen (one who draws). His paintings always have impeccable composition and wonderful structure where the individual shapes of objects form solid and beautiful abstract relationships. In the Millinery shop, the vertical lines of the stands and shapes of the hats are barely modeled. Shown as just the vaguest swathes of colors and smears of light. The structure and space is clear none the less. The colors are rich and vibrant and the girl in the back adds just enough human touch to keep the work in the 19th century.

Henri Toulouse Lautrec was from the next generation of painters often lumped into the group with Van Gogh and Gauguin. He was born into the aristocracy, but was deformed and stunted in growth due to a accident in his youth. Many of his contemporaries, critics and friends would play on his ugliness and his deformity. (Though pictures and drawing of him do not show him as excessively ugly.) He spent much of his time in the Paris underground. Dance Halls, Brothels and places like the movie famous, Moulin Rouge, were his haunts and he consorted and painted prostitutes and other low class elements of society.

Lautrec was another master draftsman. I swear, he can draw the profile of a woman, one that is individual and sensitive in its likeness with a single line and not even lift the pencil. His paintings are a network of lines and perspective with a light thin coat of coloring over the top. The painting "At the Moulin Rouge" is a haunting snapshot of a popular night club and his depiction of the characters therein is both accurate as a historical piece and intriguing as a glimpse into the emotional perspective he experienced the world through. I took a picture of the woman with red hair. Lautrec is a master of painting that red/orange hair and I love it.

There were also some wonderful Monet paintings. I have not seen his work in person before and there is something about them that you cannot get from pictures.

The Van Gogh self portrait was bleeding off the wall. A tiny piece that crowded out the crowds that came to see it. It was difficult to even look at the famous "Bedroom in Arles" with Van Gogh himself staring at you from 6 feet away like a portrait of Dorian Grey.

There was also a charming Odilon Redon still life, painted in color. He only painted in black and white until late in his life. Once his daughter was born, his work exploded with whimsical subject matter and dreamlike expression.

I write mostly about the impressionist work, but there was a wealth of other great work. The Spanish painters are some of my favorite. There was a wonderful 12 foot El Greco and some smaller pieces. I love the way Spanish work infuses a spirituality into the everyday with their balance of light and darkness.

What a time. I can't wait to go back.

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