Must-See Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago

While we agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are just some artistic works that speak to humanity across all cultures and times. These pieces are here because they have historical significance and global recognition. Whether you like them or not, you’ll want to see them for yourself.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

via Flickr user Phil Roeder

via Flickr user Phil Roeder

This one was made all the more famous by the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” wherein Cameron gets lost in its pointillism and beauty. From afar, it has startling realism. The closer you get, the harder it is to make out the figures. It’s truly astounding work.

American Gothic by Grant Wood


via Flickr user Tom

What is the most parodied piece of artwork of all time? If it’s not The Scream or the Mona Lisa, then it’s American Gothic. This iconic piece of artwork is one of the most recognizable American paintings ever crafted.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte


via Flickr user Darren and Brad

This French oil painting shows how much more beautiful something can look in the rain, and to be able to portray that concept with paint and a brush makes it all the more impressive. It also gives a glimpse of the culture of the time.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

via Flickr user clio1789

via Flickr user clio1789

If a painting can say a thousand words, this one could very easily say a million. There are so many questions we like to ponder. Who is the couple? What time is it? What happened to the man sitting by himself that day? See what you can come up with.

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso


via Flickr user Sean Davis

Let’s be honest here. Sure, the painting itself is beautiful, impressive, and emotional, but the fact that the Pablo Picasso painted it, and that you can see his artwork in person, makes it exciting to view in itself.

Two Sisters (On the Terrace) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


via Flickr user Dawn

Renoir was a master, and this is one of his many masterpieces. You can really get lost in this oil-on-canvas, which illustrates a blend of youthful joy and landscape beauty.

The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassett

via Flickr user mookiefl

via Flickr user mookiefl

Inspired by Japanese woodblocks, this is an American piece that’s an ode to what it means to be a mother. The dignity, selflessness, and tenderness–it’s truly evocative.

At the Moulin Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


via Flickr user mark6mauno

Why take a trip all the way to Paris when you could travel to the Moulin Rouge right here in Chicago? This is the type of painting you could stare at all day, and it still won’t be enough.

Time Transfixed by René Magritte


via Flickr user Octavio Ruiz Cervera

A train coming out of a fireplace? This is a classic example of a piece that makes you decide its meaning and worth for yourself.

The Drinkers by Vincent Van Gogh

via Flickr user eric aldrich

via Flickr user eric aldrich

Though it’s certainly not the most famous of his pieces, this work is an excellent display of the signature style Van Gogh is famous for, and we think it’s a good bit of fun!

Old Man with a Gold Chain by Rembrandt


via Flickr user Daniel DeCristo

Though it may not seem like anything more than a portrait, this painting is a study in character. It’s also a lovely example of the way Rembrandt uses light and contrast to make this man seem so striking and alive, as if he might suddenly lean out of the frame to ask you a question.

You can find a complete listing of the Art Institute’s collection here.