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Paintings and Sculpture

Representing History and the Artistic Communities of Chicago

For many years, the Museum collected art objects primarily for use as representations of important historical events and people. While this remains an important focus, the Museum now collects a broader range of materials that document the history of Chicago's vibrant artistic community.

Unlike art museums, which have traditionally collected only objects meeting rigorous aesthetic standards, the Museum acquires artifacts that reflect the culture of Chicago, including work by individuals pursuing art as students, professionals, or hobbyists. In addition, CHS continues to add to its nationally recognized collection of portraits.


The collection includes about thirteen hundred paintings, primarily oil on canvas, dating from the 18th century to the present. Approximately 75 percent of the objects are portraits, which preserve the likenesses of the famous, the infamous, and the unknown. Other canvases record the appearance of Chicago as it developed from a frontier landscape to a modern cityscape.


The collection includes nearly 400 sculptures in marble, bronze, plaster, and wood, as well as more unusual media, such as plastic, found objects, and macerated currency. Portrait busts and plaques compose the largest segment of the sculpture collection.

Artists’ models for large-scale bronzes, pedestals, life masks, and death masks are also found in the collection. Images of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant predominate.


Approximately two thousand works-on-paper, including those executed with pencil, tempera, watercolor, chalk, pastel, and ink, are preserved in the collection. Some items are preparatory sketches, others are finished compositions intended for publication.

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