To demonstrate its recovery from the devastating fire of 1871 and to reclaim its role as a major commercial center, the City of Chicago hosted the annual Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition from 1873 to 1890. The investors—prominent Chicago businessmen including Potter Palmer, Cyrus H. McCormick and R. T. Crane—intended the exposition to highlight current manufactured goods across a very broad spectrum, such as brickmaking machines, carriages and wagons, fire extinguishers, and sewing and diamond-cutting machines. Many of the manufacturers and vendors were based in Chicago or had regional offices in the city.
Designed by Chicago architect W.W. Boyington, the building itself was an enormous 200 x 800 feet, offering exhibition space for over 300 exhibitors. In an effort to cultivate cultural sophistication among Chicagoans, an art gallery was included within the building. The Fine Art Department, as it was known, was the only exhibit to be housed in a separate room, which measured approximately 20 x 120 feet and was prominently situated across from the main entrance and on axis with the central fountain. Initially, the gallery focused its exhibitions on contemporary American art, with selections influenced by the National Academy of Design in New York City. These eclectic displays also included “Indian curiosities,” sculpture, prints, “ornamental work,” and casts of the Elgin Marbles. Early iterations of the exposition featured paintings by predominantly American artists such as William Merritt Chase, Frederick Church, Lockwood de Forest, John Lafarge, as well as George Inness and Winslow Homer from an earlier generation. However, as American collectors began traveling and buying artworks in Europe and more American artists were studying in Europe, the exhibitions became increasingly international and cosmopolitan in content, including such artists as Henry Bacon, Bouguereau, Eakins, Hassam and Tissot. Most of these art exhibits were curated by Sara Hallowell, who would later work with Mrs. Potter Palmer to select art for the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Fittingly, the exposition hall was demolished in 1890 to be replaced by the building that would become the Art Institute of Chicago, and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 would come to embody the Interstate Industrial Exposition’s core goals at a much larger and grander magnitude.
Included in this collection is documentation derived from an index database created by Ms. Kirsten Jensen in the course of writing her thesis The American Salon: The Art Gallery at the Chicago Interstate Industrial exposition, 1873-1890 (Ph.D. thesis submitted to The City University of New York, 2007). Jensen also created an index of two other early Chicago art exhibitions: the 1859 Chicago Exhibition of the Fine Arts held in Burch's Building, at the corner of Wabash and Lake; and the Great North-Western Sanitary Fair of 1865. Jensen later donated an electronic copy of this database to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries which has since been converted to the searchable PDF documents found here. This index is a list of all known artworks exhibited throughout the course of these exhibits. In addition to title and normalized artist name, date, location, medium, and provenance is included when known. A list of abbreviations and relevant sources is also included in this collection as well as PDF scans of the original 1859 and 1865 catalogs.