This is my first time in Chicago, in fact, my first time to the Midwest. Other than when we visited my aunt and uncle in New Mexico, in my childhood, we rarely left California. There was the time we went to Cape Canaveral to see a space shuttle launch, a school trip to Washington D.C., a tour of gardens in Washington State and British Colombia, and a Hawai'ian vacation, in which I sullenly listened to my CD player the whole time.
Since then I've done a bit more travel, going on study abroad in Bayreuth, which wasted on me, as I did not care for Wagner at the time. At least, I was able to wander around and see significant Rembrandt or Dürer collections. So I did manage to get to half a dozen Western European capitals, though I also went to Prague, as it was nearby.
At any rate, I am presently in Chicago, and am colder than I have been in years. I had forgotten how -14 C hurts the face. Yesterday I ventured over to The Art Institute of Chicago, with the sole purpose of seeing their Old Man in a Gorget and Black Cap, circa 1631. This oil on panel is 83.1 centimeters high and 75.7 centimeters long. This tronie is all one could want of an early Rembrandt: fanciful dress, strong composition, nobility of character, beautifully rendered textures, and a stately palette. None of Pieter Lastman's lurid floridness remains.
The painting is from the same period as the portrait of Joris de Caulerii at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. There are many familiar elements in the Chicago painting, for one, the model appears more than once in Rembrandt's work, for instance, Scholar in His Study, 1634 in Prague. The gorget is the same as the one in the Nuremberg self-portrait, the slashed black beret shows up in the Scene of the Prodigal Son in the Tavern in Dresden, the chain is worn by Rembrandt in his circa 1630-1631 self-portrait now in Liverpool.
As I sat in Gallery 208, I could hear the tour guide speaking on some 14th century anonymous paintings of female saints from the Netherlands and South Germany in the next room. I heard him explain the legend of St. Ursula and the attributes of Mary Magdalene. I was curious to hear what he would say about Rembrandt, but the tour simply walked through the room to another gallery entirely. I found A Lady Reading (Saint Mary Magdalene), circa 1520/40 to be more to my liking than the Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints, 1505/15, though the plants and birds of the latter are lovely.
I only made a cursory tour of the rest of the museum and would especially like to look at the classical art and The Ayala Altarpiece more carefully. It is quite a collection. Even I was taken aback by the large number of Monet wheatstack paintings, they look like muffins to me and this is just so pleasing. Back home we only have the one at the Getty.
The only exhibition I saw was Girls on the Verge: Portraits of Adolescence, which made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Rineke Dijkstra's photographs of girls in bathing suits were particularly unsettling.