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Commanding Presence

This exhibit celebrates female artists from the Illinois State Museum’s Art Collection from the last 100 years. This exhibit showcases 11 artworks, one for each decade from the 1920s to the present. To view in person, book a tour.

The ISM art collection began with the purchase of 33 paintings, etchings, casts, and carvings in 1928. These works were purchased by a group of art patrons known as “The Friends of Illinois Art.” The Illinois Academy of Fine Arts, founded in Chicago in 1925, envisioned organizing annual art exhibitions by Illinois’s finest artists to be displayed around the state and at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Their goal was to create a permanent collection of Illinois Art, marking the progress of Illinois art over time. These foundational artworks were purchased from the second of these annual exhibitions.

Many of those original works were done by female artists who were well-represented in the annual shows. This went against the grain of most established arts organizations and academies at the time, where women artists were often excluded from participation. Through continued support of benefactors, artist and patron donations, and purchases, the collection has grown to over 6000 works of art. Women continue to play prominent roles as artists, teachers, mentors, and innovators in the arts in Illinois.