Merging a John Singer Sargent painting with the Chicago Bean

John Singer Sargent's painting Mrs George Swinton

The John Singer Sargent exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago is closing this weekend. Thankfully my brother informed me of that this morning. Now that I work within walking distance of the Art Institute, I wanted to take full advantage of being able to hop right in.

What a joy it is to take a lunch break at one of the world’s best art museums!

Sargent does some nice classic portraits. It’s mostly portraits of aristocrats—if you are into that sort of thing. He painted during a time where paintings started to get a little more loose, thus some of the portraits have the person wearing shimmery fabric—which is kinda neat.

Also interesting was the introductory text on the wall. After the Chicago Fire, the city was rebuilding and growing. Part of the rebuild was establishing the Art Institute, six years after the fire. Part of how they got the Art Institute to gain notoriety was through collecting John Singer Sargent paintings.

So this show displays the Sargent paintings the Art Institute collected to help get the museum to be famous—which is really neat insight into how the museum grew in their early years.

His outdoor paintings resonated the most with me. One in particular is captivating, “The Rialto, Venice” from 1911.

"The Rialto, Venice" by John Singer Sargent

I stood staring at the painting for a few minutes. The Art Institute’s caption describes it nicely:

Venice often inspired Sargent, and he captured a different side of the city in this composition than the out-of-the-way locales he favored during early professional visits in the 1880s. The canal activity that symbolizes Venice itself takes precedence here. This study of a transitory moment is a dynamic, modern work: the underside of the bridge fills nearly half the picture, setting up dramatic plays of light and shadow among the gondolas, figures, and water beneath.

Philadelphia Museum of Art: The George W. Elkins Collection, 1924

It’s always so nice to just stand at absorb all the details and methods of a painting. It does have some nice lush paint strokes—in particular the areas where the light is shining.

The Rialto, Venice-detail

Also striking is the super-dark underside of the bridge. The structure in the painting kinda looks like the underside of the Chicago Bean (a giant 110-ton stainless steel reflective bean).

People often gather under the Bean, just as people gather under this Venice bridge in Sargent’s painting.

The Rialto, Venice-bridge detail

Now I had to get back to work. Leaving the Art Institute, I crossed back through Millennium Park. The Chicago Bean is right on my way back, so I planned to take a photo of the Bean to match Sargent’s painting. I was very excited to compare the Chicago Bean in an urban setting with a John Singer Sargent painting of an urban setting.

Here’s my original photo of the Bean. I like the guy on the right taking a selfie. Very fitting for our age.

Under the Chicago Bean

Now to make this photo look a bit more like Sargent’s painting. There’s a great online tool that uses artificial intelligence to make any of your photos look like the style of any painting you select.

Using’s algorithm, here’s a combination using my Chicago Bean photo with Sargent’s Venice painting as the style: combine Chicago Bean with John Singer Sargent

And now I dropped this image into Sargent’s frame:

Chicago Bean looking a little bit like a John Singer Sargent painting

There we have it. If John Singer Sargent lived today in Chicago, here’s how the Chicago Bean might look under his brush.

Let’s compare it back to the original Sargent painting:

"The Rialto, Venice" by John Singer Sargent

And for kicks, let’s combine the Chicago Bean photo with Sargent’s painting of the shimmery fabric woman, “Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth)” from 1897. makes this image:

deepart chicago bean and Mrs. George Swinton

Shimmery! Rather fitting for the giant reflective bean. 🙂

I’d like to start a series where I find paintings in the Art Institute and match up their composition with a photograph of the Bean.

Enjoyed this blog post?

Join the creatives who receive thoughtful Spudart blog posts via the email newsletter


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Erik M
Erik M
5 years ago

The comparison is striking. Interesting to pull not just similar lighting cues from Sargent into your bean comparison but also drawing connections between what elevates Chicago. The Art Institute collecting Sargent paintings 100+ years ago and today’s communal experience of the bean helps make Chicago a pretty neat place.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x