The exhibit's title, "Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine" traces significant work from 1750 to 1965.
"This is what they saw every day, what they were proud of, what they were producing in their gardens and on their farms and it was very popular, so I thought, 'this is pretty interesting. What's in these pictures, what are these foods and what did they represent to the people at the time," said Judith Barter, the Curator of the show.
Barter notes the significance of a portrait by John Singleton Copley, of Mrs. Ezekial Goldthwaite.
"Oftentimes 18th Century portraits of women with flowers or things are read as fertility symbols almost," she said. "Those things were the source of her wealth. She was known for her gardens and her orchards. And so they're her bread and butter so to speak."
The first gallery is devoted to Thanksgiving, the all-American holiday. The 2nd gallery focuses on horticulture in the 18th and 19th century, while the third gallery considers alcohol, and the temperance movement.
"It also deals with the kitchen becoming a female domain and the dining room becoming a male domain," said Barter.
The Gilded Age notes the importance of markets and how shipping cross-country affected our diet.
"Though the meals and the markets were excessive, the painters were painting sort of smaller and more intimate pictures. Pictures of wrapped oranges or plums in a box," she said.
After the Civil War, restaurant culture begins to take hold, while breakfast transforms from a large feast, to a simple meal - sometimes taken in bed.
"By the 1880s, breakfast might be biscuits and a cup of tea," said Barter.
The exhibit concludes with pop art, that means there's a Lichtenstein and a Warhol here obviously, and on the way out, pick up some of these interesting recipe cards - there are vintage recipes on the back - but there are more vintage recipes, plus some recipes from Chicago's top chefs on the Art Institute's website.
THE "ART AND APPETITE" EXHIBIT RUNS UNTIL JANUARY 27th AT THE ART INSTITUTE.
"Art & Appetite"
through Jan. 27th
Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.