Dear Julie,
I did a little searching and found  a possible research crumb for you to follow in the Art Institute of Chicago’s digital catalog Renoir Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, ed. Gloria Groom and Jill Shaw (Art Institute of Chicago, 2014).  If nothing else, perhaps the 1954 essay cited in the article will lead you to the source of the original quote.

“Bertha Honore Palmer and Potter Palmer” in Renoir Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, ed. Gloria Groom and Jill Shaw (Art Institute of Chicago, 2014), para 10.

“Her impact on Chicago is such that years later, when a visitor remarked on the cost of buying all the Renoirs in the gallery, the president of the Art Institute could reply, “In Chicago we don’t buy Renoirs.  We inherit them from our grandmothers.” (22)

(22)  Daniel Catton Rich, “Chauncey McCormick:  Some Recollections,” Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly 48, 4 (Nov. 15, 1954), p. 66


Also, you’ll find a mention of this saying in Kirsten M. Jenson’s 2007 dissertation, The American Salon: The Art Gallery at the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition, 1873–1890, p 246  247.

Aline Saarinen once remarked that Chicagoans had a tendency to by-pass New York and look to Paris for their fashions, their food, and their art. (8)  Saarinens off-quoted remark is usually understood in the context of the prevailing taste of Chicagos collectors for Frence art, and the taste of their wives for Worth gowns.  It usually prefaces the equally oft-quoted statement that Chicagoans dont buy Renoirs, we inherit them from our grandmothers (9)  a remark variously trotted out to demonstrate Chicagos boastful and bourgeois nature, rather than its cosmopolitan perspective.

(8) Aline B. Saarinen, The Proud Possessors:  The Lives, Times, and Tastes of Some Adventurous American Art Collectors (New York:  Random House, 1958), 6.

(9) See, for example, Judith Barters introduction to American Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago:  From the Colonial Times to World War I (New York:  Hudson Hills Press, 1998), 13-43.

Here is a link to page 247:'t+get+our+art+in+Chicago,+we+inherit+it&source=bl&ots=1cSS2crrUL&sig=NlNWhkndhoeYFzYphNtjqbVTV7A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwixk4eV_8zKAhUGKB4KHRKkD8IQ6AEIJTAB#v=onepage&q=We%20don't%20get%20our%20art%20in%20Chicago%2C%20we%20inherit%20it&f=false

Here is the link to the Proquest abstract on this dissertation:

Nancy Picchi, a librarian on the loose

From: 5Bankstreet Listserv <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of "Olin-Ammentorp, Julie" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: 5Bankstreet Listserv <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 8:48 AM
To: 5Bankstreet Listserv <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: [5BANKSTREET] source of "inheriting" art in Chicago?

Thanks so much, Diane! I never would have thought to look there (and I actually have the book handy). I'll use Merrill's essay as my source! She identifies it as "apocryphal," but as coming from a Yale historian, so that's good enough for me in the context I'm working in. 

I never fail to marvel at 5 Bank Street. I could have spent hours & hours searching for this and not found it.

Best to all,

On Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 10:47 AM, Diane Prenatt <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I can’t say I have the source for this quote, Julie, but Merrill Skaggs uses the anecdote in her essay on Cather and Cos Cob in Willa Cather’s New York (p. 49). Maybe that will take you somewhere or jog someone else’s memory.




Diane Prenatt, Ph.D.

Professor of English

Marian University


From: 5 Bank Street: The Listserv for Willa Cather Scholars [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Olin-Ammentorp, Julie
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2016 9:56 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [5BANKSTREET] source of "inheriting" art in Chicago?


Dear 5 Bank Streeters,


I have a rather vague query which I'm hoping one of you might be able to help me with. I have a recollection of an anecdote, told probably at the Cather Seminar in Chicago in 2009 of an easterner who says to a cultured Chicagoan who possessed several beautiful artworks, "where did you get your wonderful art?", with the reply being, "We don't get our art in Chicago, we inherit it"--the point being that Chicago also had an artistic heritage.


I'm writing on East-West perceptions of American artistic culture, and (as you may guess), if I could find the source of this, it would make a lovely bit of support for the notion that the Midwest too "had culture" at the turn of the 20th century. If anyone has any clues, I would appreciate it.


Thank you!




Julie Olin-Ammentorp
Dept. of English
Le Moyne College
1419 Salt Springs Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13214

Julie Olin-Ammentorp
Dept. of English
Le Moyne College
1419 Salt Springs Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13214
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