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Judith A. Barter

Former Curator of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago/Adjunct Professor of American Art

South College West

Ph.D. History, University of Massachusetts, 1991

Dr. Judith Barter began her career at the St. Louis Art Museum as Assistant Curator, working in both American painting and decorative arts.  From there she went to Amherst College, Amherst Massachusetts as Curator of Collections and Associate Director of the Mead Art Museum---a collection especially rich in American art.  During her 14 years at Amherst, she taught connoisseurship courses in prints and drawings, and ancient pottery.  She curated a highly successful exhibition of American watercolors and drawings from Amherst College at the IBM Center for Art and Science in New York, and curated an exhibition of American watercolors and drawings from the collection of the Wadsworth Athenaeum (Hartford CT). During her last sabbatical at Amherst she lived in Paris for a summer to begin research on Mary Cassatt, which later became a major traveling exhibition, and for which she received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Scholarship from the University of Massachusetts.

In 1993 she joined the staff of the Art Institute as Field-McCormick Chair and Curator of American Art, overseeing one of the nation’s finest collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  During her tenure she transformed the collection, adding over 400 objects in those areas.   Her reinstallation of the 85,000 square foot American wing collection earned the award “Chicagoan of the Year” presented by the Chicago Tribune to someone who has made an outstanding difference in the aesthetic life of the city.  Barter was instrumental in bringing the Terra Foundation for American Art painting collection to the Art Institute and incorporating it into the display of the Art Institute’s collection. Barter has lectured extensively around the United States.  In 2017 she was named to the Legion d’honneur, a chevalier de l’ordre des arts et lettres by the French government---the highest honor awarded a non-French citizen---for contributions to French culture.  Her latest exhibition, America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, attracted the largest audience for any exhibition in the history of the Orangerie Museum Paris, and was seen world-wide by 1.2 million viewers.

Barter has curated exhibitions with colleagues at the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and most recently with the Orangerie Museum, Paris, and the Royal Academy, London. Her ground-breaking traveling exhibitions, Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman; Edward Hopper; Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine; and America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s; received positive international and national coverage. Single venue exhibitions, Apostles of Beauty: Arts and Crafts from Britain to Chicago; and Window on the West, explored Chicago’s central role in the international Arts and Crafts movement, and its connections to London and Paris. She has contributed essays to numerous publications, most recently an essay on trompe l’oeil and modernity for The Age of William Glackens (the Hilker lectures) and an essay on the Chicago venue of the Armory Show in The Armory Show at 100 (New York Historical Society). She has been interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning; the NBC Today Show, NPR and in two PBS documentary films, Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper.

Barter also authored and edited three major collection catalogs: American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (to World War I); American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago (to 1960); American Silver at the Art Institute of Chicago, just released by Yale Press.

An effective fundraiser, Barter has received large grants from the Henry Luce Foundation for publications and from the Terra Foundation for exhibition support.  She raised funds from museum patrons to add three endowed positions to the American Department, making it the first fully endowed curatorial department at the museum. She has also received very generous funding from the Antiquarian Society for important purchases of silver, furniture and sculpture. She has served as a grant reader for the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a visiting scholar there.  Barter was a founding trustee of the Association of Art Museum Curators and served as program chair. She serves as a consultant to the Clarke House Museum, managed by the Chicago chapter of the Society of Colonial Dames.

Barter retired from the Art Institute of Chicago in January 2017 in order to teach in the graduate program in American Art and museum studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Research Areas

American art and history 1850-1950, visual history of food, trompe l'oeil and politics, and the art of the 1930s.


“Trompe l’oeil and Modernity” in The World of William Glackens, Vol II: The Richard C. Hilker Lectures, Sansom Foundation, 2017

America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. Yale University Press.  Exhibition traveled to musee d’Orsay, Paris, and Royal Academy, London. (2016-17)

Reflections on “Art and Appetite” Painting America’s Identity Through Food”, in Food and Museums, ed. Levent, Nina and Irina D. Mihalache, Bloomsbury Press, 2016.

Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine, 1770-1970.  Yale University Press, 2013.  Art Insitute of Chicago and Amon Carter Museum, Texas

The Great Confusion: The Armory Show in Chicago,” in The Armory Show Revisited, New York Historical Society, 2013

For Kith and Kin: The Folk Art Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale U. Press: 2012

The Age of American Impressionism, Yale University Press, 2011

American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago, Volume II.  Henry Luce Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago. Yale University Press: (2009).

Apostles of Beauty: Arts and Crafts from Britain to Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press: (2009.)

Edward Hopper. (co-organized exhibition and wrote two chapters of book: “Nighthawks: Transcending Reality” and “Travels and Travails: Hopper’s Later Pictures.”). Museum of Fine Arts Boston, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, the Art Institute of Chicago: (2007).

“True to the Senses, and False in Its Essence: Still-Life and Trompe l’Oeil Painting in Victorian America.” in Objects of Desire: Victorian Art.  Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 31, 1. (2005).

Window on the West: Chicago and the Art of the American West, 1890-1940.  Hudson Hills-AIC. (2003).

Shaping the Modern: American 20th Century Decorative Arts. (editor) Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 27, 2 (2001).

Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman.  The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Abrams: (1998).

American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Henry Luce Foundation-Art Institute of Chicago. Hudson Hills Press: (1998).

The Grove Dictionary of Art, contributing author. London: Macmillian: (1996).

“Prairie School Decorative Arts,” in The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest.  Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. 21, 2 (1995).

Porkopolis: Sue Coe’s Jungle Amherst College, February-March 1993.

Representing Revolution: French and British Images, 1789-1804, with Sura Levine and Joan Landes. Amherst College (1989).

American Drawings and Watercolors from the Wadsworth Atheneum. New York Hudson Hills: (1987).

Rules of the Game: Culture Defining Gender.  With Anne Mochon. Amherst College: (1986).

“Angelica Kauffman: The Return of Telemachus.” Mead Museum Monograph. (1986).

“The Picturesque, Subline and Beautiful.” Mead Museum Monograph. (1986).

“The Etching Revival of the Late Nineteenth Century.” Mead Museum Monograph  (1985)

“Frank Millet and Nineteenth Century History Painting.” Mead Museum Monograph. (1985).

Victorian Style: Revolution, Revival and Reform. Bennington Vt. The Park-McCullough Association: (1978).

Awards and Accolades

2017 Awarded the Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Highest award given by French government to a non-citizen for contributions to French culture

2006 Chicagoan of the Year: selected by the Chicago Tribune for contributions to the arts

1995 Chairman’s Award, Art Institute of Chicago