Thorne Miniature Rooms

English Dining Room 1770

English Dining Room 1770

Last week I visited one of my favorite places, the Art Institute of Chicago. I wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms and see the holiday decorations that they had added to several of the miniature displays. If you have never seen this exhibit, it’s a permanent display at the museum and is definitely worth a look. The first set of rooms were designed by Mrs. James Warde Thorne and were originally displayed at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. The rooms were so well received at the exhibition, that Mrs. Thorne went on to make two more groups of rooms, a European set, first displayed at the Art Institute in 1937, and an American set, completed in 1940. Two ASian rooms were added in 1962, which completed the 68 rooms in the permanent display.

The Thorne rooms enable one to glimpse the elements of European interiors from the late 16th to the 20th century and those of American furnishings from the seventeenth century to 1940. Many are scale copies of specific rooms in historical houses, or were inspired by museum installations of period rooms. Mrs. Thorne herself assembled and supervised the skilled craftspeople who created the detailed rooms and furnishings at the scale of one inch to one foot. She also dealt with the technical aspects of lighting to effectively convey the illusion of daylight coming through windows and adjacent halls, which is one of the most appealing features of the rooms. Of particular interest to me was the period specific decorative painting and wallpaper.

Mrs.-James-Ward-Thorne

Mrs.-James-Ward-Thorne

French Bathroom and Boudoir of the Revolutionary Period, 1793-1804

French Bathroom and Boudoir of the Revolutionary Period, 1793-1804

chinoiserie wallpaper

chinoiserie wallpaper

chinoiserie wallpaper

chinoiserie wallpaper

grisaille wallpaper

grisaille wallpaper


this room had a tiny shoe with toys inside set out in front of the fireplace

this room had a tiny shoe with toys inside set out in front of the fireplace


Tennessee Entrance Hall 1835

Tennessee Entrance Hall 1835


this Santa Fe style room had the table set for a Christmas feast

this Santa Fe style room had the table set for a Christmas feast


Tennessee Entrance Hall 1835

Tennessee Entrance Hall 1835

If you have the opportunity, this delightful exhibit is a great one to see for the whole family! To view all of the rooms online and get more information, visit the Art Institute’s website at http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/category/18

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About bmurphylecat

Mural Artist/Decorative Painter blogging about interesting facts in the art and design world View all posts by bmurphylecat

2 responses to “Thorne Miniature Rooms

  • catherineschager

    Thanks for great info Bonnie! I have always been intrigued by the cave paintings at Lascaux as well as ancient Greek and Egyptian frescoes. I’ve never been through all of the Thorne rooms, but you’ve inspired me to go and spend the time!

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