The Three Graces
October 29, 2011–January 22, 2012
Galleries 3–4

The Three Graces

The Three Graces—commonly identified as the Greek muses Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia—personify beauty, charm, and grace in both nature and humanity. This theme serves as a frame through which to examine changing formal and behavioral conventions in popular photography as well as to gauge similarities that span the decades. As a group, the images suggest the generational changes and cultural influences that shaped women’s self-presentation in front of the camera during the first half of the 20th century.

Dating mostly from the turn of the 20th century to the 1970s and largely American in origin, the more than 500 snapshots in this exhibition span decades during which photography skyrocketed in popularity among amateurs and handheld film cameras multiplied exponentially in number and variety. Modern life and leisure, in shifting guises, appear as favorite subjects, while the impact of mass media on personal photographs becomes ever clearer. Above all, the collection demonstrates that as women gained a measure of independence, they not only picked up cameras but also worked to define themselves with and through their photographs.

Look Familiar?

While information on individual snapshots has been gleaned from inscriptions and the clues provided by clothing and setting, feel free to share any relevant information and comments.


The Three Graces is accompanied by a 160-page catalogue, published by the Art Institute of Chicago and distributed by Yale University Press. The Three Graces: Snapshots of Twentieth-Century Women is available at the Museum Shop.


This exhibition is supported by the Saul and Devorah Sherman Foundation.

Unknown photographer. Untitled, c. 1930s. Gift of Peter J. Cohen.