The Ferris Bueller’s Day Off scene that introduced a generation to art appreciation

I’ve been thinking about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the museum scene.

The museum scene (filmed at the Art Institute of Chicago) is such a beautiful tribute to the power of museums. Three impressionable high school kids are happily immersed in the museum experience, they soak it in and become supremely moved by the art. They are downright reverent. George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte almost moves Cameron to tears.

I was 13 when Ferris Bueller’s Day Off arrived in theaters. I was very tall for my age, late-blooming, and way too sensitive. I think you get the picture. That museum scene is less than 2 minutes long, but it transported me, it lit me up. I felt equal parts exhilarated and exposed by that scene.

“Oh my god, I am Cameron,” was my unspoken response. I had father issues, I was not mentally well, and I was an embarrassed 13 year old boy who could be brought to tears by looking at beautiful things, like art.

Cameron stares into George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and goes deeper, deeper, and deeper into the painting. He sees himself reflected in the face of a child, and he looks haunted by the experience. Meanwhile, an orchestral cover of The Smiths, Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want plays in the background. This scene is an emotional overload.

In the Ferris Bueller DVD audio commentary John Hughes explains, “The closer he [Cameron] looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. The more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him there isn’t anything to see. There’s nothing there. That’s him.”

Ouch. I am Cameron.

But here’s the other thing that stuck with me for all of these years. This 1 minute and 54 seconds scene was my introduction to some of history’s greatest works of art. I was just some kid at a movie theater in the suburbs of Massachusetts until I was suddenly transported into the Art Institute of Chicago with Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron. Several shots in this museum montage are about 1:1 scale, director John Hughes drops us into the gallery and introduces us to vivid footage of Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jackson Pollock, Georges Seurat, and so on.

“This is a very indulgent scene of mine, this was the Chicago Art Institute, which when I was in high school–was a place of refuge for me. I went there quite a bit. I loved it. I knew all the paintings, I knew the building, and this was a chance for me to go back into this building and show the paintings that were my favorite,” said Hughes.

In the process, he initiated a generation of new art lovers. What a wonderful contribution and footnote to the John Hughes legacy.



Below: links to (almost) all of the art shown in the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off museum scene, in order of appearance…

Above:
Paris Street; Rainy Day | The Art Institute of Chicago
1877, Gustave Caillebotte, French, 1848-1894

Merahi metua no Tehamana (Tehamana Has Many Parents) | The Art Institute of Chicago
1893, Paul Gauguin, French, 1848-1903

Arlésiennes (Mistral) | The Art Institute of Chicago
1888, Paul Gauguin, French, 1848-1903
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Nighthawks | The Art Institute of Chicago
1942, Edward Hopper, American, 1882–1967


Above. left:
The Red Armchair | The Art Institute of Chicago
1931, Pablo Picasso, Spanish, active France, 1881–1973
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Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons) | The Art Institute of Chicago
1913, Vasily Kandinsky, French, born Russia, 1866–1944

Painting with Green Center | The Art Institute of Chicago
1913, Vasily Kandinsky, French, born Russia, 1866–1944

Three Men Walking II | The Art Institute of Chicago
1948/49, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966

Nude under a Pine Tree | The Art Institute of Chicago
1959, Pablo Picasso, Spanish, active France, 1881-1973

Walking Man II | The Art Institute of Chicago
1960, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, active France, 1901–1966

Woman before an Aquarium | The Art Institute of Chicago
1921–23, Henri Matisse, French, 1869–1954

The Old Guitarist | The Art Institute of Chicago
late 1903–early 1904, Pablo Picasso, Spanish, active France, 1881–1973

Winged Figure | The Art Institute of Chicago (Not fully shown)
1889, Abbott Handerson Thayer, American, 1849–1921

The Child’s Bath | The Art Institute of Chicago
1893, Mary Cassatt, American, 1844–1926

Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz | The Art Institute of Chicago
1916, Amedeo Modigliani, Italian, 1884–1920

Mahana no atua (Day of the God) | The Art Institute of Chicago
1894, Paul Gauguin, French, 1848-1903

The Plough and the Song | The Art Institute of Chicago (Not fully shown)
1946–47, Arshile Gorky, American, born Armenia, 1904–1948

Greyed Rainbow | The Art Institute of Chicago
1953, Jackson Pollock, American, 1912–1956

Bathers by a River | The Art Institute of Chicago 1909–10, 1913, and 1916–1917, Henri Matisse, French, 1869–1954


Above, right:
The Petite Creuse River | The Art Institute of Chicago
1889, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926

Stacks of Wheat (Sunset, Snow Effect) | The Art Institute of Chicago
1890/91, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926

Boats on the Beach at Étretat | The Art Institute of Chicago
1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926
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Woman in front of a Still Life by Cézanne | The Art Institute of Chicago
1890, Paul Gauguin, French, 1848-1903

Portrait of Sylvette David | The Art Institute of Chicago
1954, Pablo Picasso, Spanish, worked in France, 1881–1973

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884 | The Art Institute of Chicago
1884/86, Georges Seurat, French, 1859-1891

Above:
America Windows | The Art Institute of Chicago
1977, Marc Chagall, French, born Vitebsk, Russia (present-day Belarus), 1887–1985

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