Every five years, art preservation experts sift through them. They are searching for the perfect pieces to fit any empty, broken or tarnished slots on Marc Chagall’s iconic “Les Quatre Saisons” (“The Four Seasons”) mosaic, which has anchored the plaza outside the 60-story high-rise at 10 S. Dearborn St. since 1974.
Comprised of 128 panels, with more than 250 colors and seemingly countless pieces of glass, the three-dimensional mosaic stretches across four rectangular faces, forcing the viewer to move to view the piece in its entirety.
Jason Molchanow, vice president and curator of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, says the complex nature of the mosaic tends to keep people lingering longer.
“When people come to experience it, whether they know anything about Chagall or not, they can recognize human figures and birds and fish,” Molchanow says. “There’s something fun and almost odd in a way.”
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.
In a 1974 documentary, “The Monumental Art of Marc Chagall,” about the mosaic, the artist, speaking in French, says the work is meant to “belong to all the people.” The documentary shows Chagall making finishing touches on the mosaic right until its unveiling in September 1974.
“In my mind, the four seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at all its different stages,” Chagall says in the documentary.
Chagall, who died in 1985, is best known for his paintings, and some of his trademark painting elements can be seen in the mosaic. The Russian-French artist also produced stained-glass windows for the United Nations and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Molchanow gives tours of the mosaic. He says he’s seen how it resonates with people and mentions a group of high school French students.
“At that age level, they were actually very interested in the different panels, why we have this and what does it mean,” Molchanow says.
Because it had deteriorated, the mosaic was mostly rebuilt in the 1990s. A canopy was installed to protect it from rain and snow and even the sun, according to Ken Bartman, who manages the building and grounds at Chase Tower.That’s when the boxes of replacement glass pieces, now in the basement, were brought in.
Dennis Burns, chief engineer at Chase Tower, says he remembers the preservationists working in the basement, preparing for the restoration by drawing each panel, much as a painter might first do a sketch. The restoration, which began in 1992, lasted more than two years, Burns says.
Now, the mosaic is inspected for graffiti and other damage four times a day, cleaned annually and extensively restored every five years, Bartman says. The last full restoration was completed in 2018, with few problems thanks to the canopy and daily inspections.
“We know it’s a valuable and one-of-a-kind art piece, and with that comes responsibility,” Bartman says.
He says the mosaic “periodically” gets vandalized, but it’s “not as common as you might think.” He credits the security system installed during the 1992 restoration.
Being downtown, Molchanow says “The Four Seasons” is as likely to draw office workers as it is tourists.
“It lets people take a timeout in the busy Loop,” he says.
Phil Martino, 33, an account manager at Chase Bank in the Chase Tower, says he often takes his breaks on the plaza by the mosaic. He’s usually not alone there.
“The open plaza allows everyone to get away from all the street traffic,” the Villa Park resident says.
Molchanow says the Chagall “shows the city of Chicago’s commitment to the arts — that we have more historic examples and also newer examples.”
Claire Jones, 37, who works in marketing in Toronto and was visiting Chicago, made it a point to see the Chagall. She says she’s been a fan since spending a year in the south of France, where Chagall created much of his art.
Her favorite parts of the mosaic? The colors and variety of scenes.
“Even now, when it’s dusk, it’s very vibrant,” Jones says.
Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals