The Art Institute was founded as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879. The name was changed in 1882, and shortly after, the institution was already in need of a new home for its expanding collection and growing student body. As the city prepared to dazzle the country as host of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Art Institute's trustees negotiated with the city's civic bodies for a new structure located on a park site at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. The design of the classical Beaux-Arts building, by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, allowed for the institution's ambitious goals. The Art Institute officially opened on December 8, 1893.
Within a year, the Art Institute had received its first major gift, a collection of French paintings presented by Mrs. Henry Field. Two significant improvements to the building followed: Fullerton Auditorium (1898) and Ryerson Library (1901). In 1913 the museum startled the city by hosting the Armory Show, a sprawling exhibition of avant-garde European painting and sculpture. Exceptional purchases from that controversial exhibition launched the museum's collection of modern art.