Guy Pène du Bois painted The Politicians during his last year as a reporter for William Randolph Hearst’s New York American. A great admirer of the satirical French painter
The Politicians is a study in contrasts. A corpulent man wearing a bowler hat listens, expressionless, to a shorter, animated individual with a moustache. The latter's head is recoiled and tilted back as, with mouth open, he aggressively directs his comments toward his silent, stolid counterpart. On the wall, hovering above the stark shadows cast by the profiles of these middle-aged Tammany Hall types, are sketchy, indistinct markings that suggest election posters. The dark monochromatic palette and heavily brushed technique are typical for Pène du Bois at this early stage of his career. Two similar characters sitting at a table in a café are found in a contemporary drawing
International Exhibition of Modern Art, at the Armory of the Sixty-Ninth Infantry (New York, 1913), no. 1039.
Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York, 1940), 166.
The Politicians was painted during Pène du Bois’s final year working as a reporter for William Randolph Hearst’s New York American, for which he covered the more sordid, criminal aspects of the city. These experiences informed his early paintings caricaturing lawyers, policemen, tycoons, and politicians as corrupt, lazy, and incompetent. In his autobiography Pène du Bois did not spare his fellow journalists, noting that they were “as academic as churches,” and, much like academic painters, seemed incapable of grasping the notion that “a fact does not become a reality until it has been given life and meaning.”
Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York, 1940), 138.
Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York, 1940), 131.
Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York, 1940), 129.
At this early stage in his career, Pène du Bois was developing the consistent, distinctive treatment of the human figure that was to become the salient characteristic of his signature style. Like the works of his fellow Henri student and exact contemporary
Robert Torchia, Charles Brock
August 17, 2018
lower right: Guy Pène du Bois
The artist; (Kraushaar Galleries, New York); sold 24 April 1920 to Chester Dale [1888-1962], New York; bequest 1968 to NGA.
- New York Realists, 1900-1914, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1937, no. 44.
- An Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture Commemorating the Armory Show of 1913 and the First Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, American Academy of Arts and Letters and National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, 1955, no. 56.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
The painting is executed on a commercially prepared, fabric-covered millboard support. The fabric is a finely woven, lightweight plain weave and has been pre-primed with a pale gray, thin ground. A second thin white ground was applied on top of the gray by the artist. The paint was applied in single layers, blended wet into wet. Apart from the low impasto accomplished by dragging small hatched brushstrokes in the faces and collars, there is minimal paint texture. The pale green background is semi-absorbent in infrared, suggesting the use of terre vert pigment. The flesh and background paint have a slightly grainy appearance that, when examined with a microscope, shows large agglomerations of chalk particles. Examination of the painting with infrared reflectography showed no evidence of an underdrawing, and x-radiographic examination did not show any artist’s changes.
The painting was examined with a PtSi camera in the range of 1.5 to 2.0 microns.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 54, repro.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 50, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 145, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: 212, repro. 214.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 257, repro.
- Fahlman, Betsy. Guy Pène du Bois: Painter of Modern Life. New York, 2004: 28, fig. 31.