Guy Pène du Bois (1884–1958), Connoisseurs

Posted on July 22nd, 2014 by

ConnoisseursGuy Pène du Bois (1884–1958)
Connoisseurs, 1938
Watercolor on paper, 13 5⁄8 x 11 5⁄8 inches
Gift of the Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom

Incisive observation that at times bordered on sarcasm characterized the work of Pène du Bois in both areas of his career—as a painter who often depicted the art world and the upper crust of society, and as a prominent art critic who, though initially sympathetic to modernist impulses in art, was an enduring champion of realism. The artist studied at the New York School of Art, including under Robert Henri (1865–1929), who began teaching at the school a few years after the teenaged Pène du Bois enrolled there, and who was a highly admired influence on the younger artist. Pène du Bois frequently considered the art world in his work, sometimes depicting artworks as merely background imagery in his setting but sometimes featuring them as important foils to the main scene. In such works, the artist was interested in the social pretensions that, like the works of art, were on display. He himself inhabited the fringes of the very social world he frequently depicted so had opportunity to observe its people and habits. Connoisseurs features a group of unidentified gentlemen in what appears to be an exclusive club. Two elegantly dressed men stand by a fireplace and appear to discuss the framed artwork above the mantle, which is perhaps a depiction of a sailboat. The man on the right seems to lead the discussion. His face is shown in profile and his aquiline nose, raised eyebrow, and general expression suggest superiority, of intelligence and perhaps also of social standing, to the man next to him—whose facial features are coarser and whose bearing and perhaps dress are less refined. The title Connoisseurs suggests that the two men are aficionados of art, although it is possible that they are not even discussing art and that they are connoisseurs of something altogether different, or that they are merely posturing, pretending to be the connoisseurs of the painting’s title.

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.

 

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