Guy Pene du Bois
Signed Guy Pene du Bois and dated 1921 (lr); titled Protectrice and inscribed cat. no 3 on a label; identified as ...k Girls on a second fragmentary label, both on the reverse
Oil on panel
25 x 20 inches
By descent to William Pene du Bois, his son
By descent to Willa Kim, his wife
New York, James Graham & Sons, Guy Pene du Bois, 1884-1958, Paintings of 20 Younger Years, 1913-1933, Nov. 19-Dec. 14, 1963, no. 11, illus.
New York, James Graham & Sons, Guy Pene du Bois, 1884-1958, Mar. 17-Apr. 15, 1964, no. 27
Southampton, NY, Parrish Art Museum, Guy Pene du Bois, 1884-1958, Jul. 10-Aug. 2, 1964, no. 23
Raphael Soyer, "The Lesson: The Academy, The League, The Classroom," Arts Magazine, Sep.-Oct. Magazine, 1967, vol. 42, no. 1, p. 36, illus
We extend our most sincere thanks to Dr. Betsy Fahlman, Professor of Art History, Arizona State University for her kind assistance in cataloguing this lot.
As Betsy Fahlman astutely observes, Guy Pene du Bois "often composed his paintings in pairs, presenting their highly structured roles as though parts in a theatrical performance, and his sharply urbane perspective enabled him to record the foibles and pretensions (frequently dictated by class or profession) of his subjects. [Betsy Fahlman, Guy Pene du Bois: Painter of Modern Life, The Quantuck Lane Press, 2004]
On April 15, 1921, Pene du Bois wrote in his journal of a renewed dedication to painting as well as a visit to Coney Island with his wife, Floy and daughter, Fairlie, "And there's a new start now -- a new interest in life -- a new sympathy -- a curious sympathy for individuals in crowds -- crowds such as -- last Sunday for an example -- Fairlie and Floy and I saw, at Coney Island, a nice want of disguise in their expressions of sincerity. But life flirts with that at times and pathetically, and a common twist of a mouth or an eye comes, an ugly line or wrinkle wanting in grace, palpably un-beautiful, which stamps them, places them - where? But you meet it rarely among more civilized people... We do not so readily publish our experiences. Perhaps ours are worse though Coney Island is not a prude's Paradise nor a Hell either."
[Guy Pene du Bois Journal, vol. 1, pp. 212-13]
The two figures seen in this extraordinarily compelling composition, rich with cobalt blue and the artist's signature rose madder, seem drawn from the hurly-burly crowds at Coney Island that the Pene du Bois family experienced. The woman on the right, a rather tough character is dominant, her mouth in a "common twist" such as described by the artist in his journal. Is she a friend, a paramour, or perhaps a procuress? The more slender woman at left appears more demure -- or do her eyes peek out slyly, perhaps even invitingly, from beneath her stylish hat?
The provocative title of the painting, Protectrice, is rich with implication but leaves the meaning ambiguous. Pene du Bois depicts this extraordinary pair without comment, presenting them on a shallow proscenium as it were, the lights of a city or a park twinkling out of the darkness. Their stockinged legs and pointed shoes divide the lower portion of the canvas, which uncannily seems to anticipate color field painting with its exquisite palette.
C The Collection of Willa Kim and William Pène du Bois
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