New York

Guy Pène Du Bois

The show of paintings and drawings by Guy Pène Du Bois was worthwhile, even if it had nothing very new to tell. It was worthwhile because it was so very representative. Pène du Bois is a type of minor artist: not a strong enough artistic personality to achieve anything individual, yet good enough to assimilate everything around him. The mannerist drawing is like what one finds in Marsh and Benton. Occasionally it is combined with the color of Venetian mannerism (as it was especially in Benton), and where this occurs a style of (potentially) high decoration is the result—the mural painting of the thirties was generally in heavy debt to Venetian mannerism, and an oil sketch for the Emancipation mural in the present show was easily its finest moment. It is partly a matter of color (the pointlessly drab coloring of twenties and thirties painting was one of its great problems) but equally of drawing: the mannerist drawing is just stylized enough to be manageable by an artist whose grasp is of the concrete particular and whose ability to render this is uncertain, but it is also animated enough to keep an artist from falling into the highly generalized forms that were one of the other major weaknesses of the art of the period.

Mannerism apart, what one finds is very bland work which grows weaker in the thirties, especially as value contrasts diminish. It is the increasing attenuation of value contrasts that distinguishes Pène du Bois from Bellows—that and the comparatively greater place Pène du Bois gives to social reportage. But even his reportage was usually generalized: a painting of his wife in the present exhibition shows her hat and the ribbon adorning it very attentively, but his wife’s face is covered!

Jerrold Lanes