Guy Pene du Bois 1884 —1958

1884 —1958


Noted art historian, William Gerdts, wrote in Art Across America, that Guy Pene du Bois made a lifelong identification with modern-day themes. "(du Bois) was a painter of fascinating mannequin-like figures enacting incisive commentaries on contemporary mores, often with an irony that was likened to that of the French master Honore Daumier....The paintings of du Bois were allied with the urban concerns of a new generation of American painters who came to be known as the Ashcan School." Associated with the Amagansett Art colony in 1938 du Bois' related to the everyday themes in rendering his small but visionary Amagansett Beach paintings.


Guy Pene du Bois was born into a well-to-do, intellectual New York family. He was named for the French writer, Guy de Mauspassant, who was a close family friend. He followed the traditional educational path for a young painter, studying first in New York under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri 1899 to 1905 before traveling to Europe for further training. His earliest paintings were street scenes drawn in free brushstrokes and dark colors, reflecting Henri's influence. In 1905, Pène du Bois made his first visit to Paris where he painted scenes of fashionable people in cafes rendered in the dark tonalities and impasto associated with the Ashcan School. By 1920, he had achieved his mature style, which was characterized by stylized, rounded, almost sculptural figures painted with invisible brushstrokes. The subjects of his paintings were often members of society whom he gently satirized. After 1920 most of his work focused on middle- and upper-class people in fashionable restaurants and nightclubs, often portrayed in a satirical manner. The rounded, simplified figures of his subjects have been compared to mannequins or caricatures and convey Pène du Bois' critical attitude. Many of his images seem like quiet pauses in unfolding dramas, lending them an air of tension and mystery.

Pène du Bois' writing career developed along with his activities as an artist. His father, Henri Pene du Bois, was a noted critic, so he grew up in a highly cultured atmosphere in literary circles. He worked as a writer as well as a music and art critic for several New York newspapers. In 1913 he began a seven-year editorship of Arts and Decoration with a special issue on the Armory Show. The artist lived in France from 1924 to 1930. His autobiography, "Artists Say the Silliest Things", was published in 1940. Pène du Bois died in 1958 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Known for satirical genre, especially of high society, Guy Pene DuBois was a prominent New York artist in the early 20th century, and was part of the group that broke with conventional approaches of the National Academy of Design. Often his work seemed to have a narrative that was mysterious but addressed issues of urbane sophistication.

His father, Henri Pene du Bois, was a noted critic, and his son grew up in a highly cultured atmosphere, in a literary circle.

Art was his interest. He became a high school dropout, only to become the youngest student in William Merritt Chase's school (in 1898). In addition to Chase, his teachers there were Frank DuMond, Kenneth Miller, and Robert Henri, whose teachings on social realism and the encouragement to follow one's own artistic inclinations, had great influence.

In 1905, he went to Paris and attended briefly the Academie Colarossi, and did numerous paintings of cafe society, a subject that he used recuringly. In 1906, because of the death of his father, he returned to the United States and worked as a newspaper music and art critic for a number of prestigious publications.

In 1924, when he was in his forties, he spent six years in France. It was a turning point in his painting career, away from Robert Henri's influence and New York Realism, his vision in subject matter broaden. Many of his paintings are satirical to the point that the figures are caricatures. Du Bois also did numerous murals.

Du Bois' auto-biography, Artists Say the Silliest Things by Guy Pene Du Bois was published by American Artists Group/Duell, Sloan and Pearce in 1940.

Works by the artist are in the permanent collections of all major American museums including:

the Addison Gallery of American Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Boca Raton Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie; Chrysler Museum of Art; Cincinnati Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Crocker Art Museum; Hirshhorn Museum and Scupture Garden; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Memorial Art Gallery; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Montclair Art Museum, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Museum of Fine Arts-St. Petersburg; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; National Gallery of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Rhode Island School of Design-Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Art; Sara Roby Foundation; Smith College Museum of Art; The Columbus Museum-Georgia; The Dayton Art Institute; The Detroit Institute of Arts; The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art; The Newark Museum; Phillips Collection, Washington DC; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; and Yale University Art Gallery .

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