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Guy Pène du Bois


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Painter and art critic. In characteristic figurative works of the 1920s, he depicted the upper class with a cold eye. Smooth, simplified volumes sculpt his society figures, who seem to have little capacity for personal relationships. Although sometimes approaching social criticism, Pène du Bois's inherent satire generally yields to a fascination with chic and an apparent distaste for probing beyond appearances into the realm of character. As a writer, he championed the American realist tradition but also endeavored to explain modern currents. Born in Brooklyn, Pène du Bois trained at the New York School of Art (now Parsons, the New School for Design) with William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller—the leading art teachers of the early twentieth century—before embarking for study in Paris in 1905–6. After his return to New York, his paintings reflected the painterly realism of the Ashcan School. Although he helped to plan the Armory Show and exhibited six works, he concentrated on writing for about fifteen years, working as a newspaper critic and from 1913 serving for most of seven years as editor of the magazine Arts and Decoration. Upon leaving his editorial post as his mature style emerged, he settled in Westport, Connecticut. He lived in France from 1924 to 1930 and again in the mid-1950s. After his work lost its acute edge during the 1930s, he eventually he became a studio painter of bland portraits, still lifes, and nudes. Continuing to write, he published books on John Sloan, William Glackens, Edward Hopper, and Ernest Lawson. His autobiography, Artists Say the Silliest Things, appeared in 1940. He died in Boston following an extended illness.

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