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 Guy Pene Du Bois  (1884 - 1958)

About: Guy Pene Du Bois


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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut/Massachusetts / France      Known for: figure, genre, carnival and interior painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Guy Du Bois
1884 (Brooklyn, New York)
1958 (Boston, Massachusetts)

New York/Connecticut/Massachusetts / France


Often Known For
figure, genre, carnival and interior painting

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Flag Painters
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for satirical genre, especially of high society, Guy Pene Du Bois 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.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in a New Orleans French family whose roots there dated to 1738.  His father, Henri Pene du Bois, was a noted critic, and his son grew up in a highly cultured atmosphere in literary circles.

Dropping out of high school, in 1899, he became the youngest student in William Merritt Chase's school, later known as The New York School of Art*.  In addition to Chase, his teachers there were Frank DuMond, Kenneth Miller, and Robert Henri, whose teachings on Social Realism* and following 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 re-occuringly.  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, which was a turning point in his painting career away from Henri influenced New York Realism to broader subject matter. Many of his paintings are satirical to the point that the figures are caricatures.  He also did numerous murals.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Guy Pene du Bois was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 4, 1884 into a well-to-do intellectual New Orleans family.  His father Henri Pene du Bois was a noted critic and his son grew up in a highly cultured atmosphere in literary circles.  He was named for the French writer Guy de Maupassant who was a close family friend.  He dropped out of high school in 1899, and he became the youngest student in William Merrit Chase's school from 1899 to 1905.  He also studied with J.C.Beckwith, Frank Dumond, Robert Henri, Kenneth Hayes Miller and at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere with Theophile A.Steinlen.

He worked as police and court reporter for the New York American, New York Tribune, and the New York Evening Post and was editor of Arts and Decoration Magazine for seven years.  He often pursued a dual career, earning a reputation as both an artist and a critic.  He is best remembered for his paintings of the 1920s of Jazz Age America in which he subtly comments on the emptiness of the bourgeois life.

In 1924, when he was in his forties, and with his wife, Floy, he spent six years in France,which was a turning point in his painting career.   He turned to broader subject matter from New York Realism as taught by Robert Henri.   Many of Pene du Bois' paintings are satirical to the point that the figures were caricatures.  

Guy Pene Du Bois was the father of painters Yvonne and William Du Bois and Raoul Du Bois was a cousin.

In the 1950s, Pene du Bois' health substantially limited the number of pictures produced.  He died in 1958.

Sources include:
Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, Paul Cummings
Life Magazine April 29, 1940

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher form Laguna Woods, California.

Life Magazine information provided by John Ball.

Biography from James Graham & Sons, Est. 1857:
Pène du Bois descended from French immigrants who settled in Louisiana in 1738 and was raised in a Creole household. He was born in 1984 in Brooklyn, NY and first studied with William Merritt Chase at the New York School of Art and later continued his training with Robert Henri. Pène du Bois was greatly impressed with Henri’s credo that “real life” was subject matter for art and throughout his life a realist philosophy informed his art as well as his parallel career, art criticism. 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.

In 1924, Pène du Bois and his wife, Floy, left for France where they would remain until 1930. Returning to America showcases pictures the artist produced after this very productive period abroad. After five years of living in France, Pène du Bois was able to observe American life with fresh eyes. His work becomes more psychologically intense and less satirical. In Girl at Table a slender, blond is shown gazing at a small statue that she holds at arm’s distance. The meaning is elusive, but a powerful sense of longing is evoked. Similarly, paintings such as Dramatic Moment and Jane are taut with unresolved dialogue. Both pictures depict mysterious interiors in which a lone woman anxiously awaits the denouement of a suspenseful scene. Other pictures, for example, Chess Tables, Washington Square and Bar, New Orleans, recall Pene du Bois’s Ashcan origins in their depiction of urban entertainment.

During this period, landscape becomes an important subject for Pène du Bois. Girl Sketching and Girl in Deck Chair both situate the female subject in bucolic outdoor settings. Deserted Garden and Road under Hurricane Tree are pure landscapes.

A lesser known aspect of Pène du Bois’s career is his involvement with the WPA projects. In 1937 Pène du Bois received a WPA mural commission to depict John Jay at His Home for the post office in Rye, N.Y. John Jay Study, which features Chief Justice John Jay’s homestead, is a study for this series of still extant murals. In the 1950s, Pène du Bois’s declining health substantially limited the number of pictures produced.

Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC:
A cultural critic and artist throughout his life, Guy Pène du Bois was born in Brooklyn, New York. He studied from 1899 to 1905 with William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller. His earliest paintings were street scenes drawn in free brushstrokes and dark colors, reflecting Henri's influence. 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. 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.

Biography from Owen Gallery:
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 before traveling to Europe for further training.

Pene du Bois then returned to New York to pursue a dual career, earning a reputation as both an artist and a critic. Pene du Bois is best remembered for his paintings of the 1920s of Jazz Age America in which he subtlely comments on the emptiness of bourgeois life.

In 1940, Pene du Bois's autobiography, "Artists Say the Silliest Things, was published by The American Artists Group, Inc. The artist died in 1958.

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