Uncharacteristically personal
This domestic scene is uncharacteristically personal for Pène du Bois, who was primarily interested in satirical portrayals of urban types during this period. The choice of a familial subject may reflect the artist’s recent marriage to Florence “Floy” Sherman Duncan in 1911. Duncan had three children—Virginia, Donald, and Robert—whom she brought to live with the artist at his home in Staten Island. Virginia was about eleven years old in 1912, and is probably one of the girls depicted in this painting. 1

A precedent in Impressionism
Scenes of women and children in white or light-colored dresses, quietly occupied with reading, sewing, and playing music in well-appointed interiors, remained popular among the American Impressionists during the early twentieth century. Pène du Bois’s first painting teacher in New York in 1899, William Merritt Chase, specialized in the genre and both the theme and the style of this canvas reflect Chase’s aesthetic. 2

At the Armory Show
Pène du Bois was a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and worked hard to publicize the Armory Show. He also loaned a group of six oil paintings, including Interior, which were generally well received by the critics. The writer for the New-York Tribune opined: “There is no necessity of warning Mr. Guy Pene Du Bois [sic] against the manikin. His little studies of New York types, full of technical promise, also show that he has the root of the matter in him and is feeling his way toward the very essence of character.” 3 Pène du Bois offered Interior for sale at the Armory Show for three hundred dollars, but it did not sell.

[1] 1920 United States Federal Census, available on-line at ancestry.com. In the past the painting has been referred to as Virginia III and Interior, Virginia and Jeanette. The identity of Jeanette is unclear.

[2] Reproduced in Betsy Fahlman, Guy Pène du Bois: Painter of Modern Life (New York: James Graham and Son, 2004), 82.

[3] “American Work in the Independent Salon,” New-York Tribune, March 2, 1913, 6.

Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958)

The American artist, educator, and critic Guy Pène du Bois began his training as a painter in 1899 in New York under William Merritt Chase. In 1902 he enrolled in a class taught by Robert Henri, who encouraged him to find his subjects in everyday life. He traveled to Europe to study in 1905. The following year he returned to New York and took a job as a reporter for the New York American that helped hone his observational skills and brought him into contact with the wide range of individuals who would become his subjects. Exploring social satire in the style of the French artist Honoré Daumier, Pène du Bois made the disdain he felt for the complacency and pretensions of the bourgeoisie a recurring theme in his work. His specialty became fashionable people in the city’s cafes, theaters, and bustling streets, which he often painted in a small format that he believed conveyed his views with more strength.

Pène du Bois was a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and worked hard to publicize the Armory Show. The March 1913 special issue of Arts & Decoration, the magazine he edited, was devoted entirely to the exhibition and was intended to prepare the public for what they would see. [1] In his article “The Spirit and the Chronology of the Modern Movement,” Pène du Bois celebrated “the great modern art of the day—an art that is thoroughly imbued with the intoxicating serum of life.” [2] He also claimed to have ghost-written many of the articles in the issue after long and careful interviews with artists, including those by William Glackens, Robert Henri, and the Association’s president Arthur B. Davies. [3] Pène du Bois lent six of his own canvases to the exhibition.

Following the Armory Show, Pène du Bois was among the artists who resigned from the A.A.P.S. alleging financial mismanagement by the group’s treasurer Elmer MacRae. The artist Jerome Myers recalled the “silent drama” that ensued at the meeting when Association members were presented with the final accounting: “Guy [sic] du Bois was the first to look at it. Shrugging his shoulders, he said simply, ‘I resign.’ … Dignity rode high, as one by one the members left in silence.” [4] Years later Pène du Bois described Davies as “a dictator, severe, arrogant, implacable.” [5] In spite of the break, he always credited the Armory Show and its organizers with challenging Americans’ perceptions of art and artists by presenting them with “a large group of cryptograms for which there were absolutely no keys.” [6] In his 1940 autobiography Artists Say the Silliest Things, he wrote of the Armory Show that American art critics were still struggling to decipher it. [7]

[1] Du Bois began writing for Arts & Decoration in 1911 and served as editor from 1913 to 1915. He moved on to the New York Post in 1916, but returned to Arts & Decoration as editor from 1917 to 1921. See Betsy Fahlman, Guy Pène du Bois: Painter of Modern Life (New York: James Graham and Son, 2004), 19.

[2] Guy Pène du Bois, “The Spirit and the Chronology of the Modern Movement,” Arts & Decoration 3, no. 5 (March 1913), 152.

[3] Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things (New York: American Artists Group, 1940), 173.

[4] Jerome Myers, Artist in Manhattan (New York: American Artists Group, 1940), 38.

[5] Guy Pène du Bois, Artists Say the Silliest Things, 174.

[6] Ibid., 165.

[7] Ibid.

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