At the Soda Fountain


Server and customer at soda fountain

Born 1884, New York, NY
Died 1958, Boston, MA
Oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 15 1/4 in.
Accession date: 2000
Gift of Jane and Jay Braus

American Realist painter Guy Pène du Bois’ main focus was on the fashion and "manners of his time" middle and upper-class of the early 1900s through the 1940s. His style was dominated by stylized figures. Even with a tendency to reduce human forms to a few simplified shapes, his reverence of the figure is clear from the great care used to depict them. His was a world of money, fashion and status; men in suits or eveningwear and women outfitted in tailored dresses with matching hats and gloves. While his figures are usually in groups there is a strong sense of psychological isolation that pervades the compositions as well as a stiffness of the social engagement. Even with three figures making up At the Soda Fountain, there is a palpable feeling of detachment and visual tension, similar to the dramatic pause in a play or a movie. The soda fountain server is definitively isolated behind the bar and to the back; the women are engaged but standing awkwardly as one has her eyes closed as she brings her hand to the side of her face (Is she fixing her hat?) and the other gracefully bends slightly from the waist (To adjust her stockings or dress?) and looks directly into the other’s closed eyes.

In addition to being a painter, Pène du Bois was simultaneously an art critic (his father Henri was also a noted critic), courtroom reporter and cartoonist, and teacher. He published several monographs on fellow Social Realist artists and in 1940 his autobiography entitled Artists Say the Silliest Things.