The two somewhat cylindrical figures can hardly be called an intimate couple; their wooden movements seem to preclude meaningful interaction. A single light casts the shadow of the woman’s head on the soldier’s chest as a subtle indicator of their ambiguous relationship. During the 1920s, Guy Pène du Bois was preoccupied with themes and places of contemporary urban life: cafés and restaurants, theater performers and flappers, and—as seen here—men and women in private moments observed in undescribed public spaces. His “narrative of inaction,” to use curator Barbara Haskell’s phrase, has been compared to similar visual strategies in Edward Hopper’s work. Both artists represent a trend toward order and objectivity that was widespread in American and European art of the 1920s. As a painter and art critic, Pène du Bois emerged from Robert Henri’s circle and participated in the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913.
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