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Guy Pène Du Bois (1884-1958)
Property from a Private American Collection 
Guy Pène Du Bois (1884-1958)

Old Styles and New

Guy Pène Du Bois (1884-1958)
Old Styles and New
signed and dated 'Guy Pène du Bois 1928' (lower left)
oil on canvas
57¼ x 45 in. (145.5 x 114.3 cm.)
The artist.
Estate of the above.
James Graham & Sons, Inc., New York.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York.
Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 1997, lot 171.
Michael Altman & Co., Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1997.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Paris/New York, 1910-1930s: The Influences of Paris on New York and American Artists in the 20th Century, June-August 1977, no. 31.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, 19th and 20th Century American Paintings and Sculpture, April-June 1980, no. 12.
Berlin, Germany, Academie der Künste, American Realism, 1920-1940, November-December 1980.
Oxford, Ohio, Miami University, Miami University Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Twentieth Century American Masters 1911-1957, January-November 1982, no. 10.

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Lot Essay

Rather than focusing on the gritty side of urban life, as did many of his peers, Guy Pène du Bois instead chose to concentrate on the metropolitan sophisticates of New York and Paris and the pretensions and conventions that accompanied their social standing. Often approaching his elegant subjects with a subtle, Fitzgeraldian wit, in paintings such as Old Styles and New Pène du Bois captures the contrasts and nuances inherent to the bourgeois lifestyle.

Old Styles and New embodies many of the characteristics of Pène du Bois' finest work. The painting is executed in the stylized realism that is characteristic of his mature style. An interior scene that depicts two coiffed women, one blond, one brunette, it emulates a common theme in the artist's work: contrast. This is embodied in the physical difference between the women as well as the dissonance between the modern world in which they live and the lifestyle that is represented in the painting hanging on the wall. The scene is approached at an angle that excludes the majority of the room from view, leaving visible only a side chair and portion of patterned carpet. This creates a shallow pictorial space, reminiscent of a stage, which imbues the composition with a theatrical element that is common in the artist's work. The stage effect alludes to the notion of bourgeois life as an act in which one participates in a series of meaningless social rituals and niceties. The close pictorial perspective also obscures the context of the scene and monumentalizes the figures, augmenting the psychological component of the painting. There is no interaction between the women as the self-consciously posed brunette stares languidly at the viewer, emulating the ennui of the wealthy, while the blond has her back turned, mindlessly toying with her necklace. This sense of distance between the two women, as if they are not even aware of one another's presence, is a metaphor for the vapidity of their lives. Old Styles and New is a triumph of Pène du Bois' talent both as an artist and as a social critic. The work exemplifies Betsy Fahlman's commentary on the artist, "His sharply urbane perspective enabled him to record his figures with considerable wit, as he delineated their foibles and pretensions, which were often dictated by a combination of class, profession, and gender. An artful stylist who was more interested in types than individuals, Guy possessed considerable technical skill that enabled him to create images strongly imbued with the flavor of his time." (Guy Pène du Bois: Painter of Modern Life, New York, 2004, p. 8)

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