Labor and Leisure: An Eclectic Print Exhibition of Human Activity
Susan Soriente, LUX Center for the Arts Historical Collections Curator
View in Gladys M. Lux Print Collection: May 7, 2015 though September 8, 2015
The decline of interest in artwork based on historical and religious themes in the 19th century brought about an increase in new subjects considered acceptable for artwork. Artists began to portray relatives, friends or unknown individuals performing mundane activities. Artwork of this sort is called “genre” and it came into its own in Europe and the United States during the 1800-1900s. Artists lifted the commonplace to importance by portraying everyday work and leisure in large scale paintings, a size usually reserved for classically ‘important’ subjects. The images were of private moments of great people or daily occupations and pastimes of ordinary people.
This change also coincided with the rise of the middle class and their ability to purchase paintings. Images they purchased were, of course, subjects that appealed to that class, often genre pieces. Later the growing number of artists’ prints expanded even further than paintings the possibility of the average or middle class person to obtain art. The Associated American Artists or AAA was begun in 1934 to bring artwork in the form of prints to homes across the United States for reasonable prices. Prints from plates of famous past artists and new works by emerging artists were printed by the AAA, usually in editions of 250. Other benefits from the AAA were that it helped artists earn a living during the depression and gain name recognition through the AAA’s monthly catalogs and advertising. Ms. Lux was a member of this service and nine of the prints in Labor and Leisure were purchased by her from the AAA.
Another popular type of genre artwork by American artists in the 1900s is called “Regionalism”. These artists honored what they considered the backbone of the United States—the workers in factories, small town inhabitants, farmers and ranchers. Grant Wood’s AAA piece, “Honorary Degree” of possibly an Iowa University event is an example of Regionalist artwork in this exhibition. Another regionalist print in the exhibition is “Workers of the World Unite” by Rockwell Kent, an image supporting labor unions. Additional artists in Labor and Leisure are Francisco Goya and his print,”Que Sacrificio” (What a Sacrifice) of a young girl given in marriage so that the elderly groom will provide for her family; “Bohemians de Paris” by Honoré Daumier of an unnamed French dandy on the strut; and a sailing print, “Stowing the Jibs” by Gordon Grant. These five prints and thirteen other artists’ genre prints may be seen in the Gladys Lux Historical Gallery on the second floor from May 7 to September 8, 2015.