This striking composition of two young women riding on the upper tier of a double-decker bus epitomizes the work of Guy Pene du Bois in the 1920s. Rendered in the artist's mature style, these fashionably attired flappers are lost in thought, isolated although they appear to be traveling together. They wear identical black coats and hats; only their blouses are different. The head of one is bowed, her gloved hands clasped in her lap, while her companion gazes out as the bus follows its route. Neither appears to move. Betsy Fahlman writes that the artist "often composed his paintings in pairs, presenting their highly structured roles as though parts in a theatrical performance, and his sharply urbane perspective enabled him to record the foibles and pretensions (frequently dictated by class or profession) of his subjects." [Betsy Fahlman, Guy Pene du Bois: Painter of Modern Life, The Quantuck Lane Press, 2004]. Probably painted before the Pene du Bois family departed for France in December of 1924, Bus Top may reflect a level of confidence of which he writes in his journal on September 2 of that year: "I'm quite past worrying about lights now. I feel that I can manage to do what I like with the model before me. That is a tremendous step for me whom models have always hypnotized." [Pene du Bois journal, vol. 1, p. 265] Pene du Bois's paintings often teeter at the edge of satire. On April 6, 1924, the artist wrote, "I do not know why I am called satirical except that I tell a truth which has a material rather than a spiritual glamour." [Pene du Bois journal, vol. 1, p. 236] In a marvelous essay written for a volume devoted to Guy Pene du Bois in the Whitney Museum's American Artists Series, Royal Cortissoz likened his work to that of two other acerbic masters: "His paintings are of types rather than incidents. But the tone, the temper of these paintings is what gives them point, the sympathy and the wit behind them, and in this he follows the memorable tradition of Daumier and Forain. He shares their questing, malin spirit, looking about him with a consciousness of the weakness and folly of mankind and reporting thereon with a mental vivacity that is half the battle. He looks on at the actors in his cosmos as if he were watching a show but there is nothing of the theatre in his reflecting of the proceedings, nothing factitious. He is, instead, direct and clear. His art is life seen through a temperament, through a mentality. It is a vital thing." [Royal Cortissoz, Guy Pene du Bois, American Artists Series, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1931, pp. 10-11] We extend our most sincere thanks to Dr. Betsy Fahlman, Professor of Art History, Arizona State University for her generous assistance in cataloguing this lot.
—Courtesy of Doyle
Condition: A label on the reverse lists owner as Estate of the Artist. On the reverse is a study in oil of a seated nude viewed from the rear. Blacklit in the frame. Minimal inpaint in the sky and background, and scattered at the edges. None in the faces or figures (other than very delicate touches in a white shirt cuff at lower right). Most notable is a fine 1 1/2 inch stroke of inpaint into the background between and above the two women. Treatment Performed 2017: 1. Remove grime layer with Ammonium Citrate 2.5% in water. 2. Remove discolored varnish with Xylene. 3. Apply new varnish of BEVA varnish (Regalrez resin with U V stabilizer).
Signature: Signed Guy Pene du Bois and dated 24 (lr); inscribed as titled on an old label on the reverse; numbered K28 on a second label on the reverse
New York, C. W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Guy Pene du Bois, Nov. 3 - 5. 1925, no. 2, illus. [as On Top of the Bus] New York, James Graham and Sons, Guy Pene du Bois, 1884-1958, Paintings of 20 Younger Years, no. 16, illus. Southampton, NY, Parrish Art Museum, Guy Pene du Bois, 1884-1958, Jul. 10 - Aug. 2, 1964, no. 25, illus.
Estate of the artist
By descent to William Pene du Bois, his son
By descent to Willa Kim, his wife
About Guy Pène du Bois
Named for his father’s friend, author Guy de Maupassant, Guy Pène du Bois was raised among the cultural elite, who would become a frequent subject of his work. In 1899, he entered the New York School of Art; there, he learned his loose, gestural handling of paint from William Merritt Chase, while Robert Henri inspired him to work from contemporary life. A keen social observer, he deftly captured the pretensions and preoccupations of the day with gentle irony in his simplified, stylized figures. Active in the New York art scene in the early 20th century, he was a member of the Society of Independent Artists and the Whitney Studio Club, as well as a teacher at the Art Students League and critic. On du Bois’ death, Edward Hopper wrote, “He certainly was the best friend I had in art.”