Portia in a Pink Blouse

Guy Pène Du Bois (American, 1884-1958)

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Portia’s fashionable hat, with its veil stretched tightly over her face and head, is in keeping with Du Bois’s tendency to reduce human forms to a few simplified shapes.

The sitter is dressed in a style that suggests high social standing.

Du Bois was an art critic as well as an artist. His paintings and writings were consistently in opposition to the Modernist movement of the early 20th century.

Curatorial Summary

Guy Pène du Bois was born in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York, into a French family from New Orleans. His father, a noted critic, brought up his son in a cultured, literary environment. Du Bois studied with William Merritt Chase at the New York School of Art and later with Robert Henri. He is known for his paintings of high society that use figures with simplified rounded features reminiscent of caricatures. He also worked as a critic for several New York newspapers and became editor of Arts and Decoration. Du Bois first visited Paris in 1905 and returned again in 1924. Fashionable people in Paris cafés became his favorite subject. He began to explore the interactions between men and women and studied them in a variety of public settings. He became known for his paintings of flappers, so popular in the 1920s, sometimes depicting them as threatening figures. His work can be humorous, satirical or emotionally charged. In 1940 he published his autobiography, Artists Say the Silliest Things.

Du Bois’s portrait of a friend, the poet Portia Lebrun, has the warm, mellow quality of his later work, when he downplayed his role as social commentator in favor of appealing subjects and beautiful forms. Her fashionable hat, with its veil stretched tightly over her face, enhances the artist’s desire to reduce human forms to a few simplified shapes. Du Bois painted Lebrun’s portrait three times, more often than any other subject other than his wife and daughter. Some of his best works are of these sophisticated women, whose elegant style of dress allowed him to create his most vivid compositions. Aside from these lucrative commissions, the artist was also drawn to painting women in the arts, such as Lebrun.


Fahlman, Betsy. Guy Pène du Bois: Painter of Modern Life. New York: James Graham & Sons, 2004.

Sold by Newhouse Galleries in New York as part of the Newton Booth Tarkington estate 1952

Object Information

Guy Pène Du Bois (American, 1884-1958)
creation date
oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (canvas)
44-3/4 x 34-3/4 x 2-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. Booth Tarkington
© Guy Pène Du Bois
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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