In this small work painted on wood, Horace Pippin leaves much of the panel exposed so that it becomes an active part of the composition. Unpainted wood establishes the table and the view through the window; it also forms the skin of all three figures. An African American artist from West Chester, Pennsylvania, Pippin traveled to the South in 1940 "to paint the landscapes and the life of the Negro people." Possibly the present work, showing a family in a humble interior, was produced on that trip.
Pippin, who received no formal art training, developed a technique of "carving" into his panels with a hot poker. Here, burnt-wood lines (incised over pencil) construct the chair, windowpanes, door panels, and contours of the figures. The contours are filled in with flat blocks of color that animate the details of everyday life. Bright white paint announces a range of objects, including cups and saucers, milk in a glass, laundry, steam, and show piled on the windowpanes. The composition is carefully balanced: the laundry offsets the window, and an overall interplay takes place between horizontals and verticals. Only the table, with its diagonal lines, breaks from the work's gridlike structure.
Pippin had his first solo exhibition in 1940 at the Robert Carlen Galleries in Philadelphia, where several of these burnt-wood panels were displayed. Albert Barnes, who was increasingly interested in the work of self-taught artists, bought several paintings from the exhibition and invited Pippin to visit the Foundation. Pippin even enrolled briefly as a student. A great champion of the artist's work, Barnes wrote an essay for Pippin's second exhibition at Carlen Galleries in 1941.
Martha Lucy, The Barnes Foundation: Masterworks (New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012), 211.
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