Guy Pène Du Bois

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In 1953 Pène du Bois closed up his Tenth Street apartment and left for Paris, accompanied by his daughter, Yvonne. He was in poor health and profoundly discouraged, and this time even Paris could not revive his spirits. After three largely unproductive years there, he returned to the United States and went to Boston, where he stayed with his newly married daughter. There, during the summer of 1958, Guy Pène du Bois died of cancer, more or less forgotten by the world.

Since his death Pène du Bois’s reputation has remained uncertain. The 1961 exhibition at which I first saw his work got unenthusiastic reviews. He was referred to as “sadly faded” and as the “uncomfortable man in the middle between the old and the new.” In subsequent years responses to his work have been somewhat cool, and it was not until he was given a retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1980 that it was possible to get an adequate overview of his accomplishment. My own feeling is that Guy Pène du Bois remains a minor master in the best sense of the term. His best paintings have a presence and an originality that are striking and forceful. When you come across them in museums, they catch and hold your attention, and they remain with you afterward.