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In the Barber Shop

1934 Ilya Bolotowsky Born: St. Petersburg, Russia 1907 Died: New York, New York 1981 oil on canvas 23 7/8 x 30 1/8 in. (60.6 x 76.5 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.79 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

Brilliant reds, blues, and greens bring a strange luminous intensity to this otherwise ordinary New York barbershop. Artist Ilya Bolotowsky remarked on a form describing his painting for the PWAP, "The problem is to show a typical average drab barbershop and at the same time get a decorative effect through color." Among the vivid hues that catch the eye, the artist added prosaic details: the barber using a straight razor to shave the man in the chair, the red cash register ready to ring up the bill, the spittoon on the floor, and rows of bottles repeatedly reflected in "the endless corridor of two oppositely situated mirrors." The Russian emigrant Bolotowsky induced fellow immigrants to pose for him. He noted, "All the four people in this picture were very carefully selected and are especially fitted for it: the barber a handsome Italian, the customers a Greek, the next one a nervous slim Irishman, the last one a heavy tough Irishman sitting clumsily in a dainty chair." For Bolotowsky, when folk from around the world gathered in a New York barbershop they embodied the American scene. And when the artist added decorative hues to the interior, he infused his canvas with the inventive spirit of American modern art.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label


Architecture Interior - commercial - barbershop

Figure group - male

Occupation - service - barber

Recreation - leisure - reading

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - New York City


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Ilya Bolotowsky

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia 1907 Died: New York, New York 1981

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Ilya Bolotowsky