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Early Mail Service and Construction of Railroads (mural study, Commerce, Georgia Post Office)

1938 Philip Guston Born: Montreal, Quebec, Canada 1913 Died: Woodstock, New York 1980 tempera on fiberboard 12 x 26 in. (30.5 x 66.1 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the Internal Revenue Service through the General Services Administration 1962.8.77 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 36A

Luce Center Label

Philip Guston’s mural study shows the history of mail service on the frontier, from the days when sacks of mail arrived on horseback to the coming of railroads and telegraph lines that displaced much of the mail traffic. Artists working for the government in the 1930s considered themselves members of America’s workforce and sympathized with laborers. After Guston submitted his study, government officials noted that he had lavished more attention on the workers than the rest of the image and specified that “The strength of drawing reflected in the two workmen laying the rails . . . is the quality of draftsmanship we would like you to characterize in the entire design.” The bureaucratic process required that Guston submit several versions of the composition to the superintendent of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. After he had made the revisions required by the officials, the composition was approved for the post office in Commerce, Georgia. He finished the mural in 246 days and was paid $510 for his efforts. (Edward B. Rowan to Philip Guston, January 4, 1938, SAAM curatorial file)


Animal - horse

Architecture Exterior - civic - post office

Architecture - vehicle - train

Figure group

History - United States - westward expansion

Landscape - Georgia - Commerce

Occupation - industry - construction

Occupation - service - postman

Recreation - leisure - reading

Study - mural study

New Deal - Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture - Georgia


paint - tempera


About Philip Guston

Born: Montreal, Quebec, Canada 1913 Died: Woodstock, New York 1980

More works in the collection by
Philip Guston