Head (Mural Study, U.S. Department of Justice)

  • Henry Varnum Poor, Head (Mural Study, U.S. Department of Justice), ca. 1935-1936, fresco, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1965.28

Henry Varnum Poor made this study of a working woman’s head in preparation for a Justice Department mural titled Anti-Trust. The final panel shows poor people selling fruit in the foreground while men clad in top hats and suits read market reports in the background. In this study we can see the care that Poor took in planning the workers’ facial expressions. He drew the woman’s chiseled profile with strong outlines and hatch marks that throw into sharp relief the effects of long hours of work. The green cloth encircling her head frames her face to further emphasize her exhausted expression.

Poor used the ancient technique of fresco painting in both this study and the finished mural. The process involved dissolving dry pigments in water and applying them to wet plaster. Poor was one of the few muralists working in fresco in New York at this time, and a national advisory committee of museum directors selected him to decorate the Department of Justice Building using the technique. Poor’s assignment was particularly challenging as he had to decorate long, narrow upright panels on either side of four doorways, along with small connecting over-door spaces. He met these challenges, and the Washington Post hailed his murals as a signal success” with his very deft arrangement of … forms and materials.” (Graeme, 12 Murals Completed for Justice Department,” The Washington Post, September 271936)

Head (Mural Study, U.S. Department of Justice)
ca. 1935-1936
1212 in. (30.530.5 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the artist

Mediums Description
  • Study – mural study
  • Figure female – head
Object Number
Linked Open Data
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