In the Barber Shop

  • Ilya Bolotowsky, In the Barber Shop, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.79

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

In the Barber Shop
On View
23 7/8 x 30 1/8 in. (60.6 x 76.5 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Occupation – service – barber
  • Object – written matter – newspaper
  • Figure group – male
  • New Deal – Public Works of Art Project – New York City
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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