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
Copied Ilya Bolotowsky, In the Barber Shop, 1934, oil on canvas, 23 7830 18 in. (60.676.5 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.79

Artwork Details

In the Barber Shop
23 7830 18 in. (60.676.5 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure group — male
  • Occupation — service — barber
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
  • Object — written matter — newspaper
  • Architecture Interior — commercial — barbershop
Object Number

Artwork Description

Brilliant reds, blues, and greens illuminate this ordinary New York barbershop. Ilya Bolotowsky, who made this painting for the Public Works of Art Project, a pilot program of government support for artists, expressed the challenge “to show a typical average drab barbershop and at the same time get a decorative effect through color." Ordinary details come to life with vivid hues: 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 sitting on the floor, and rows of bottles reflected repeatedly in "the endless corridor of two oppositely situated mirrors." A Russian immigrant himself, Bolotowsky enticed fellow immigrants to pose for him, including all four people pictured here, carefully selected by the artist. For him, people from around the world gathered in a New York barbershop embodied the American scene.

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.