Juan Duran

Kenneth M. Adams, Juan Duran, 1933-1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.148
Copied Kenneth M. Adams, Juan Duran, 1933-1934, oil on canvas, 40 1830 18 in. (102.076.5 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.148

Artwork Details

Juan Duran
Not on view
40 1830 18 in. (102.076.5 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Mexican
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New Mexico
  • Portrait male — Duran, Juan — knee length
Object Number

Artwork Description

Juan Duran, the New Mexican man who posed for this portrait, brings the brilliant light and vivid colors of his native desert landscape into the artist’s studio with him. In works like this one Kenneth Adams, who had left New York to join the artists' colony in Taos, adapted the bold colors and geometrically faceted forms of European modernism to painting New Mexican landscapes and people. In Adams's daring rendition, Duran's hair and mustache are shown as green rather than the gray they probably really were. The bright colors of Duran's clothing are reflected in the skin of his broad, strong hands and blunt face. Even as this powerful man sits smoking with his hands resting on his knees, the lively hues and vigorous brushwork of the painting suggest the energy he will bring to his work when he finishes his cigarette.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

Kenneth Adams painted Juan Duran as a proud laborer taking a cigarette break. Duran's heavy coat and blue overalls underscore his enduring strength and echo the folds around his weary eyes. The artist emphasized Duran's strong hands by placing them prominently on his knees, reinforcing the value of manual labor. Like many artists of the 1930s, Adams worked for the Works Progress Administration. He and his peers created images that gave dignity to laborers and helped the artists themselves to feel as though they were valued members of the workforce.

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.