Relief Blues

Media - 1971.447.34 - SAAM-1971.447.34_2 - 136697
Copied O. Louis Guglielmi, Relief Blues, ca. 1938, tempera on fiberboard, 2430 in. (61.176.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, 1971.447.34

Artwork Details

Relief Blues
ca. 1938
Not on view
2430 in. (61.176.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from General Services Administration
Mediums Description
tempera on fiberboard
  • Group
  • Figure group
  • State of being — mood — desolation
  • History — United States — Depression Era
  • Recreation — leisure — letter reading and writing
  • New Deal — Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project — New York City
  • Object — furniture — stove
  • Architecture Interior — domestic — kitchen
Object Number

Artwork Description

This painting shows a family on home relief during the Depression. O. Louis Guglielmi applied for relief during the early 1930s, before he managed to secure a meager wage through the Works Progress Administration. The unemployment that blossomed after the crash of 1929 was demoralizing for many Americans, and here, Guglielmi emphasized the figures’ despondent, haunted expressions. A relief worker on the right fills out forms to apply for welfare, while the man of the house can only watch helplessly. He probably had little choice but to ask the government for help, and the painting hints at an even sadder future should his application be refused.