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The Art of JAMA
July 12, 2016

The Porch: Philip Guston

JAMA. 2016;316(2):132-133. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14369

During the 1940s, an era that witnessed the armed conflict of World War II and the aftermath of the Holocaust, the American painter Philip Guston (1913-1980) adapted his compositional style in response to world events. Most of his paintings from this era were of groups of children dressed up in homemade costumes. In Guston’s painting The Porch, his stock characters wear paper hats, masks, and tissue-paper bandages. The gloomy figures at the periphery play cymbals, a horn, and a drum, conducted by a tall boy with a curtain-rod baton. In the foreground a girl with an expeditionary canteen pulls a wrapping paper mask over her eyes. The stoic performance of these players contrasts with the patriotic enthusiasm of the iconic painting The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald MacNeal Willard, in which a fife and drum corps marches gamely out of the smoke to cheer its fallen comrades during the American Revolutionary War. There is no hope or sense of pride in Guston’s painting; his characters are almost, but not quite, numb.