Burlesque

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Burlesque

United States, circa 1930
Paintings
Tempera with oil glazes on canvas, mounted on pressboard
18 3/16 x 25 1/8 in. (46.20 x 63.82 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ira Gershwin (M.80.104)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Burlesque is related in theme and composition to Benton’s New School for Social Research mural project America Today of 1930-31 and may have served as a study for it....
Burlesque is related in theme and composition to Benton’s New School for Social Research mural project America Today of 1930-31 and may have served as a study for it. The theatrical scene expresses the artist’s new interest in contemporary urban life, first demonstrated in Bootleggers, 1927 (Reynolda House, Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina) and expanded in America Today. Benton was fond of depicting burlesque dancers and strippers and wrote nostalgically of a Fourteenth Street theater where the strippers "used to make the old boys drool at the mouth and keep their hands in their pockets" (An Artist in America, p. 269). The burlesque dancer -- with her vigorously thrusting elbow, head, and buttocks -- is similar in gesture to the cavorting performer in the upper-right corner of the City Activities panel in the America Today mural. In the finished mural Benton omitted the audience since all the mural images are only fragmentary scenes, one overlapping another, arranged to convey the hustle and bustle of twentieth-century American life. While Benton presented a more complete view of a theater in Burlesque, the easel painting shares with the mural panels a similar compositional approach: the theater interior is arranged in segmented groupings, the stage, orchestra, balcony, and boxes conceived as irregular shapes that fit together. Moreover, the large, arcing forms of the stage and balcony in the museum’s painting echo the decorative molding that divides various scenes in the mural.
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About The Era

The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power.

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The early twentieth century witnessed the transformation of the United States into a modern industrialized society and an international political power. By 1920 more than half of the country’s population lived in urban areas. Seeming to guarantee employment, the cities lured many farmers and African Americans from rural areas. In addition, between 1900 and 1920, 14.5 million immigrants from Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Asia settled here, primarily in urban centers. A new energy was channeled to such cities as New York and Chicago, as massive skyscrapers were erected to furnish much-needed office space and living quarters. Even West Coast cities were affected—the population of Los Angeles tripled between 1900 and 1910; its unplanned urban sprawl and dizzying speed were captured in the zany movies of the Keystone Cops, filmed on the streets of the city.


Art reflected these changing social and economic dynamics. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were still popular. Yet other, more progressive ideas now challenged artists. A strong new commitment to realism emerged in literature and the fine arts.


In Philadelphia and New York, a group of artists centered around Robert Henri captured the vitality of urban American life. These realists depicted the hustle and bustle of city streets, the common pleasures of restaurants and various forms of entertainment. Critics dubbed these realists the “Ash Can School” because of their treatment of unidealized subject matter previously considered unattractive. These artists focused on the inhabitants of cities rather than the cities themselves. Their interest in people also led them to create a significant number of single-figure paintings, conveying the human side of the new America . During the 1910s and 1920s the realist celebration of America spread throughout the country, as artists recorded the neighborhoods and people that made their own cities distinct.

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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Barbara Einzig.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art Report, July 1, 1979-June 30, 1981.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1982.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.