“The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers presents nearly 100 portrayals of laborers by some of the nation’s most influential artists. The multifaceted exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, media art and photographs that reveal how American workers have shaped and defined the United States over the course of its history—from the Colonial era to the present day.
The Sweat of Their Face includes portraits by Winslow Homer, Dorothea Lange, Elizabeth Catlett, Lewis Hine, Jacob Lawrence and other renowned American artists. Power House Mechanic, a photograph by Lewis Hine, and The Riveter, by Ben Shahn, are significant works in their own right, but they also highlight the artist’s ability to recognize the vast population of anonymous workers and the contributions that their subjects have made. Furthermore, those depicted in The Sweat of Their Face draw attention to the relationships that exist between the viewer, artist and subject, many of the people portrayed are anonymous workers.” — National Portait Gallery
Laborers and their work have been shaping this country since its inception. “In The Sweat of Their Face, we explore who works, why and how their surrounding conditions have changed and evolved over time,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “In the early years of the 21st century, crucial questions persist over issues of jobs and workers’ rights, as well as larger issues of economic equality and social mobility. As we grapple with these questions, we might reflect on the labor of the workers from past epochs who have been brought out of anonymity and given the fullness of their humanity by some of America’s great fine artists.”
Pat Lyon at the Forge by John B. Neagle. Oil on canvas, 1829. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; gift of the Lyon family (1842.1)
Old Mill (The Morning Bell) by Winslow Homer. Oil on canvas, 1871. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903
Francis S. Chanfrau by Unidentified Artist. Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper, c. 1848. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
News Boy by Henry Inman. Oil on canvas, 1841. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, museum purchase (1955.14). Photo credit: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA / Art Resource, NY
Miss Breme Jones by John Rose. Watercolor and ink on paper, 1785-87. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg, Virginia; Museum purchase, the Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund
African American Woman with two white children by Unidentified Artist. Quarter plate ambrotype, c. 1860. Promised gift of Paul Sack to the Sack Photographic Trust for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Occupational portrait of a cooper by Unidentified Artist. Sixth plate daguerreotype, 1840-60. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Girl with Pitchfork by Winslow Homer. Oil on canvas, 1867. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
The Longshoremen’s Noon by John George Brown. Oil on canvas. 1879. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Corcoran Collection (Museum purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.136.2
Tommy (Holding His Bootblack Kit) by Jacob Riis. Modern gelatin silver print from dry plate negative, c. 1890 (printed from original negative, 1994). Museum of the City of New York, New York City; gift of Roger William Riis, 1990
The Clock Maker by Jefferson David Chalfant. Oil on copper, 1899. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd
Child Labor, c. 1908 by Lewis Wickes Hine. Gelatin silver print, c. 1908. Bank of America Collection
Power House Mechanic by Lewis Wickes Hine. Gelatin silver print, 1920-21. Brooklyn Museum, New York; gift of Walter and Naomi Rosenblum (84.237.7)
Stoop Labor in Cotton Field, San Joaquin Valley, California by Dorothea Lange. Gelatin silver print on Masonite mount 1938. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California (2000.50.11)
Workers on the Empire State Building by Lewis Wickes Hine. Gelatin silver print, c. 1930. Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Committee on Photography Fund; Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
Lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas by Howard R. Hollem. Digital inkjet print from 4 x 5 color transparency, 1942 (printed 2017). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Farm Couple at Work by William Henry Johnson. Oil on paperboard, c.1942-1944. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; gift of the Harmon Foundation
Washington, D.C. Government charwoman (American Gothic) by Gordon Parks. Gelatin silver print, 1942 (printed later). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Corcoran Collection (The Gordon Parks Collection) Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Mine America’s Coal by Norman Rockwell. Oil on canvas, 1944. Norman Rockwell Museum, Lenox, Massachusetts
Charlie Mah-Gow, Town’s First Restaurant Owner, Yellowknife, Canada by Gordon Parks. Gelatin silver print, 1945 (printed later). The Gordon Parks Foundation, Pleasantville, New York
Grape Picker, Berryessa Valley, California, 1956, from ‘Portfolio Two’ by Pirkle Jones. Gelatin silver print, 1956. Bank of America Collection © Special Collections, University Library, University of Santa Cruz: Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch Photographs
Cutting Squash (Leah Chase) by Gustave Blache III. Oil on panel, 2010. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist in honor of Mr. Richard C. Colton, Jr., © Gustave Blache III
Woman Cleaning Shower in Beverly Hills (after David Hockney’s Man Taking Shower in Beverly Hills, 1964) by Ramiro Gomez. Acrylic on canvas, 2013. Private collection © Ramiro Gomez
The Sweat of Their Face is organized by curator of painting and sculpture, Dorothy Moss and historian emeritus, David C. Ward.
Images courtesy The National Portrait Gallery.