Artwork Detail

If This Be Not I
1945
American, 1913–1980
Oil on canvas
42 1/4 x 55 1/4 "
University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1945
WU 3766
© The Estate of Philip Guston
Philip Guston completed If This Be Not I in 1945, shortly before he became a professor of art at Washington University, where he taught until 1947. In the painting a backdrop strung from a coat hanger transforms a ramshackle porch into an informal stage, over which looms a dark cityscape. A group of solemn children dressed in masks, crowns, and paper hats are staged among furniture and discarded objects, enacting a mysterious and unresolved narrative. The painting's dense, orderly composition creates a sense of immobility, while muted, cool colors cast a shade of melancholy over the scene. Until the mid-1940s Guston worked on commissioned public murals, often with explicit political themes. In this work, Guston's most ambitious easel painting to date, the artist introduced enigmatic references to the current events of World War II, such as the shredded newspapers in the foreground and the boy in striped pajamas lying before a barbed wire fence, an allusion to Nazi concentration camps. Recently conserved with funds from the Guston Foundation. [Permanent collection label, 2019]