Work and Leisure in American Art

Selected Works from the Collection

Exhibition Website

Sep 13 2015 - Nov 6 2016

This collection-based exhibition comprises over 60 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and works on paper that explore the universal themes of labor and leisure in America from the 18th century to the present day. The works on view range chronologically from Benjamin West’s exposure of political corruption in the painting Oliver Cromwell Dissolving the Long Parliament (1782) to the photograph The Stone Breakers (After Gustave Courbet), 2013 by Vik Muniz.

A section of the exhibition focuses upon artists at work, with early 20th-century photographs by Edward Curtis and Carl Moon of Native American basket and pottery makers. A painting by George Inness, Jr. features his father, George Inness, painting outside his Montclair studio (c. 1889), whereas an untitled painting by Jasper Johns features personal elements of the artist’s studio in 1983, with an embedded image of Johns’s lithograph of his well-known sculpture of brushes in a Savarin coffee can—tools of the artist’s trade.

Images of leisure in the exhibition encompass children at play and sports and include both urban life and suburban, domestic counterparts. The beach and bodies of water as the locus for leisure activities is featured in the 19th-century work of Winslow Homer, as well as the early 20th-century artists Jane Peterson and Hayley Lever, with Justine Kurland providing a contemporary perspective in her photograph Frog Swamp (Covington, Louisiana), 2001. Another section of the exhibition is devoted to images of music and dance, ranging from late 19th-century works by Arthur B. Davies and Charles E. Proctor to the era of the 1940s as seen in Hilde Kayn’s Swingtime (1945) and Weegee’s photograph Calypso (At a Club in Harlem) (ca. 1944).

At times some of these works provide subtle intersections of labor and leisure where one person’s job is another’s entertainment. All of the works highlight the rich diversity of American life and culture.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • American
  • Culture / Lifestyle
  • Benjamin West
  • George Inness
  • Jasper Johns
  • Edward S. Curtis
  • Weegee
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates