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Image of Politics

Frederick Warren Freer
American, 1849–1908



Object Type: Painting
9 7/8 in. x 14 1/16 in. (25.08 cm x 35.72 cm)
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Accession Number: 1936.0055

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Margaret Freer

Currently On View

"Politics" reflects the popularity of genre subjects in the late the nineteenth century, a period in which casual political debate was still a popular pastime, particularly in smalltown American communities. Freer's composition suggests that one of the hallmarks of democracy in the United States was the active participation of the working class—here he shows two elderly men engaged in a lively debate, presumably over a topic gleaned from the newspaper in the lap of the figure on the left. Both men wear worn, soiled aprons and the figure on the right holds a carpenter's square, suggesting the men's occupations. Their hand gestures and eye contact confirm that the discussion is spirited.

The composition and the style of "Politics" reflect Freer's training at the Munich Royal Academy. The figures are closely observed, with a warm tonality enriching the harmonious coloration of their skin, hair, and clothing. They are positioned against a flat, vacant wall, which pushes them to the front of the picture plane, thus focusing the viewer's attention on their worn faces and their physical interaction. Through these techniques the artist has portrayed a vignette of community life representing an important theme—freedom of expression—which was central to the growth and prosperity of American society.

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