Jerry Farnsworth (1895-1982)
Working Girl (or High School Girl)
Oil on canvas, 34 x 25 inches. Signed lower right: "Farnsworth". “High School Girl Jerry Farnsworth” inscribed in black paint and (faintly), “Working Girl” in pencil, both on top flap of canvas folded over onto strainer.
136th Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia), January 26 to March 2, 1941, No. 27 as “High School Girl”; Milch Galleries, New York, NY, June, 1941 as “Working Girl”; 119th Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design (New York City), March 14 to April 3, 1945, No. 91 as “Working Girl”; Vose Galleries, Charles Hawthorne and Jerry Farnsworth: A Provincetown Legacy, November 19 to December 30, 2008; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Art News, v. 40 (June, 1941), p. 30; Catalogue of the 119th Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design, 1945, p. 16; Farnsworth, Jerry, Painting With Jerry Farnsworth (Watson-Guptill Publications, Inc., 1949), p. 91; Charles Hawthorne and Jerry Farnsworth: A Provincetown Legacy (exhibition catalogue, Vose Galleries of Boston, 2008), p. 15; Enduring America (catalogue).
Lowrey, Carol, A Legacy of Art: Paintings and Sculptures by Artist Life Members of the National Arts Club (The National Arts Club, 2007), pp. 92-93; Pagano, Grace (ed.), The Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Contemporary American Painting, second edition (Enclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1946), unpaged (catalogue entry no. 40); Watson, Ernest W., "Jerry Farnsworth" in American Artist (December, 1949).
Eldred's, East Dennis, MA, July 23, 1998, cat. no. 298 (as "A Seated Girl in a Green Hat"); Acquired through James R. Bakker/Sharon Boccelli Auction of American and European Paintings, Watercolors, Prints and Sculpture, Watertown, MA, November 22, 1998, cat. no. 104 (as "Woman Sewing"). Donated, May, 2015 to Northern Arizona University Art Museum.
Canvas unlined, on original stretcher. Relatively recent 2 ½ inch gold leaf frame with linen liner.
Jerry Farnsworth was born in Dalton, Georgia, in 1895. Following his father's death when Farnsworth was only three, he lived with his mother, a nurse, in Georgia and New Orleans until the family relocated to New York when he was sixteen. A chance visit to a class of "Sunday painters" taught by portraitist Dewitt Clinton Peters (1865-1948) set him on a path to become a professional artist. Farnsworth enlisted in the Navy in 1916 and took evening art courses at the Corcoran Art School while stationed in Washington, D.C. from 1917 to 1919. By 1921, he had moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts to study with the legendary artist and instructor Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930). A well-regarded painter known especially for his portrait and figure compositions, Farnsworth was elected a full academician of the National Academy of Design in 1935. His works reside in numerous museums including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.
A highly respected art instructor in his own right, Farnsworth taught in New York City at the Art Students League and Grand Central Art School before establishing the Farnsworth School of Art in both North Truro, Massachusetts and Sarasota, Florida in 1933. He was also the author of several popular books on art instruction.
Working Girl (alternatively titled High School Girl) bears the hallmarks of Farnsworth's mature style. It was painted around 1940, a transitional point between the decade of the Depression and the onset of World War II. Americans were fatigued by the tribulations brought on by the worldwide economic collapse and would soon grow weary of war. The young woman in Farnsworth’s composition shows an uncanny ability to tune out distraction and focus on the work at hand. She could be a wife or daughter working to make ends meet in hard times, determined to contribute to her family’s welfare. Or perhaps Working Girl presaged the heroic contributions that American women would make on the home front in the inevitable conflict to come. In contrast to Norman Rockwell’s iconic image of the flamboyant Rosie the Riveter which graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, Farnsworth’s Working Girl displays a quiet determination to do her part.
When exhibited at the Milch Galleries in New York City in a group show of fifteen contemporary American artists in 1941, Working Girl was singled out by the critic for Art News. "Jerry Farnsworth seems to be turning an easy trick," the critic wrote, "when he records both fatigue and determination in his Working Girl."* According to the artist, the work was painted in New York City using a professional artist's model.**
* Art News, v. 40 (June, 1941), p. 30.
**Farnsworth, Jerry, Painting With Jerry Farnsworth (Watson-Guptill Publications, Inc., 1949), p. 91.