A Picture (and Free Admission) for Labor Day

September 7, 2009
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Allen Smith Jr., "The Young Mechanic" (1848), Gift of the American Art Council and Mr. and Mrs. J. Douglas Pardee

Allen Smith Jr., "The Young Mechanic" (1848), Gift of the American Art Council and Mr. and Mrs. J. Douglas Pardee

For our Labor Day post we asked Devi Noor of American Art to recommend a work-themed picture from the upcoming exhibition American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915. Like all the paintings that will be in the show, the one Devi suggested (The Young Mechanic, an 1848 oil by Allen Smith Jr.) creates a narrative. I didn't quite get it at first glance, so I consulted the online description—it seems that the kid on the left (the "working-class boy") is sitting at the counter of his father's woodworking shop, whittling a toy-boat mast commissioned by the kid in the straw hat ("the better-dressed boy"). With that little bit of setup, the picture acquires class and social implications that you could study for some time. And today would be a good day to do it, not just because it's Labor Day but also because LACMA admission is free all day; the painting can be seen on the third level of the Art of the Americas Building.

Tom Drury