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The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers


  • National Portrait Gallery 8th and F Streets NW Washington, DC 20001 (map)
Russian Steel Workers / Lewis Wickes Hine / 1909 (printed 1942) / Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard / Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. Transfer from Hillyer Art Library

Russian Steel Workers / Lewis Wickes Hine / 1909 (printed 1942) / Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard / Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. Transfer from Hillyer Art Library

The upcoming exhibition “The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers” will present nearly 100 representations of laborers to explore the role of working people in the formation, self-definition and development of the United States. Featuring paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, prints and time-based media, the multifaceted exhibition offers a powerful visual history of American labor. Historic images of mill girls in factories, newsboys on city streets and proud artisans and craftsmen appear alongside contemporary images of working-class men and women.

Spanning the course of American history, “The Sweat of Their Face” encourages viewers to reflect on the conditions and repercussions of labor, particularly with regard to evolving relationships between those who work and those who benefit from work. At the same time, the exhibition offers insight into how American artists have refashioned the European portrait tradition to depict workers in compelling new ways. Winslow Homer, Dorothea Lange, Jacob Lawrence and several other renowned American artists are represented, along with individuals whose names have long been forgotten but who reemerge as a result of their work.

The fully bilingual (English and Spanish) exhibition examines the intersections between work, art and social history, and will be on view Nov. 3 through Sept. 3, 2018. 

Additional information about these exhibitions is available on the museum’s website at npg.si.edu.