Whoopee at Sloppy Joe's

George Biddle, American, 1885 - 1973

Date:
1933

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
40 1/2 x 40 3/8 inches (102.9 x 102.5 cm)

Copyright:
Research inconclusive. Copyright may apply.

Curatorial Department:
Modern and Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1972-121-1

Credit Line:
Gift of the artist, 1972

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Label:
This painting takes a satirical look at high society life during Prohibition. George Biddle's sharp eye precisely captures the inhabitants of this decadent milieu, which include sad-eyed, seen-everything bartenders; a predatory lothario with his nervous female prey; aging gentlemen with rouge cheeks and red lips; and a sagging, dejected, lone drinker. In a brilliant touch, the artist structured the composition to emphasize the bend around the corner of the bar, creating a background of diagonal lines that makes everything look askew, perhaps simulating the perspective of an inebriated occupant of Sloppy Joe's.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Whoopee at Sloppy Joe's belongs to George Biddle's series of paintings about high society life under Prohibition. A portrayal both affectionate and satirical, it is rendered, one feels, by a seasoned veteran of many such evenings. Born in Philadelphia, Biddle had traded Harvard Law School training for an artistic career. Extensive world travel had introduced him to European contemporaries as well as to ancient cultures, all of which he filtered into a personal style marked by linear elegance and tonal delicacy. Here, muted shades of green, brown, gray, and silvery whites are applied in powdery oil paint that suggests tempera. Biddle's sharp eye precisely captures the inhabitants of this decadent milieu: sad-eyed, seen-everything bartenders; a predatory Lothario with nervous female prey; rouge-cheeked, red-lipped, aging gentlemen; a sagging, dejected lone drinker. The artist's decision to portray the corner of the bar sets up a diagonal background that renders everything askew, simulating for the viewer a state of inebriated vision.

    Shortly after Biddle finished the series of speakeasy paintings, his subject of high society gave way to imagery more characteristic of the Depression years and expressive of what Biddle called "spiritual nobility." He was instrumental in founding the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and he designed and painted the fresco murals that fill the lobby of the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., inspired by examples he had recently studied in Mexico and Italy. These and other murals, like his many portraits (four of which are in this Museum's collection), reveal Biddle's acute powers of observation and characterization, whether applied to entertaining, intimate, or inspirational ends. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 64.