George Tooker

The Subway
1950

Artist
George Tooker

Title
The Subway

Date
1950

Medium
Tempera on composition board

Dimensions
Overall: 18 1/2 × 36 1/2 in. (47 × 92.7 cm)

Classification
Paintings

Credit line
Purchase, with funds from the Juliana Force Purchase Award

Accession number
50.23

Rights and reproductions information
© artist or artist’s estate

Object label
The Subway is the best known of the figurative paintings George Tooker made in response to the social injustices and isolation of postwar urban society—paintings that find an analogue in the period’s existentialist philosophy. In The Subway, Tooker employed multiple vanishing points and sophisticated modeling to create an imagined world that is presented in a familiar urban setting. Whether closed off in tiled niches or walking down the long passageway, each androgynous, anxiety-ridden figure appears psychologically estranged, despite being physically close to others in the station. The central group of commuters is locked in a grid of the metal grating’s cast shadows, while the labyrinthine passages seem to lead nowhere, suspending the city’s inhabitants in a modern purgatory. As Tooker remarked, he chose the subway as the setting for this painting because it represented “a denial of the senses and a negation of life itself.”