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O. Louis Guglielmi


Tenements, with its Surrealist elements, operates as an oblique and controversial social commentary based upon contemporary public events. In his second inaugural address, given in January 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, using a metaphor of art, commented upon the impact of the Great Depression in his “One-Third of a Nation” speech. Guglielmi found inspiration in the sections dealing with poverty and the “ill-housed,” to create Tenements and the nearly identical One Third of a Nation (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Both paintings rely as well on a heavyhanded, thoroughly researched, and melodramatic play from 1938 titled One-Third of a Nation, by Arthur Arent. Tenements makes the buildings the primary antagonist and remains starkly devoid of any human forms. The artist creates a city block of buildings entirely removed from the context of the rest of the urban environment. Powerful shadows and the precise lines of Guglielmi’s composition add to the overall asceticism and somberness of the scene.

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