JAMES CHAPIN (1887–1975)
Call Girl, 1956–60
Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 30 1/2 in.
Signed, dated, and titled (at lower left): James Chapin; (at lower right): 1956–’60; (on the back): Call Girl / by / James Chapin
EXHIBITED: New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, 1955, James Chapin: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, 1921–1955, no. 52
EX COLL: estate of the artist; [James Cox Gallery, Woodstock, New York]; to private collection, circa 2005, until the present
Call Girl was executed over a period of five years, attesting to the fact that while some of Chapin’s canvases “mature quickly,” others took longer to paint as he formulated his ideas relative to line, form, color, pose, and gesture. The lushly colored painting features an attractive blonde woman sitting at a bar, the sullen look on her face suggesting her contempt for the well-dressed older man who gropes her left arm with a hairy hand. Her jowly, bespectacled escort for the evening—his head and shoulders covered by a rooster costume—stares out at the viewer with heavy-lidded eyes, holding a drink in his hand as he claims his paramour for the evening.
The couple are shown close-up on the picture plane and rendered with a sense of volume and solidity that reflects Chapin’s enduring admiration for Cézanne. Their sculptural forms are silhouetted against a chaotic, loosely-rendered backdrop: a dance hall or nightclub bedecked with frilly red ribbons and an array of caricatured faces and figures that include a clown leering at the viewer and a man kissing a woman’s neck while she holds her head back in ecstasy. Certainly, Chapin’s image stands as a frank yet poignant commentary on the roles of men and women from certain strata of modern society: despite the physical proximity of the figures, they are psychologically isolated from one another, devoid of any sense of intimacy or romance. Accordingly, the painting serves as a reminder that, as his admirer Grant Wood pointed out, “Always, in [Chapin’s] best work, whether it is a pretzel vendor, a famous actress, or a negro boxer, we find the same qualities that distinguish the Marvin paintings––the stern honesty, solid technical construction, and infinite human sympathy which are valid in any time or place."