Elsie Driggs

Pittsburgh
1927

On view
Floor 7

Date
1927

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on canvas

Dimensions
Overall: 34 1/4 × 40 1/4in. (87 × 102.2 cm)

Accession number
31.177

Credit line
Gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Elsie Driggs

Pittsburgh was inspired by a view from a train window that Elsie Driggs saw as a child, riding past the city’s steel mills at night. Years later, remembering how the spewing smokestacks tinted the nocturnal sky with sulfurous hues, she returned to Pittsburgh to make studies for a painting. She discovered, however, that the production of steel had changed over the years and the mill was using a new process that no longer discharged smoke into the sky. She sketched the buildings anyway and returned to her studio to paint Pittsburgh with a palette of greys. Driggs exhibited the painting in New York, where her gallery declared it an exemplar of a “new classicism,” and she herself called Pittsburgh her "Piero della Francesca" in honor of the fifteenth-century painter, who inspired her with his "desire for structure and order, simplicity and strength." Pittsburgh may be a devotional image for a twentieth-century faith, but the monolithic gray smokestacks rising above the haze seem inescapably dark and menacing, suggesting that Driggs may have been questioning America’s newfound faith in technology.



Audio

  • Where We Are, Spanish

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    0:00

    Narrador: La fábrica que vemos en esta pintura pareciera ominosa. Observe los cuatro cilindros negros que hay en el centro. Son chimeneas, y las líneas delgadas que pueblan el aire a su alrededor son cables de soporte. Si se las considera solo como figuras geométricas, pueden resultar bellas. Pero, como imagen de la industrialización, resultan sombrías y amenazadoras. Sugieren que no todo anda bien en el mundo feliz de la tecnología. Nubes de humo tóxico se elevan desde el extremo inferior del cuadro y atraviesan el cielo. 

    La artista, Elsie Driggs vio esta fábrica, una fábrica de acero en Pittsburgh, cuando de niña hizo un viaje en tren. Regresó en 1927 para realizar esta pintura, pero los dueños de la acerería le negaron la entrada. Temían que fuera una agitadora laboral. Además, añadieron, las fábricas no son lugar para una mujer. Más tarde, Driggs recordaría: “Pero cuando ellos decidieron que yo no representaba peligro alguno, ya había perdido interés por entrar. Sin embargo, una noche, al regresar a la casa de huéspedes donde me alojaba, descubrí el ángulo para mi pintura. Las formas estaban tan cerca. Las contemplé mientras me decía a mí misma: "Esto no debería de ser bello, pero lo es."

  • Where We Are, Kids

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    0:00

    Narrator: Cough, cough, splutter, choke. It’s a little hard to breathe here, outside the factory.

    Elsie Driggs made this somber painting of one of the many steel mills in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She liked the cylinder shapes of the chimneys and tubes and thought they had a “cool and classical” beauty. But she wasn't allowed to look inside the factory—the owners told her it was no place for a woman. Instead she found a view from a hill just above the mills. What do you think about that?

    Take a look at the colors that Driggs used to make this painting. Why do you think she chose them? What kind of environment is Driggs showing you? It’s pretty dirty, right? But when Driggs made the painting, people didn’t realize what a problem pollution was going to cause. For her, this scene was beautiful.

  • 99 Objects

    May 14, 2015
    LaToya Ruby Frazier on Pittsburgh by Elsie Driggs

    May 14, 2015
    LaToya Ruby Frazier on Pittsburgh by Elsie Driggs

    0:00

  • America Is Hard to See

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    Elsie Driggs, Pittsburgh, 1927

    0:00

    Narrator: The factory you see in this painting seems ominous. Look at the four dark cylinders in the center. These are smokestacks, and the thin lines that fill the air around them are support cables. If you think of them only as geometric shapes, they might be beautiful. But as an image of industrialization, they’re gloomy and menacing. They suggest that all is not well in the brave new world of technology. Clouds of toxic fumes drift up from the bottom of the painting and across the sky.

    The artist, Elsie Driggs, saw this factory, a Pittsburgh steel mill, on a train trip she took as a child. When she went back in l927 to make a painting, the owners of the mill refused to let her in. They were afraid she was a labor agitator. Anyway, they said, a factory was no place for a woman. Driggs later recalled, “By the time they decided I was harmless, I didn't care if I went in there anymore. But walking up toward my boarding house one night, I found my view. The forms were so close. And I stared at it and told myself, "This shouldn't be beautiful. But it is." 



Elsie Driggs
6 works

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