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George Tooker

The Subway


On View

Floor 7

Robert W. Wilson Galleries


George Tooker (1920-2011)


The Subway




Tempera on composition board


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

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Juliana Force Purchase Award

Accession number


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.”

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