O. Louis Guglielmi

American, 1906–1956

Sisters of Charity, 1937

Oil on masonite

30 x 24 inches

Guglielmi was born in Cairo, Egypt. His father was an orchestral musician and his family lived in several European cities before immigrating to the United States. The family settled near relatives in an impoverished Manhattan neighborhood. “The tenement jungles of Italian Harlem must have had a tremendous impact on the sensibilities of a child,” he later said. “The ever-recurring theme of the day of the poor in my work is, I suspect, due to the abrupt change.”

Through his masterful rendering of facial expressions and body postures in Sisters of Charity, Guglielmi broaches the subject of religion and sexuality—in the presumed chastity of the nuns, the emphasis of the woman’s body on the right, and the compromising position of the old woman in the upper left. While rooted in reality—one can imagine Guglielmi may have once observed such a scene—it is clear this is a fictitious scenario, but one that invites the viewer to interpret its meaning.

While Guglielmi later moved towards abstraction, the gritty subjects he addressed in the 1930s and 1940s place him at the top of the list of artists focused on social consciousness in the tumultuous years surrounding World War II.