Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, The Shoe Shop, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 99.1 x 79.4 cm (Art Institute of Chicago). Speakers: Dr. Annelise Madsen, Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Assistant Curator of American Art, The Art Institute of Chicago and Dr. Beth Harris
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Shoe Shop quiz
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How might the artist’s own experience have influenced her choice of subject?
She had previously worked as a shopgirl in Wanamaker’s Department Store
She was likely sympathetic to the progressive causes to improve working class conditions
She was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to paint everyday scenes
She likely shared the feeling of freedom that women found in department stores
How did department stores change the way commercial goods were sold?
Shoppers were able to order customized clothing
Clothing cost more due to the expense of a large, luxurious store
Items came in standardized sizes and the prices were clearly marked
Women could purchase clothing from the comfort of their homes
How did Sparhawk-Jones suggest the dynamic energy of the modern city in this painting?
She used loose brushstrokes that suggest a moment caught in time
She used bright colors that looked like modern advertisements in magazines
She focused on the drama and excitement of women’s domestic lives
She emphasized details of engineering technology used in modern architecture
In The Shoe Shop, which detail does not demonstrate class distinctions between the customers and shopgirls?
The style of the women’s clothing
The ages of the women
The posture and pose of the women
The positioning of the figures within the composition
Which statement best describes The Shoe Shop?
The painting critiques the poor working conditions of women in the early 20th century
The painting highlights the increased autonomy of women in the early 20th century city
The painting demonstrates the growth of cities in the early 20th century
The painting calls for greater political activism among women in the early 20th century
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The department store changed the way people shopped and provided new opportunities for social mobility and interaction between the classes in late 19th-century America.
Sparhawk-Jones used loose brushwork to capture the fast-paced movement of people within the department store. Her choice of subject for this painting emphasized the increased freedom of women in the modern city—a freedom that Sparhawk-Jones also enjoyed.
Women in the early 20th century were increasingly engaged with fighting for their rights, and finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The Shoe Shop highlights the relationship of the department store to economic and social conditions in the U.S during the early 20th century. How do you think contemporary shopping practices reflect economic and social conditions in the early 21st century?