The Intellectuals portrays the artist’s favorite subject, the listless bourgeoisie. A fine example of Pène du Bois’ early work, The Intellectuals combines the dark, sketch-like brushstrokes and roughly hewn visages the artist drew from the teachings of Henri with the sharp point of view of the keen social arbiter Pene du Bois would be known for throughout his career.
Forced to leave France in 1906 when his father became gravely ill, Pène du Bois returned home to New York and took a job as a general reporter with the New York American. It was a position which provided the interesting opportunity to observe people from all walks of life. During this early period in his career, Pène du Bois became involved with the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, which organized the Armory Show of 1913. Pène du Bois and his peers, who viewed themselves as a challenge to the conservative art establishment, resigned from the Association. His resignation left Pène du Bois free to establish a gallery career, which he did, and to cultivate the subtle and satirical humor in his work.
Guy Pène du Bois was one of the most stylish artists in early 20th century America. He found his subjects in daily life, painting the people he observed in cities, parks, cafes, cabarets, and at the opera. As an amused spectator of social theater and a gentle satirist, he often portrayed the comical pretensions of a variety of characters that included lawyers, actors, politicians, and gallery-goers. Pène du Bois began his training as a student of William Merritt Chase at the New York School of Art and was later under the direction of Robert Henri. Henri profoundly influenced the painter’s early stylistic approach of applying darkened tonalities and broad brushwork to the canvas, as well as Pène du Bois’ life-long interest in subject matter gleaned from “real life”. In 1905, Pène du Bois made his first visit to Paris, where he painted scenes of fashionable people in cafes rendered in the dark tonalities and impasto commonly associated with the Ashcan School.