Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture



First Advisor

Trenton Olsen

Second Advisor

Kelly Scheffer

Third Advisor

Stefanie Snider


American Social Surrealist James Guy was a Communist proletarian artist who created works of art that depicted the social inequities he witnessed and experienced during the Great Depression. As a working-class artist, Guy painted images of daily life with recognizable and accessible iconography that allowed his fellow manual laborers to relate to the depicted scene. Guy distorted commonplace experiences through the filter of Surrealism to create absurd, illogical, and nightmarish environments to critique contemporary society. Guy worked to spark the realization of the viewer that they were subjected to the same injustices as the figures in his paintings. In this manner, the political beliefs of the artist directed his production, providing the ideological framework that allowed him to develop the class consciousness that facilitated the recognition of his mistreatment and the disadvantaged position of proletarian women due to their intersectional identities. This thesis will argue that the 1937 painting Venus on Sixth Avenue (Cinderella) by James Guy is a visual example of the Communist beliefs of the artist. This piece was created to reveal the negative treatment of proletarian women and the apathy of the upper-class women who established and reinforced the social hierarchy present in this painting. Guy employed the motif of the goddess Venus to demonstrate the opposite experiences of working-class and wealthy women. Guy relied on Venus’ associated attributes of sexuality and fertility to build the image of a wealthy, elegant, idealized, 1930s woman. The goddess is placed on a pedestal with a deferential admirer below, while a gagged female telephone operator occupies the foreground and a picketing woman marches along the left border. Venus is indifferent to the violence and danger that the working women experience, representing the lack of concern of the moneyed classes for the visible struggle of the working class. Guy used Venus in two other works, The Evening of the Ball and The Sailors Farewell, both were likely created in 1937. The repetition of this figure establishes a link between the three compositions. In each instance, Venus is the foil to the proletarian women, serving to highlight the discrepancy in beauty, status, social treatment, and prescribed cultural roles.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.