Work of Art: A Tough Story
John George Brown
American (born Great Britain)
A Tough Story
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 1/8 in. (63.5 x 76.5 cm)
Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

In the 1880s New York swarmed with the children of the desperate poor. However, in such paintings as A Tough Story, the squalor and viciousness of urban poverty are ignored. Instead, the artist invents a sentimental fiction. His young bootblacks are poor but industrious. They elicit not our concern for their plight but our admiration for their pluck. Would we regard them differently if the boys were grown men? The artist’s plain, craftsmanlike realism only enhances the credibility of the scene. The name Pat, carved into one boy’s blacking box, identifies the lad as an Irish immigrant. Though dressed in rags, the boys are well scrubbed and well fed. However, look at their eyes: the artist is too honest to disguise the weariness.

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