All exhibitions

Behind the Portrait

April 16, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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AFAS Lobby, 1st Fl

Thomas Creem, Guy Pene du Bois, 1935, Ink on paper, 8 x 11.625 in. Permanent Collection, the Art Students League of New York.‍

This exhibition presents six portraits of League artists by League artist Tom Creem gifted to the Art Students League in 1936.

Little is known about the artist, but his insightful caricatures of these six former instructors show an in-depth knowledge of and passion for the League’s history. This exhibition pairs Creem’s portraits with works by their subjects – the majority of which are drawn from the League’s permanent collection. How do Creem’s portraits reference the subject’s artistic oeuvres? What dialogues do you see between their works and those of Creem? How does Creem use caricature to show the personalities of his subjects and their contributions to art history? And, finally, how does Creem’s own voice come through in these portraits?

Creem studied at the League from 1935-1937, taking classes with Harry Sternberg, Reginald Marsh, George Grosz, Guy Pène Du Bois, and William McNulty, among others. Thus, Creem would have known his sitters personally, studying with some of them and knowing others from being in and around the League. Following his time at the League, Creem went on to serve in the United States Army during World War II. While enlisted, he published his cartoons and caricatures for Yank, The Army Weekly, and kept extensive personal journals chronicling his experience in the South Pacific. This exhibition celebrates the League as a hub for artists to teach, learn, and inspire.

This exhibition is curated by Esther V. Moerdler, Curatorial Assistant.


Thomas Creem, Life Class, n.d.

A drawing by Creem of one of his classes at the Art Students League. Creem continued to participate in life drawing classes throughout his time at the League – studying the practice with Reginald Marsh, Harry Sternberg, Guy Pene DuBois, John Sloan, and George Grosz.

Researching Tom Creem was one of the more challenging aspects of preparing this exhibition. There is not much biographical information about the artist to be found online, but a fortuitous email from Creem’s great niece allowed us to learn of the artist’s time at Yale University and his service in World War II. For a window into the world of a World War II serviceman in the Pacific arena please see below:


Thomas Creem, Self Portrait, c. 1940.


Thomas Creem, Japanese Lieutenant, New Guinea, c. 1940.

Tom created this portrait of a prisoner of war while he was serving in New Guinea. Note the connection made between Creem and the Japanese serviceman through League instructor Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

The following images are from a journal of over 70 drawings by Tom, all done while he was serving. The drawings tell the story of a Pacific serviceman – both the banality and hardships of war.

All archival images courtesy of Sharon C. Zerilli