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Figures in a Landscape

Sidney Goodman, American, 1936 - 2013


Oil on canvas

55 inches x 8 feet (139.7 x 243.8 cm)

© Estate of Sidney Goodman

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Philadelphia Foundation Fund (by exchange) and the Adele Haas Turner and Beatrice Pastorius Turner Memorial Fund, 1974

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    The Philadelphia artist Sidney Goodman works in an expressive figurative style, synthesizing direct observation of the human form and landscape with prolonged study of European and American masters. Beginning with his first major showing in New York, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962, he has received national recognition as an exemplar of contemporary realism. His work explores aspects of the human condition, often seen from an apocalyptic perspective. He is intrigued by issues ranging from mortality and suffering to desire and aspiration, frequently rendered on a monumental scale appropriate to such age-old, universal themes. In Figures in a Landscape Goodman paints himself and his first wife ensconced in lawn chairs in a suburban playground, while their daughter plays between them. The physical isolation of each family member, underscored by the storm clouds that gather only over the father, mirrors a seemingly unbridgeable emotional distance. No head or even building is allowed to break through the oppressive horizon line. Anxiety and quiet despair pervade the scene. John B. Ravenal, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 339.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    A powerful silence reigns in the paintings of Sidney Goodman, paintings packed with the drama of what is left unsaid. His work is steeped in the perfectionism that is part of Philadelphia's grand figurative tradition, developed over the course of previous centuries by such masters as Charles Willson Peale and Thomas Eakins. But Goodman has directed his powers of observation and verisimilitude to uniquely expressive and metaphorical ends, singularly relevant to his own time and place. Rarely looking beyond his own family and friends, neighborhood, or the newspaper for inspiration for figures and settings, the artist has found the basic ordinariness of his subject matter integral to the air of disquiet produced by his paintings.

    Although the title of the work gives no such indication, this painting is a portrait of Goodman's family. The artist's intimacy with his sitters is nowhere in evidence, as they occupy distinct portions of the monumental canvas, absorbed in their wholly separate mental and physical spaces. The dark shadows slicing the landscape and the ominous clouds gathering overhead provide an unambiguously foreboding mood. Goodman's paintings bring to light the grotesque element of the everyday furnishings of people's lives. Here, for example, the thick red rubber Hippity Hop toy that was a ubiquitous element of American childhood in the late 1960s and early 1970s becomes a monstrous adjunct to the little girl sitting on it, virtually attached to her as its red joins the white and blue of her clothing. Goodman adamantly denies that his paintings are designed to communicate a specific message. It is nonetheless difficult to contemplate this family without finding within it the full spectrum of sociopolitical traumas that pummeled the American psyche in the early 1970s. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 122.