Honoré Sharrer’s Surreal Portraits of Women and Working America

Nursery Rhyme, 1971, by Honoré Sharrer. Photo: Collection of Adam Zagorin and the late Perez Zagorin, on loan to the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio Photo: Ralphoto/Alan Geho; Honoré Sharrer © Adam Zagorin

The late artist Honoré Sharrer is best known for her bold, hyperreal paintings of working Americans in the 1940s. Using jewel-tone pigments, she created surrealist images of everyday life and portrayed women outside traditional domestic roles. Nude women in her work stare confidently at the viewer without a trace of seduction. In the painting Resurrection of the Waitress, an angel pulls a drowning housewife into the sky with an eggbeater.

In Philadelphia, Sharrer’s work is back in the spotlight in the exhibition “Subversion and Surrealism in the Art of Honoré Sharrer,” opening today at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The show includes 45 paintings and dozens of associated works, tracing decades of political artwork. Sharrer was a social realist amid the rise of anti-communist sentiment at the time; in her 20s, during World War II, she worked as a welder in shipyards in California and New Jersey. In 1949, Sharrer gained national attention as Mademoiselle magazine’s “Woman Artist of the Year.” She later moved to Canada because of her outspoken communist beliefs, which manifested in her paintings as social critiques from a leftist perspective.

Her most famous work is Tribute to the American Working People, a five-paneled polyptych of a factory worker surrounded by scenes of ordinary people. While Sharrer’s contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko moved on to Abstract Expressionism, her work remained grounded in traditional techniques. She modernized her subjects with an innovative use of odd proportions and unusually placed objects like bent forks, steaks, electrical cords. Click ahead to preview works in the exhibition.

Subversion and Surrealism in the Art of Honoré Sharrer” is on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until September 3.

Honoré Sharrer’s Surreal Portraits of Working America