Artwork Information

  • Title:

    Ring around the Chimney

  • Artist:

    Smith, Lawrence Beall

  • Artist Bio:

    American, 1909–1995

  • Date:


  • Medium:

    Oil on canvas

  • Dimensions:

    25 1/8 x 30 1/8 inches

  • Credit Line:

    Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum

  • Object Number:


  • Display:

    Currently on Display

About the Artwork

Lawrence Beall Smith was born in Washington, D.C. He studied at the University of Chicago and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the early 1930s Smith moved to Boston and continued his studies at the Boston School of Fine Arts. Smith lived in Boston until the 1950s when he moved to Cross River, New York, north of New York City. There he worked primarily as a book illustrator.

Smith’s Ring Around the Chimney pictures the impact of industrialization on lower class urban life in the United States. Smith depicts the billowing smoke from the city’s industrial sprawl as the back­drop for an intimate human incident that takes place on a tenement rooftop. The sooty upsurge from the city clearly contrasts the clean laundered clothes that an anonymous woman hangs on a line while talking with a friend. The rooftop setting is dominated by a wide brick chimney that provides a domestic bulwark against the encroachments of the industrial world. The two women direct their attention to a small, plump toddler who plays a game around the chimney. By focusing on this playful incident, Smith evokes a positive sense of community within the harsh urban environment.

Smith was far from alone in recording lower class urban life during the years of the Great Depression. But in contrast to the less optimistic paintings of contemporary Social Realist artists such as Ben Shahn and Raphael Soyer, Smith’s pic­ture celebrates the strength of the human spirit in the face of hardship. Through its positive portrayal of an everyday incident of lower-class urban life, Smith’s painting testifies to the lingering influence of the Ashcan School in later American painting.