Man Laughing at a Woman, c. 1934
Oil on canvas, 38 ¾” x 49 ¼”
Museum purchase, funds provided by The Charles Knox Smith Art Acquisition and Conservation Fund, 2003
Franklin Watkins was a very quiet man and a very elegant man. Early on he influenced me very profoundly in style and in art.
— Doris Staffel
Here Watkins demonstrates his highly individual sense of color, form, and content, revealing his interest in realism with a narrative bent. The relationship between the figures in the painting remains mysterious: Why is the man laughing with such gusto? Why is the woman upset? What does this say about the social structures around them in the 1930s?
Watkins studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and worked for a time as a commercial illustrator before traveling to Europe, where was drawn to the works of Goya, El Greco, and other old masters. His teaching career began at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts). In 1943, he became an instructor at PAFA. As students, Doris Staffel and her friends Sideo Fromboluti and Nora Speyer found Watkins immensely inspirational and referred to him as their “Master.”