The self-taught artist Horace Pippin turned to art after his right arm was disabled by a sniper’s bullet while serving in the African American regiment known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” during World War I. After the war, Pippin settled in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and by the late 1930s his work had attracted the interest of such notables as the artist N. C. Wyeth, critic Christian Brinton, and collector Albert Barnes.
This painting belongs to a series of semi-autobiographical domestic interiors that Pippin painted from 1941 until his death in 1946, the best known among them being Domino Players (1943, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC). Most of these scenes represent members of African American families pursuing a variety of domestic activities in a single multipurpose room. The paintings all have the same quiet, peaceful ambience and feature many of the same common household items, such as rag rugs, quilts, a stove, and an alarm clock. What distinguishes School Studies and gives added significance to the work’s title is the way the three figures, instead of interacting, have turned their backs to each other and seem lost in their own inner worlds.