Born in Hungary into a family of musicians, Lily Furedi (1896 – 1969) was a Hungarian-American artist who moved to the United States in 1927 and lived there for the rest of her life.
The Subway was painted in 1934, after Furedi had just been accepted in the federal program Public Works of Art Projects, a project that employed artists for craftsmen’s wages in order to portray “the American scene”. Her depiction of the New York subway earned her praise and recognition, being among the few selected works from the program to be offered as gifts to the White House.
The painting shows New Yorkers obeying a long established rule: thou shalt not stare at other people on the subway. Almost every person is looking away, keeping their heads down, except for two women in the foreground that are engaged in a conversation and a couple seated in the background. On the left side, surreptitiously, a woman is taking a glance at a man’s newspaper, while another man is watching a woman put on lipstick. A musician still holding his violin case is asleep, probably tired after a long night shift. The portrayal of the subway scene is modern, sympathetic and lively, showing in a warm light what could have been a prime example of urban alienation.