The “absolute stillness” of a view from Brooklyn

The vantage point in a “View From Brooklyn,” painted by George Copeland Ault in 1927, looks like Brooklyn Heights or Red Hook.

Or is it farther up the East River, from Williamsburg or Greenpoint?

“A precisionist and surrealist painter, especially noted for nocturnes, George Ault had the ability to depict lonely, everyday beauty of the world in a moment of absolute stillness,” states the caption to the painting at askart.com.

“He also experimented with more traditional styles of realism, but was relatively untouched by modernist abstraction.  His paintings were based on what he saw around him, many of them architectural subjects, and rendered in a quietly controlled manner.”

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20 Responses to “The “absolute stillness” of a view from Brooklyn”

  1. Joe R Says:

    The Manhattan buildings in the background lead me to think that it’s most likely Brooklyn Heights. I see the Woolworth Building behind the tree to the right and the old Singer Building on the left.

  2. marinachetner Says:

    I can’t seem to make out the Empire nor Chrysler which are seen from Williamsburg and Greenpoint? Which means it is further down – does that sound right?

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Yes, must be further down, Brooklyn Heights as Joe R says, though maybe Red Hook–I haven’t been out there in a while and can’t remember what you can see from Columbia Street….

  4. Jim Says:

    It’s the Empire Stores warehouse, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges on Front Street. Marina, neither the Empire State nor Chrysler Buildings had yet been built in 1927 when this was painted. Chrysler opened in 1930 and Empire State in 1931.

    • marinachetner Says:

      Thanks Jim – that’s given me inspiration to post about the Empire State and Chrysler buildings :) And I just did a post on Dumbo though didn’t recognise that skyline as the one from Empire-Fulton Park… I’m going to check it out now.

  5. petey Says:

    splendid image

  6. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    I am having a difficult time thinking that this is a view from between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. One of them would have to be in view somewhere. Anyway, the Woolworth building is just south, just south, of the Brooklyn Bridge. Given the configuration, with the Woolworth Building being on center/right of this view, and the Singer Tower being to the left of it (meaning further south), the Brooklyn Bridge is just out of view passed the right hand border. I have to agree that this perspective is taken from Brooklyn Heights or even Red Hook.

    • marinachetner Says:

      yes – I completely agree – it must be from Brooklyn heights as I have a photo from NYE from the Promenande with a similar skyline. I have a photo on this post, http://wp.me/p1YdU5-lA where about halfway through you’ll see the skyline between the 2 bridges from Dumbo. It doesn’t equate to the graphic above.
      So I’m sticking with Brooklyn Heights. i have the night shot to share if you want!

  7. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    Great photos on your link, marinachetner! Besides supporting my point (and I love being right), they were just gorgeous to look at.

    • marinachetner Says:

      Thanks Rocco! I appreciate that ;)

      • fawmanuyawka Says:

        I must second Rocco. Your photographic work is dazzling for its clarity, balance, sensitivity and poignancy. Your shots of Magnolia Plantation poetically render its core essence. (I cherish my own captures therein.) Blessed are those who have the vision and skill to grasp and freeze beauty when it presents itself, just like wildnewyork.

  8. Bob_in_MA Says:

    I just came across a postcard on eBay that shows a very similar building right where Rocco predicts:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Brooklyn-Bridge-Ferry-Boats-Docks-Rotograph-NY-/260393814968?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3ca0ae4bb8

    …though it may be a standard warehouse design.

    One thing to keep in mind: artistic license. Most artists would sacrifice precision if it made a better paining.

    That brings me to a question. There’s Joseph Pennell print, “Times Building and 42nd Street”, it’s about half way down this page:

    http://keithsheridan.com/pennell.html

    …is that image flipped? I’m wondering if that’s looking down 42nd with Bryant Park on the side and then the 6th Ave El, but that would mean Pennell didn’t bother reversing the image when he etched the plate.

  9. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    You’re right, Bob, the Pennell print is backwards; I don’t know why the plate wasn’t reversed. From this print, Bryant Park appears on the north side of 42nd Street, not south. Strange…

  10. Marc Kehoe Says:

    Looks like a view from the part of Brooklyn Heights that was destroyed when Moses (Robert) put the BQE through.I do indeed see the Singer and Woolworth buildings. Nice picture.

  11. Jim Says:

    I live about four blocks from where this warehouse still (kinda) stands, it’s now a shell with no roof on it. Marina, please let me know when you post something on the Empire State or Chrysler buildings, they’re two of my most loved buildings in NYC!

  12. Out Walking the Dog Says:

    Beautiful, wherever its exact location is.

  13. triebensee Says:

    I don’t see a huge, obnoxious carousel blighting the view, so it must not be Empire Stores. Nevertheless, a wonderful work of art.

  14. Zak Says:

    Hello, I researched this painting when it was for sale at Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York. I visited the site and wrote the following:

    View from Brooklyn is a canonical statement of American modernism. Ault had painted the Brooklyn Heights shore looking toward the lower Manhattan skyline in 1925 in From Brooklyn Heights (The Newark Museum, New Jersey). In 1926, he painted the Brooklyn Ice House, showing, on the left side of the canvas, the same waterfront warehouse buildings with arched windows that form the middle ground of the present work (also The Newark Museum).

    The Manhattan skyline that Ault portrays in this work shows two distinctive towers: the domed Singer Building at Broadway and Liberty Street, and the spire-topped Woolworth Building, five blocks north at Broadway between Barclay Street and Park Place. The Singer Building (demolished in 1968), designed by Ernest Flagg, was, for a year after its 1908 construction, the tallest building in the world. Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building, the triumphant gothic-style “cathedral of commerce,” erected on Broadway between Park Place and Barclay Street from 1910 to 1913, enjoyed a seventeen year reign as the world’s tallest building. These two skyscrapers, bracketing the top center of the picture, stand as symbols of Manhattan modernity, silhouetted against a bright cloud-filled sky. They offer a marked contrast with the nineteenth-century character of the Brooklyn waterfront where Ault positioned his easel.

    Remarkably, the view that Ault painted in 1927 can still be identified today, despite the dominating presence of the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which cut through the neighborhood in 1936. While the red warehouse buildings that Ault painted in this work and in Brooklyn Ice House are gone, the ice house itself remains standing on Furman Street near Doughty. Furman borders the shoreline of New York Bay at the base of the Heights which rise steeply above, a vagary of geology that provided a natural basis for Ault’s remarkable perspective. When Ault painted, he was likely positioned in a small park on the Heights which still exists today (although it is now closed to the public). This accounts for the otherwise puzzling composition of the painting in which a flat foreground with trees and fences appears to be nearly level with the top floors of nearby buildings. Today this area offers a view of an elevated highway, but, in 1927, on a snowy winter’s day, Ault could record a bucolic park scene in the foreground of his composition, complete with leafless trees and ramshackle fencing, directly abutting a middle ground view of rooftops. There is still a shadow line on the southfacing side of the taller adjacent remaining buildings, which gives evidence of the previous existence of lower buildings that would correspond to what we see in the present work. Ice houses were commonly built near water (for obvious reasons) and in near proximity to breweries, which required ice for local deliveries. In the nineteenth century there was, in fact, just such a nearby establishment, the Star Excelsior Brewery, on Cranberry Street near Hicks, on the Heights. The spot Ault chose thus offered a tour de force for a modernist painter, the opportunity to render the contrasting shapes and colors of the contemporary city in a way that subtly invoked both formal and iconographic considerations without departing from realist representation.

  15. wildnewyork Says:

    wow, you really know your stuff, thanks. I’d like to take a photo of the location today and show the view almost 90 years later.

  16. A 1930s painter’s stark, austere New York City « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] The Precisionists emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, and they focused on the urban landscapes of a growing, industrialized nation. [...]

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