Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

An 1890 spring morning in the heart of the city

April 14, 2014

Frederick Childe Hassam’s “Spring Morning in the Heart of the City” gives us an overcast, lush view of Madison Square Park’s (yes, once the center of New York!) carriage traffic and well-dressed pedestrians.

Hassam frequently painted Madison Square; this elite area of the Gilded Age city was near his studio on 17th Street.

Childehassamspringmorning

“While discussing the picture in 1892, Hassam said his intention was to focus upon the group of cabs in the foreground and to have ‘the lines in the composition radiate and gradually fade out from the centre.’” states the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“He also noted that ‘all those people and horses and vehicles didn’t arrange themselves for my especial benefit. I had to catch them, bit by bit, as they flitted past.’”

The money motifs of a defunct 42nd Street bank

April 14, 2014

Bowerysavingsbank42ndstToday, 110 East 42nd Street is the elegant restaurant Cipriani’s.

But beginning in 1923, the building at this address served as the midtown branch of the Bowery Savings Bank.

On a street packed with lovely, innovative buildings, this one is worth a long look.

With its Romanesque arches and pillars, it’s a true cathedral of commerce.

BowerysavingsmanwithsackEven more impressive are the stone-carved figures and motifs that symbolize money.

They’re endlessly fascinating. Two grotesques face each other over a doorway: one carries a sack of money, the other has his hand out. Beehives and squirrels with nuts signal savings.

One carving depicts a woman holding an open jewelry box. Another has a man holding a sailing ship.

Bowerybankbeehivesquirrel

Some of the carvings are pretty bizarre. Along an entrance, a rat bites the foot of a man holding a beehive; in another image, a dead rat hangs from a rope. What’s this about?

BowerybankdeadratAt the top of a pillar is a carving of a bull, a man holding keys, and a woman with a bounty of goods.

The bull “symbolizes determination and reliability, the keys, guardianship, and the cornucopia, harvest and abundance,” states Marcantonio Architects blog.

“There also seems to be a native quality to the feathered leaves and the braided rope holding them together.”

Collectively, the images “convey lightheartedness through the details which are teeming with life and imagination, and, in light of recent events in the world of finance, a touch of irony as well,” the blog continues.

Above the entrance is the bank’s very old-school, humble motto: “A mutual institution chartered 1834 to serve those who save.”

Bowerybankpillar

Sounds very quaint to contemporary ears used to thinking of banks as agents of corruption.

Is this the ugliest brownstone in Chelsea?

April 7, 2014

The iconic New York brownstone, with its high stoop and decorative cornice, made its appearance in the early 19th century and quickly became a stylish, single-family home favorite.

15thstreetbrownstones

Over the decades, some have been updated, their facades altered and made over to suit their owners’ tastes.

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There’s this Modernist example in Turtle Bay, the concrete grill townhouse in the East 60s, and the futuristic bubble-window brownstone in the East 70s.

But what explains the refrigerator unit-like redesign of this home, part of a beautiful stretch of three-story row houses dating back to the turn of the last century?

Perhaps its super comfy inside. And a garage—that can be convenient.

Here’s the price (and photos) of the upper duplex, courtesy of a Corcoran listing.

A pioneering photographer captures the 1910s

March 24, 2014

Born on the Upper West Side in 1890, Paul Strand became a pioneering filmmaker with his eerie silent Manhatta in 1921, among other motion pictures during his six-decade career.

[Below: American City, 1916]

Paulstrandamericannyc1916

He’s also one of the first street photographers—credited with establishing photography as an art form in the teens and capturing haunting images of people amid the sleek, dehumanized early 20th century metropolis.

[Below: Wall Street 1915]

Paulstrandwallstreet1915

Strand’s interest in photography began during his student years at the Ethical Culture School. Photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine was his teacher, and Hine introduced Strand to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, artists who greatly influenced Strand’s work.

Paulstrandblind1916Stieglitz soon became a mentor. “In early 1915, his mentor Stieglitz criticized the graphic softness of Strand’s photographs and over the next two years he dramatically changed his technique and made extraordinary photographs on three principal themes: movement in the city, abstractions, and street portraits,” states the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“During the 1910s, New York thronged with pedestrians, carriages, and automobiles, and the streets became the unavoidable symbol of flux, change, and modernity.”

Strand did something revolutionary at the time: he abandoned posed photography in favor of portraits of people unaware of the camera.

[Above: Blind, 1916]

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[Above: "Central Park Scene, 1915"]

He stated his reasoning: “I felt that one could get a quality of being through the fact that the person did not know he was being photographed … [and I wanted to capture] these people within an environment which they themselves had chosen to be in, or were in anyway.”

Paulstrandmanfivepntssqny1916Strand shot images of the poor, of immigrants, of workers, of the blind and disabled, of aging New Yorkers in parks. His work reveals the humanity amid a modern city on the move, bustling with traffic, crowds, and commerce.

“Treating the human condition in the modern urban context, Strand’s photographs are a subversive alternative to the studio portrait of glamour and power,” states the Met.

[Above: Man, Five Points Square, New York, 1916]

“A new kind of portrait akin to a social terrain, they are, as Sanford Schwartz put it, ‘cityscapes that have faces for subjects.’”

See the 10-minute Manhatta here—it’s a treasure.

Lincoln’s statue gets little love in Union Square

March 3, 2014

Lincolnstatue1917mcnyAfter his death, president Lincoln was embraced by the public. But his image in bronze wasn’t beloved by critics.

Shortly after Henry Kirke Brown’s bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled at the southwest end of Union Square in 1870, one critic loathed it.

“A frightful object has been placed in Union Square,” stated The New York Times in September.

“It is said to be a statue of a man who deserves to be held in lasting remembrance as a true patriot, a sincere, unselfish, noble-hearted chief in times of great trouble and perplexity—Abraham Lincoln. But it does not resemble Mr. Lincoln. The lines which give the face character are not there. . . . “

Lincoln1895inunionsquaremcny

“The sculptor has tried to atone for this defect by putting plenty of hard lines in the clothes, which are enough to distract anybody who thinks that dress need not of necessity increase the hideousness of man.”

Lincoln2014nyparksThe writer poked fun at the “pantaloons” Lincoln was wearing, as well as his toga.

“It is like the hideous nightmare . . . . How much it costs to make it and put it up, we do not know, but we will gladly receive subscriptions toward the expense of taking it down and sending it off to Chicago, where ‘works of art’ of this kind are highly appreciated.”

Yikes. The public seemed to be okay with this depiction of the martyred president—in those post-Civil War years very much beloved, even by New Yorkers.

But when Union Square underwent a redesign in 1930, and the Lincoln statue moved to its current home in the north-central part of the park (above), workers didn’t treat the statue with about as much respect as the Times did.

Toppledlincolnstatue

Here it is, looking like it was toppled over during an air raid in a hardscrabble, treeless Union Square of the Depression.

[Top photos: MCNY; middle: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; bottom: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A 19th century painter’s moody, snowy New York

February 27, 2014

His impressionist paintings, veiled in twilight-like shades of blue and gray, reveal city’s beauty and enchantment.

And the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls him “the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century.”

Childehassamwinterdaybrooklynbridge

["Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge"]

But you may never have heard of Frederick Childe Hassam—a popular and prolific painter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work is still acclaimed, but perhaps not to the degree it deserves.

Childehassamnewyorkstreet1902

["New York Street," 1902]

Born to a well-off family in Boston, Hassam worked as an illustrator and then began exhibiting his paintings, earning accolades for his lovely cityscapes of Boston and Paris.

After moving to New York in 1889, he fell in love with the city. It certainly shows. His depictions of the Gilded Age city may be his most striking, illuminating city streets, parks, and people with radiant strokes of color and light.

Childehassamcalvarychurchinthesnow

["Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square"]

Hassam was not without critics. Some admonished him for not showing the struggle and hardship brought on by industrialization, while others questioned his so-called pedestrian subject matter.

“The man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Hassam said in 1892.

Childehassamfifthaveinwinter1892

“Fifth Avenue in Winter,” above, was reportedly one of his favorites. It was painted from the studio space he rented on Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

Childehassamsnowstormmadsq1902

["Snowstorm, Madison Square," 1890]

Hassam’s moody, magical scenes of New York covered by snow show us a city very similar to the wintry New York of today.

Cabs wait for passengers, confident, fashionable young women stroll unescorted, and weary pedestrians in black hats and lace-up boots trudge through the snow on their way to and from Brooklyn.

Hassam painted wonderful scenes of rainy day New York too, like this one near Madison Square.

A bear and a goat dancing at the Central Park Zoo

February 27, 2014

DancinggoatAlive or cast in bronze, all the animals at the Central Park Zoo are pretty charming.

Case in point: two creatures flanking the entrance gate of the Children’s Zoo since 1937, both hoofing it and having a blast.

Honey Bear is on the north side. She (he?) is on hind legs, playfully (or hungrily?) sticking her tongue out, standing on a basin surrounded by five bug-eyed water-spraying frogs.

On the south side is the Dancing Goat.

A little more ornery looking, Dancing Goat is also on hind legs in a basin, five bold little ducks who serve as fountains at his feet.

Honeybearfrogs

These two whimsical statues are the creation of Brooklyn native Frederick George Richard Roth.

HoneybearstatueAn accomplished artist born in 1872, Roth was the head sculptor of the city Parks Department in the 1930s.

(Who knew the parks department once had a head sculptor?)

If you’ve spent time in Central Park, you’ve probably seen his work. Roth designed the Mother Goose monument as well as the statue of hero husky Balto.

You know Balto, the sled dog who helped deliver medicine to sick kids in an Alaskan Blizzard in 1925.

This dancing goat isn’t the only one in Central Park.

Dancinggoatducks

These two bronze miniatures flanking a frolicking boy sit on top of the Lehman Gates at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo, along with other bronze critters. As if this part of the park could get any sweeter.

The noisy, gritty Bowery north of Grand Street

February 20, 2014

Imagine the constant, ear-splitting roar of the Third Avenue elevated trains, the grimy shadows cast by steel tracks, the sounds of horse hoofs, wagon wheels, and streetcars traveling up and down the street.

Bowerypostcard

It’s the legendary turn-of-the-century Bowery, the seedy main drag memorialized in the refrain of the 1891 hit “The Bowery”:

“They say such things
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry!
The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there any more!”

Mystery creatures guard a St. Marks Place door

February 17, 2014

Are these statues the faded remains of lions? Dogs? Or mythological creatures, like griffins?

Stmarkscreatures

Stmarkscreaturecloseup

At 73 St. Marks Place between Second and First Avenues stand these crumbled visages of some aggressive animal, now weathered and faceless.

They’re embracing shields—a fierce touch.

Imagine the foreboding welcome they offered visitors who approached this basement doorway on St. Marks, more than a century ago the main drag of Kleindeutschland.

This was the city’s former Little Germany neighborhood until the early 1900s, resplendent with beer gardens, theaters, libraries, churches.

And shooting clubs—like this one across the street, its emblem still on the facade.

John Sloan paints many moods of McSorley’s Bar

February 13, 2014

McsorleysbarjohnsloanBeing ensconced inside a dark bar with a pint and good conversation is many a New Yorker’s  idea of heaven.

John Sloan may have felt that way too.

His famous 1912 painting “McSorley’s Bar” depicts working-class customers comfortably drinking around a wood bar (with bartender Bill McSorley, son of the original owner, who founded the East Seventh Street ale house in 1854), wiling away the hours.

It’s his most renowned McSorley’s painting, but not the only one. Sloan completed at least three more, each capturing various glimpses of loneliness and whimsy and highlighting the small moments of pleasure and respite in a workingman’s life.

McSorleysbackroomjohnsloan

“McSorley’s Back Room” also dates to 1912. “The hushed, contemplative mood of this painting echoes Sloan’s description of the bar as an oasis ‘where the world seems shut out—where there is no time, nor turmoil,’” states the Hood Museum website, quoting Sloan.

“The tavern’s founder was no longer living when Sloan discovered the place, but through this painting and a related etching Sloan appears to pay homage to John McSorley, who, according to his son, always sat there in the sun.”

In 1928, Sloan memorialized the dozen cats living at the bar in “McSorley’s Cats.” Could that be bartender Bill McSorley again, with cats badgering him for food?

Mcsorleyscats1929sloan

With Prohibition still the rule of law, Sloan painted “McSorley’s Saturday Night” between 1928 and 1930. States the McSorley’s website: “everyone seems to have a mug in his hands.”

Mcsorleyssaturdaynightsloan

Sloan moved to New York in 1904 and spent many years depicting the city’s moods, from joy to isolation.

As for McSorley’s, this dusty old saloon, which famously refused to serve women until a court order in 1970, has been memorialized many times in art and literature, most famously by Berenice Abbott, Joseph Mitchell, and e.e. cummings.


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