In 1882, painter Jerome Myers moved to New York from his native Virgina. Visiting the crowded ethnic slums of the Lower East Side, he found the inspiration for his life’s work.
“‘My song in my work,’ he wrote, ‘is a simple song of the poor far from any annals of the rich,’” states Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture From the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.
Myers depicted day-to-day street life and interactions for the next several decades until his death in 1940. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he eschewed grittiness and saw poetic beauty in his subjects.
“His was not a world of sweatshops and street urchins but rather one where people gathered to gossip and barter in the marketplace, rest in city parks or at the end of East River piers, participate in the many religious revival festivals or attend the theater of outdoor concerts,” explains Seeing America.
“Myers cherished, above all, the playful, colorful lives of the children he observed on the Lower East Side. Always clean and well-dressed, they bear no resemblance to the street urchins that haunt the photographs of Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis or paintings by George Luks.”
“‘Why catch humanity by the shirttail,’ Myers wrote, ‘when I could . . . see more pleasant things?‘”
[From top: Sunday Morning, 1907; Corner Market; The Mission Tent, 1906; Evening Recreation, 1920]