Painting prewar New York from the outside in

Art that captures a single moment of beauty and activity on New York’s streets is always captivating. But there’s something to be said for images that reveal something about Manhattan from a far away vantage point, showing a city not in the center but on the sidelines.

Leon Kroll, born in New York in 1884 and a contemporary of George Bellows, Robert Henri, and other social realists, gives us that sidelined city.

Kroll, who studied at the Art Students League and exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show, was known for his nudes and country or seaside landscapes, and he also painted Central Park, Broadway, and other city locations.

But he also depicted New York in the early 20th century from the outside in, illustrating the city’s rhythms from across the East and Hudson Rivers.

“Queensboro Bridge,” from 1912, the painting at the top of the page, is one such example. The majesty of the relatively new bridge (only three years old here) takes center stage, but the monolithic city looms behind it.

I’m not exactly sure where Kroll was when he painted the second image, 1920’s “Manhattan Rhythms,” the second image.

He presents us with a solid, impenetrable city high above the wharves and docks of the river, a metropolis that dwarfs the men who work there.

“View of Manhattan Terminal Yards From Weehawken” (1913) puts industry and commerce on display. The train tracks may be on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, but they and the boats sending smoke into the sky work to enrich Manhattan across the water.

“Terminal Yards,” the fourth painting (also 1913) gives us another, snow-covered view.

I love that the city skyline is barely in “Manhattan From Hoboken” (1915), another painting of the metropolis from the heights of New Jersey.

The vibrant colors and web of tree branches—not to mention the thick clouds and smoke coming from boats and trains beside the river—almost obscure the Empire State Building and the rest of the cityscape.

If you’re not there in the middle of it, New York is far enough away to feel like another country.

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18 Responses to “Painting prewar New York from the outside in”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    What lovely paintings……that show such a different NYC! Bravo!

  2. Peter Bennett Says:

    I think these are some of my favorites paintings of New York I have ever scene. They are both dreamlike and realistic at the same time. I would be surprised if “Manhattan Rhythms” is an actual scene, it seems to evoke a Mount Olympus feeling as the buildngs rise up majestically from the river. Would love to see them in person, any idea of wheee they might be found?

  3. marygerdt Says:

    Beautiful!

  4. Ty Says:

    The sunny one of lower Manhattan reminds me of Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel.

  5. Jimxyz Says:

    What museums in NYC have Leon Kroll’s paintings?

    Thanks.

    Jim

    P.S. I grew up in the South Bronx but now live in California. I try to got back to NYC every year. It is magical.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  6. Zoe Says:

    These are great. I love paintings/painters that don’t excise the grittier views of post industrialism landscapes. (Chris Temple 2005 painting ‘The Great Northern’ for a contemporary example that I love).

    It would be interesting to know the exact location of the second painting. The bottom half of the scene is so intriguing.

  7. Brian G. Andersson Says:

    Terrific, thank you.

  8. Barbara W Flanagan Says:

    Dear Ephemeral,

    Is there currently a display of Kroll’s work here in town? Where did you find all the paintings shown?

    BTW: You write in the first person, but do not sign your name.

    I enjoy your postings! Many thanks.

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you BWF! I’m not aware of any exhibit, unfortunately. My dream would be to put together a show of paintings by so many mostly-forgotten NYC artists, like Kroll, who apparently earned more fame as a teacher than he did as a painter.

  10. davidcolucci Says:

    These are some great paintings, thank you. One point though, if the last painting was done in 1915, I don’t think the Empire State Building would’ve been visible yet! It must be a different building depicted, no?

  11. David Lippman Says:

    The Ashcan School! Nothing like it!

  12. Ray Bear Says:

    Manhattan Rhythms by Leon Kroll was painted from the vantage point of a boat or pier in the East River just off of Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan.

  13. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Great info Ray Bear, thank you

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