The dreams of the pigeon trainer on a city roof

Raising pigeons on tenement roofs doesn’t seem to be a popular thing in contemporary New York. But years ago it was a not-uncommon hobby, and John Sloan makes it the subject of this painting—done from his West 23rd Street studio in 1910.

Sloan loved watching what transpired on rooftops. His roof paintings “convey a sense of the freedom and escape the roofs provided from the suffocating confines of New York tenement living,” states Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which has “Pigeons” in its collection.

“Here Sloan depicts the then popular pastime of raising pigeons, which were let loose daily to fly for exercise. Witnessed by their trainer and a young boy perched on the tenement wall, the birds circling above seem to give visual expression to the men’s dreams of a flight of fancy high above the city,” states the MFA.

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24 Responses to “The dreams of the pigeon trainer on a city roof”

  1. Zoé Says:

    I love all your *roof* posts.

    There were a few films set in NYC that had young men raising pigeons on the roof. I can’t remember exactly which now. (I don’t want to list the wrong films here if I’m not positive on that part of the plot). Perhaps some film experts (fanatics!) will remember & write in.

    It was a plot devise used as a way to portray tough streety boys’ & men’s tender caretaking side for other living beings & showing they had expertise in something other than the criminal activity surrounding them.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Like On the Waterfront!

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol – I wanted to write exactly that but I wasn’t absolutely positive about my recall & didn’t want to spread false film fanatic info! (I thought about going on Wikipedia to look at the plot first – then realised it might not be on there).

      Did The Lords of Flatbush have a character that raised pigeons? (Sly Stallone character?). Early 70s film. (During 1950s/early 60s nostalgia period in music & film & tv).

      I hope some film obsessive posts a list on here. They’ve come onto other of your posts – where are they when we need them?!

  3. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Don’t forget “The Producers”, at least the pigeons seem to come out OK in that one. 😉

    • Zoé Says:

      I’ve forgotten. How & where did pigeons factor in to The Producers plot? LOVE that film but it’s been ages since I’ve seen it. And thanks for answering my call for listing the films – lol 🎭📽🎬🎟

  4. Bob Says:

    Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
    The Wire (TV show)

    • Zoé Says:

      Thanks Bob! Someone should make a documentary on this… History / zoology / ornithology / architecture / city planning & zoning / immigrant culture / film… it’s got everything…

  5. Bob Says:

    A Walk Among The Tombstones

  6. Bob Says:

    Flying Home

  7. Bob Says:

    Training Day

  8. Bob Says:

    Hellraiser III

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol. Please tell us if this pigeon in film list was already in your head Bob – or if you did a ‘pigeon+NYC+roof+films’ search online.

      I haven’t seen any of those you listed. I trust you though. Because who would go to these lengths.

  9. Ricky Says:

    I have/had a distant cousin who lived in the building in Hoboken, NJ where and when they filmed On The Waterfront. I met him once many years ago.

  10. Doneen Says:

    It seems to me that there were pigeon races. A flock released from a
    not-too-distant rooftop. First home won.

  11. Robert Iulo Says:

    On the Waterfront – Terry Malloy (Brando) had a coop.

  12. Timothy Grier Says:

    NYC’s most famous pigeon-keeper is “Iron” Mike Tyson. Wherever he lives now I believe he still has pigeons.

    • Zoé Says:

      *clapping* 🌫🐦✉️🎩🏆🍾☁️

      • Zoé Says:

        Oh the emojis above came out wrong on WordPress! On my iPhone the first one was a grey cloudy sky & the second one a grey & black roundish pidgeon head in profile. Not a sky + whatever that is in red & a tiny red cardinal.

        Oh well… please use your imagination. I was so happy that there was a pidgeon on there! Next time I’ll use the dove w/ the branch in it’s mouth (dove = white pigeon). 🕊

      • Zoé Says:

        Oh it changed to the grey sky & pigeon I wanted! Sorted. Lol… I didn’t know that the emojis could shapeshift whilst they were loading!

    • Zoé Says:

      Clapping for pigeon raising NOT the misogynist boxer… who I just now realised you probably have referred to.

  13. David H Lippman Says:

    The greatest pigeon trainer of them all was not Marlon Brando but Kenneth Mars, as “Franz Liebkind,” He shows up when Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom discover his masterpiece play, “Springtime for Hitler,” and go to his roof to sign him. One of the funniest scenes in movie history…and Broadway history…and movie history…

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol – thanks for filling that in David. Bob_in_MA wrote about “The Producers” here on 26 Feb (see up thread) but I asked to be reminded of who that was in the plot as I’d forgotten.

      Lol – I have to see that film again! It is beyond brilliant.

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