Faces in the shadow of the Third Avenue El

New Yorkers no longer plow through the sky on hulking elevated trains. But the great crowds of commuters and the traffic below the steel rails feels very familiar.

John Sloan’s Six O’Clock, Winter gives us the scene under the Third Avenue El in 1912. (Not the Sixth Avenue El, the subject of some of his other paintings.)

“The shop girls, clerks, and working men and women who are massed in the lower part of the canvas seem absorbed in their own actions, rushing to their various destinations, generally unaware of the huge elevated railway looming high above them,” states the website of the Phillips Collection.

“The figures are illuminated by the glow of the train’s electric lights from above and from the shops at street level, with those in the lower left of the composition cast in strong light. Loosely brushed in, the faces have a masklike appearance, while those on the right are almost hidden in shadow, obscuring their features.”

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13 Responses to “Faces in the shadow of the Third Avenue El”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    I like the painting. It’s kind of like walking under the elevated lines in Brooklyn. People still going about their business.

  2. Tom B Says:

    I so enjoy these type of paintings from old NYC. Do any new Artists paint the City now?

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    They do, but I’m all about the older ones, especially Sloan. His New York still resonates.

  4. David H Lippman Says:

    Great painting, and comment, but I would point out that if you live in The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or even Inwood, you can “still fly through the air on hulking elevated trains.”

  5. Zoé Says:

    Speaking of “Brooklyn & Queens” (as David referenced). The best thing for me in the very early 80s was to watch the elevated trains go by w/ massive colourful graffiti murals on them. (Before they really locked up the yards so labourious complicated murals became almost impossible). Look at how monotone this train is!

    • David H Lippman Says:

      I have mixed feelings about the graffiti. Properly done, it was art. Badly done, it was obscenities that spoke to a city in disorder. But what happened was that the best graffiti artists were signed by galleries, made big money, and found better canvases than subway trains,while the gangbangers and amateurs stuck to the trains.

      The biggest problem with the graffiti issue is that the artists risk their lives when they tag trains.

      Still, graffiti is ancient. I’ve seen cuttings in the walls of the Tower of London by political prisoners and the Dover Castle by French PoWs from Marlborough’s campaigns, and they’ve found them on Roman ruins.

      • Zoé Says:

        “the best graffiti artists were signed by galleries”

        They were in my circle of friends David. And my husband’s who played music w/ one of them. And one was married to my friend from jewellery school. That uptown downtown circle of artists & DJs & musicians was really small – considering there were 8 million people in the City. We used to joke about it. You could rarely meet new people in the arts. They would always know someone you already knew. (I hesitated to post this – for fear of irritating someone. Then I thought: That ship has probably sailed here! Anyway no names given…).

        Three died untimely deaths – before we were out of our 20s. Another survived till the present (God willing). A painting just sold by one of them for an ungodly sum. Bittersweet memories of those years.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Fascinating stuff….I wouldn’t doubt they died too soon, though.

  6. Faces in the shadow of the Third Avenue El | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

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  7. c Says:

    I was about to add my comment but am happy to see that David already caught the error. There is, however, a certain majesty to the “old” ELs that is missing from the current stainless steel R160 cars (and IRT equivalents) that make up the EL rolling stock.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      It is weird to see cars built in 2018 clattering over structures built in 1918 or 1898.

      • Zoé Says:

        Lol. Good observation.

        A friend of my husband from Italy visited us in our tiny LES prison cell – I mean apartment – & was shocked at the extreme ancient decay bracketed by shiny wealth throughout our fair metropolis. (He had seen other parts of the City on the way to our neighbourhood – obviously – as the latter was at that time only in serious decay).

      • David H Lippman Says:

        That’s why I like photos of the NYCTA Nostalgia trains clattering on fantrips. Full-color shots of the right trains on the right lines.

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