An old house and the “human comedy” around it

I wish I knew exactly where this old wood house once stood.

All I know is that it was somewhere in today’s Lower East Side, and in 1915 captured the eye of painter Jerome Myers, a Virginia native who moved to New York in the 1880s.

Myers focused his attention on the city’s worst slums, and what he called the “human comedy” that inspired and riveted him.

“Curiously enough, my contemplation of these humble lives opened to me the doors of fancy,” he wrote in 1940. “The factory clothes, the anxious faces disappeared; they came to me in gorgeous raiment of another world—a decorative world of fancy, like an abstract vision. I was led to paint pictures in which these East Side scenes are lost in a tapestry of romance. Reality faded in a vault of dreams…”

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18 Responses to “An old house and the “human comedy” around it”

  1. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    I believe it is a rendering of « The Old Brewery » in the Five Points.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Ben, I’m not so sure; the Old Brewery didn’t have that corner store + pole. But perhaps it’s his interpretation of it? The city did have a number of these very old wood houses still standing in the very early 20th century.

  2. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    A bit patronizing on Myers part. like the quaint poor were fodder for his imagination.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I don’t disagree, but I do like the painting because of the life of the people outside it, how animated this section of the city was…with some faces at the windows watching as we are.

    • Tom B Says:

      Sometimes we don’t know how poor we are.
      Are there modern Artists today with the same ideas. It seems to me they want to be “shock artists” or something real simple like drawing a straight line and calling it Art.

  3. Clark W. Says:

    A remarkable image. To my eye it doesn’t look like the Old Brewery, which was torn down in 1852, 30 years before Myers came to town. However, Charles Dickens asked to see it in 1842, drawn by its lurid reputation (a murder per night for 15 years). Dickens was always on the lookout for new material. Three years later he climbed Mt. Vesuvius to gaze on “the flaming bowels of the earth,” and came down with smoldering clothes. His son Alfred, btw, is buried in Manhattan, 155th and Broadway.

    • Benjamin Feldman Says:

      Alfred Dickens is at Trinity uptown cemetery? Wow!

      • Clark W. Says:

        Alfred Tennyson Dickens (1845-1912) is buried in the western half of uptown Trinity Cemetery, which is bisected by Broadway. He lies near the corner of 155th Street. An annual candlelight Christmas procession from the Episcopal Church of the Intercession on the east side of Broadway, crosses to Alfred’s grave, where carols are sung at the resting place of the son of the author of “A Christmas Carol,” which was written two years before Alfred’s birth.

      • Benjamin Feldman Says:

        Many thanks:-)

      • Clark W. Says:

        PS Ed Koch is buried in the eastern half of Trinity cemetery, near the corner of 153rd and Amsterdam. Ed, born in the Bronx, loved Manhattan. When he was in Congress he would fly back to the city to go to the movies. Before buying the grave site, Ed asked his rabbi if it was okay to be buried in an Episcopal cemetery. The rabbi said yes, provided Trinity agrees to put up a sign on one of the entrances that reads, “The Jewish Gate.” So, next time you drive down Amsterdam, between 155th and 153rd, look to the right. On the cemetery entrance is a bronze plaque that reads, “The Jewish Gate.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Clark for all this; I’d seen Ed Koch’s headstone on my visits to this fascinating cemetery, but I never noticed the Jewish Gate part.

  4. Bob Says:

    This was at the intersection of Hester and Baxter Streets, on the northeast corner, within sight of the Police Building of the previous blog post! The structure in the painting is identical to several etchings Myers did (one in reverse) identifying that location. See also p. 214-215 of his autobiography “Artist in Manhattan”:

    “At the corner of Hester and Baxter Streets, hardly more than a stone’s throw from City Hall, stood this old frame house, a veteran of 150 years. Although still picturesque, it had been manhandled through generations; only imagination could restore the pristine charm of its earlier days, when the garden bloomed in front, the house was shadowed by tall trees and the colonial stage-coach galloped past the door. It was a protoype of many New York houses, of which this is one of the very few survivors. Successive changes had gradually lowered its character, and in its final decline it became a junk shop. It was later razed, and now a fine public school building has taken its place.”

  5. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    Marshall McLuhan said it and Warhol repeated it.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    Great painting…and now we know…the rest of the story.

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