A Lower East Side artist who painted the city

You might not know of Samuel Halpert, who was born in Bialystok, Russia (now Poland) and moved with his family to live among other Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side in 1890 when he was five years old.

[“The Flatiron Building,” 1919]

But you’ll recognize the New York City he painted in the 1910s and 1920s. Some of his subjects—new skyscrapers, steel bridges—foretold that the 20th century would be big and bold.

Other subjects, such as the East River waterfront, downtown neighborhoods, and the poetic view from tenement rooftops, were more intimate glimpses of the moods of the modern city.

[“Sheridan Square, New York,” 1920]

Halpert’s art education consisted of classes at neighborhood settlement houses, then the National Academy of Design as well as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

He exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show, and also painted figures, interior scenes, and murals (for the money, according to a biography from the Spellman Gallery).

[“Downtown,” 1922]

But perhaps the New York he came of age in was his main inspiration and most popular subject matter—which he took on in a style that blended Post-Impressionism and Fauvism (in the style of “wild beasts,” according to one source).

[“City View,” date unknown]

Halpert’s talent was immense, and he attracted attention. But his life was brief. He moved between New York and Paris in the teens, came back to New York for a spell, then took a teaching job at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit in 1926.

[“A View of the Brooklyn Bridge,” date unknown]

Halpert died in 1930. While his name is mostly forgotten, his colorful, sometimes dynamic and sometimes somber paintings remain…and deserve a wider audience.

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14 Responses to “A Lower East Side artist who painted the city”

  1. syndicalistnyc Says:

    Excellent

  2. countrypaul Says:

    Particularly delightful: the Flatiron paining. The others remind me of illustrations on book covers of the era.

  3. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    What can be the tall brown building to the left and below of the Flatiron, it seems to be on 5th Ave? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.

  4. Rena Tobey Says:

    Samuel Halpert was married to Edith Halpert, who is the focus of a current Jewish Museum exhibit. The exhibit includes Sam’s portrait of Edith. Worth a visit.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I did read about his wife and her work, but I thought I’d do a separate post on her at a later date. I didn’t know about the exhibit, so thank you for pointing that out…I will add a link to it in the copy.

  5. petey Says:

    they’re beautiful! i especially like the Sheridan Square painting.

  6. Turn of the Century New York, Samuel Halpert – This isn't happiness Says:

    […] Turn of the Century New York, Samuel Halpert […]

  7. Claudia Keenan Says:

    Interesting detail – Samuel Halpert’s wife, Edith Halpert, was also an artist whose work is currently on display at the Jewish Museum. They divorced shortly before his death.

    https://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/edith-halpert-and-the-rise-of-american-art

  8. Timothy Grier Says:

    The artist must have been perched atop MSG when he painted the Flatiron Building. I commented weeks ago about the Flatiron Building being the inspiration for so many great artists and photographers and here’s another example.

    I know European borders can change but I believe Bialystok (no C) has always been in Poland.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I remember your comment, and yes, here’s one more example, which I’m always happy to come across. And you are right, bialystok is in Poland now. When Halpert lived there, it was part of Russia.

  9. Laundryheap Says:

    Beautiful paintings! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Adam Zucker Says:

    I am fascinated by his mastery of perspective. It is nice to see the painterly depiction of the City from so many viewpoints. This post reminds me that I need to see Edith’s show….

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