Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River

The East River—its bridges, boats, and natural beauty—has inspired centuries of artists. But few have depicted the river with the richness and romanticism of Woldemar Neufeld.

[“Beekman Place Houses”]

Neufeld’s journey to New York City was marked by tragedy. Born in Southern Russia in 1909, his Mennonite family immigrated to Waterloo, Ontario, after his father was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920 following the Russian Revolution, states the Waterloo Public Library.

[“East River in Winter”]

After establishing himself as an artist in 1933, he continued studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University. In the mid-1940s, he, his wife, and his young family moved to Manhattan.

[“Henderson Houses”]

Neufeld lived on East End Avenue, one block from the East River waterfront on the Upper East Side. Even after relocating his family home to Connecticut, he maintained his studio there for 30 years.

[“Hell Gate at Night”]

”When I moved to East End Avenue, it began a new chapter in my life,” he told the New York Times in a 1986 interview. ”For years I painted nothing but the East River. Some people down there still call me the artist laureate of the East River.”

[“John Finley Walk”]

He painted other scenes of New York as well. But his East River images (the first four in this post are linocuts, a printmaking technique using linoleum, and the fifth is a woodblock print) capture the vivid brilliance of the river and midcentury city.

Neufeld depicts the heroic workaday river, where ships belch smoke and tugboats fight through ice. He also gives us the enchantment: an illuminated bridge at night, a soft dusting of snow on riverside park trees, and the popping colors of a luxury block as seen from the river.

His style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But these narrative prints reveal Neufeld’s (at right in 1950) love and appreciation of the stories the East River tells, as well as the energy and vitality of the city beside it.

[Top image: 1stdibs; second image: George Glazer Gallery; third image: Gregory James Gallery; fourth image: Gregory James Gallery; fifth image:; sixth image: Hartford Courant, 1950]

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10 Responses to “Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River”

  1. Tom B Says:

    Having your father executed for politics is sad. That was a gigantic culture move from Cleveland to NYC in the mid forties. I’ve never seen that style of Art. It looks like a combination of two styles. Thanks for showing another Artist from the past.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    I wasn’t getting excited until I saw the Hell Gate work. Love that one.

  3. Ty Says:

    Yesterday I was riding my bike around aimlessly and ended up on East End Avenue. Up on the promenade by Gracie Manson was a painter using a plastic dinner plate as his palette.

  4. Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River - The New York Beacon Says:

    […] Source: Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River […]

  5. Julie Says:

    Really interesting post – beautiful artwork!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      And his life was so tumultuous early on…one of the links in the post has some info about his thoughts on arriving in Canada as a teenager, how beautiful and peaceful he found his new country after life in Russia.

  6. Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River – The Philadelphia Observer Says:

    […] Source: Meet the “artist laureate” of the East River […]

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