A Midcentury artist’s muted Manhattan beauty

You’ve seen paintings of Washington Square, Greenwich Village markets, and the New York Harbor before. But through the eyes and brush of Bela de Tirefort, these and other city scenes take on a muted, Impressionist beauty.

“6th Avenue El,” 1940

I didn’t find much information about De Tirefort’s early years. Born in Austria in 1894, he made his way to New York City and became instrumental in organizing outdoor art fairs, included something called the Greenwich Village Art Fair (maybe the Washington Square Outdoor Art Fair, which got its start in 1931?).

“Bleecker Square,” 1961

He organized an art fair in Brooklyn outside Grand Army Plaza in 1932, which the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seemed to get a kick out of. “Brooklyn is still the city of churches and homes—to artists,” the Eagle wrote. “Neurotic, erotic, exotic, and degenerative ‘art’ may go in Greenwich Village, but Brooklyn likes its art conservative.”

“Evening, Central Park” undated

De Tirefort comes off like a pragmatic artist in his reply to the Eagle: “We are not here to argue with the public. We are here to sell. We are guests. We do not want to offend.”

“Brooklyn Bridge,” undated

It’s not clear where de Tirefort himself lived, but Greenwich Village is a good guess. Many of his paintings focus on Washington Square Park, Bleecker Street’s Little Italy, and other Village icons. He also sold his painting directly from Washington Square, stated 1stdibs.com.

“Hansom Carriage Central Park” 1940

He tended to bathe his scenes in soft tones and thick brush strokes, presenting evocative city scenes that feel dreamlike but with decidedly Modernist touches.

“Park View, New York City” 1961

Through the 1940s and 1950s, de Tirefort exhibited his paintings in galleries and made a living as a working artist. In 1966, he moved to South Florida, where he died at age 99 in 1993, according to his obituary in the Tampa Bay Times.

“New York Harbor From the East River” 1951

“Using muted tones, strong silhouettes, and incisive textures, his paintings capture the structure of the city in the decades between the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the growth of the New York art scene,” wrote 1stdibs.com.

De Tirefort in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, 1932

De Tirefort’s work, often up for sale at auctions, commands the kind of prices you’d expect from a chronicler of Midcentury New York’s poetic moments and elusive beauty.

[Images 1-7, mutualart.com; eighth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1932]

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13 Responses to “A Midcentury artist’s muted Manhattan beauty”

  1. RONALD RICE Says:

    This was a great article, as I love his art work and especially this era of art.
    Is he part of the Ashkin artist school?
    and who are the others that he mostly participated with ?
    I remember there is one similar artist that Francis Marrone wrote a book about.
    Thank you for sharing the Art images.
    WHERE are the links to the other artist ARTicles that you have done recently? Rr

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Ronald, de Tirefort came too late to be an Ashcan artist, and I’m not sure what school he belonged to—his work seems to be post-Impressionist to me, but perhaps others think differently. To see any of the other posts on New York artists, it’s probably easiest to use the search bar or hit the “art” category link at the end of the post.

      • RONALD RICE Says:

        Thank you.
        Boy, this post really drew a lot of comments. Congratulations!
        I can see why, because the paintings are so comfortable and welcoming.
        From the Tate:
        Ashcan School was a group of North American artists who used realist techniques to depict social deprivation and injustice in the American urban environment of the early twentieth century.
        Spearheaded by the painter Robert Henri, the artists described themselves as urban realists, devoted to the realistic depiction of life in the same way journalists and novelists were writing about the harsh conditions of the poor. The group’s name came from a drawing by the artist George Bellows depicting three vagrants scrutinising the contents of an ash can.
        Beginning in the late nineteenth century and coming to prominence around 1910, the movement lost momentum in 1913 when European modernism exploded onto the American art scene and the group’s realism, in the face of cubism and fauvism, began to look dated and out of touch.
        Artists associated with the Ashcan School include Robert Henri, George Bellows, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast and Arthur B. Davies.

  2. Mid-Century Manhattan, Bela de Tirefort – This isn't happiness Says:

    […] Mid-Century Manhattan, Bela de Tirefort […]

  3. countrypaul Says:

    The 6th Avenue El painting is particularly engaging to me. I never heard of this artist previously. Thanks for opening yet another window onto the city.

  4. Greg Says:

    Very interesting, thanks!

  5. Deborah Shaver Says:

    His paintings were all beautiful, & a lovely snapshot of NYC.

  6. countrypaul Says:

    Could someone please define what the Ashcan School of Art is? Thanks in advance.

  7. countrypaul Says:

    Thanks, Ronald Rice, for the history of the Ashcan artists.

  8. kenny Says:

    The Brooklyn Bridge painting with the waterfront shack is right out of the 1953 Richard Widmark movie ‘Pickup on South Street’. Widmark was a pickpocket who holed up a similar shack and pulled chilled bottles of beer out of the East River. Took me all day to remember the name of that oldie.

  9. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I’d always thought the Ashcan School got its name when some weisenheimer critic said the paintings belonged in an ashcan. Thanks to Ronald Rice for setting me straight.

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