The “romantic reality” of midcentury Village street scenes

Can you feel it? Right now, New York has a vitality that went into a dark sleep in early 2020. People are out on the sidewalks performing the rituals of urban living; the city is emerging dynamic and alive.

What New Yorkers are feeling this spring is hard to describe—but Alfred Mira captures it perfectly in his paintings. Born in Italy in 1900, Mira made his home in Greenwich Village and supported himself as an artist.

His seemingly ordinary street scenes—like this two above of Seventh Avenue South and then a rainy Greenwich Avenue in the 1940s, or below of Washington Square Park in 1930—pulse with New York’s unique excitement and passion.

Mira’s paintings “have a rare skill in suggesting, rather than slavishly and verbosely saying,” wrote one critic reviewing an exhibit of Mira’s work in 1943 Los Angeles. “That accounts for the vibrant movement of his street scenes. The people, the buildings, the buses and passenger cars and other items in his paintings appear more real than the things themselves. They have what in fiction has been called ‘romantic reality.'”

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11 Responses to “The “romantic reality” of midcentury Village street scenes”

  1. deborah shaver Says:

    Just beautiful.

  2. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    I recall cutting school in the 60s and drifting along rainy Greenwich Ave, sometimes pausing in some doorway to get out of the rain. I had a choice, staying in some dry old school or out on the wet streets? I picked the latter…

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      And if I recall you were in school at Seward Park, correct? I’d hang out on Greenwich Ave instead too.

      • Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

        Ah Seward Park hardly ever went there, until they kicked me out! Fifteen years later I graduated from Columbia Univ, it’s great to be young, eh?

  3. countrypaul Says:

    Romantic reality is the perfect term for these moments in time. I recall a spring day in 1962, at age 16, magically floating around the city with the most beautiful girl I had ever dated up to that time; it felt like these paintings look. (Gail M., if you’re reading this, that was you.) Even now, as the specifics fade, the feeling lingers. I wonder who will be painting today’s street scenes for tomorrow’s romantic reality.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I completely know that feeling you’re describing, and so does Alfred Mira. His street scenes capture it perfectly, whether it’s the 1940s, 1960s, 1990s, and on and on.

  4. Ray Laskowitz Says:

    Romantic reality… shop owners have no business, many restaurants remain dark, business supported by corporate staffs are failing, corporations are down sizing their space requirements, employees of those corporations are continuing to work from home (In New Mexico), rents are starting to fall and anyone who can do it is staying away from the city. Romantic reality, indeed.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      There’s no denying the wreckage of a citywide lockdown, I’m with you there. My point was that there’s an energy in the air these days similar to the energy that made New York so wonderful and satisfying for centuries.

  5. velovixen Says:

    Ray–You’re right. But the paintings–especially the second–evoke a light and energy that existed before the pandemic.

    Now, if you want un-romantic, think of being poor, in Alphabet City, circa 1983–or taking the IRT to New Lots Avenue around that time!

  6. pontifikator Says:

    Like some of you here, I cut school in Queens and would take the E or the F down to The Village just to walk its streets. I would later live there (SoHo, really), but never got tired of walking those beautiful streets that this artist has a great feeling for.

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