Archive for the ‘art’ Category

An early image of ice skaters in Central Park

January 11, 2021

The building of Central Park began in 1858. Later that year, the first section opened to the public: the “skating pond,” aka the Lake.

You’ve probably seen paintings and illustrations of 19th century New Yorkers ice skating in Central Park and on the ponds of Brooklyn. But this Currier & Ives lithograph (after a painting by Charles Parsons) might be the earliest.

In “Central-Park Winter, the Skating Pond,” it’s 1862, the middle of the Civil War. Yet the frozen pond is a scene of pure joy: couples in fancy skating outfits (yep, they were a thing) glided together, a rare opportunity for socially acceptable coed mingling.

Kids play, adults fall, a dog is getting in on the fun, and everyone is enthralled by the magic of the ice under Bow Bridge.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Fierce tigers and eagles on a 58th Street co-op

January 4, 2021

Midtown East is the land of elegant 1920s-era apartment houses: handsome buildings of 10, 11, maybe 12 stories that usually feature understated brick and limestone facades.

But 339 East 58th Street has something else going on: fierce creatures in cast stone above Medieval columns and decorative Romanesque arches.

Adorning this co-op, built in either 1920 or 1929 depending on the source (I’m betting on 1929), are two eagle figures standing ramrod straight like soldiers high above the canopied entrance.

Between these avian sentries are two tiger heads emerging from the brickwork just beneath the second floor windows.

I couldn’t find much information about the building and the backstory of the figures as well as the columns and arches surrounding the entrance.

Perhaps there’s no more significance than an architect tasked with creating yet another standard New York City apartment building while dreaming of Medieval Europe’s soaring cathedrals and castles and taking inspiration from illuminated manuscript pages.

A cigar box label’s charming New Year’s greeting

December 28, 2020

When I first saw this Happy New Year greeting, I thought Schumacher & Ettlinger must be a cigar company, with offices on 19th Street and Fourth Avenue, as the image states.

Instead, Schumacher & Ettlinger appear to be a lithography company that produced labels for cigar boxes. Makes sense based on their address; Fourth Avenue (Park Avenue South today, of course) was in the city’s publishing and booksellers’ district…close to what became known as Booksellers’ Row in the 20th century.

The first box label carries the date 1893, and the second one doesn’t appear to have a copyright date. Whenever they were produced, I’m sure the person gifted with a box of cigars for the New Year was quite charmed.

[First image: MCNY 40.70.487; second image: MCNY 40.70.486]

A tender painter’s mysterious death under the el

December 28, 2020

When George Benjamin Luks’ lifeless body was found in the early morning hours of October 29, 1933 under the gritty elevated train near a doorway at Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, newspapers reported that this heralded artist and painter died of a heart attack.

George Benjamin Luks by William Glackens, 1899

“A passing policeman, Patrolman John Ginty of the West 47th Street Station, found him collapsed and summoned an ambulance from Flower Hospital,” stated the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in an article the next day. “The arriving physician found him dead of arterio-sclerosis [sic].”

Supposedly, Luks had left the home he shared with his wife on 28th Street around 6 a.m. and headed uptown to watch the sun rise. This story was confirmed by his brother William, a doctor at the Northern Dispensary on Christopher Street.

Luks’ take on Tammany Hall graft, 1899

“He often took long walks in the early hours,” William Luks said, per a 2015 New York Daily News article, “and it was the way he would have wished to die.”

It sounded possible, perhaps. Since he came to New York from Philadelphia in the late 1890s, Luks gained fame first as an illustrator of comics (he took over as the artist for The Yellow Kid) and political cartoons and then for his poetic street scenes, portraits, and urban landscapes.

The jazz clubs and former speakeasies of 52nd Street, 1945

Luks also gained a reputation as a straight shooter who had no love for the decision makers in the art world, someone who preferred to paint the underdogs of New York’s slums, because ​“down there people are what they are,” he said.

But the details of the death of a 66-year-old artist known to be a gutsy and “swashbuckling” (as the Eagle called him) drinker and fighter would be much more mysterious.

“Children Throwing Snowballs,” 1906

Ira Glackens, son of fellow social realist painter William Glackens and friend of Luks’, supposedly revealed the truth in a 1957 biography of his father.

Luks body was found under the elevated near Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, as it was originally reported. But heart disease didn’t kill him: a bar fight did.

Under the Sixth Avenue El at about 53rd Street, 1939

In the biography, Ira Glackens said “[Luks] was knocked cold in a barroom brawl” according to the Daily News. This was in the waning days of Prohibition, when several speakeasies in brownstones lined 52nd Street, aka “Swing Street.”

“The illegal joint could hardly report a drunken row, so Luks—dead or nearly so—probably was carried to the spot where cops found him,” states the Daily News.

George Luks, 1910

Is the barroom death story the right one? We’ll likely never know. But it might be the story Luks himself would have preferred—a tough yet tender artist who went down swinging. He’s a favorite of this site; see more of his work here.

[First image: National Portrait Gallery; second image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1933; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY X2010.11.6064; fifth image: niceartgallery.com; sixth image: MCNY X2010.7.1.18346; seventh image: Wikipedia]

The coal company helped the city survive winter

December 21, 2020

Stuart Davis was a New York artist of the 20th century best known for his playful Modernist paintings filled with bright colors and geometric shapes. But early in his career, he was influenced by the Ashcan School—and he stuck with the social realist style with this 1912 piece, Consumer Coal Company.

It’s a powerful painting that invites viewers to feel the sharp snap of snow whipping around a low-rise block somewhere in New York City. (I’m guessing Lower Manhattan, see the Federal-style houses with the dormer windows.)

Forced to work in the blustery weather, the men from the coal company shovel a load into a sidewalk coal hole, where it can be transferred to the furnace to keep residents from freezing to death.

It probably wasn’t Davis’ intention when he painted this scene to provide insight into how life was lived in New York in 1912. But the painting immortalizes the role the coal companies played in New York winters—when Gotham was still largely dependent on coal-burning furnaces (not to mention horse-pulled wagons).

Little Italy in 1920 in six painterly postcards

December 21, 2020

While looking through the website of the Museum of the City of New York last week, my eyes fixated on what I thought must be a painting: a colorful, somber scene in Little Italy in 1920—the men mostly standing against a brick storefront while women and children sifted through a basket of fresh loaves of bread on the curb.

Which of New York’s many Little Italy neighborhoods is it? Based on one of the postcard captions that mentions Mulberry Bend, this is the Little Italy of Mott and Mulberry Streets. Manhattan had others, one on Bleecker Street and another in East Harlem, which was once the the borough’s biggest Italian enclave.

But is this image, part of a collection of several separate images of life among the vendors and residents of Little Italy, actually a painting? If it is, it’s part of an unusually beautiful postcard series produced by the penny postcard company Raphael Tuck & Sons.

Rather than colorize and reprint photos, perhaps the company commissioned an artist to illustrate these scenes. It might have been worth the effort considering how popular postcards were in the early decades of the 20th century. The new medium allowed people to see brilliant images of other parts of the world in much higher quality than newspaper photos.

“The postcard was to communications at the beginning of the 20th century what the internet is to this one; it was a relatively new idea taking hold like wildfire that revolutionized communication,” states the introduction to the book New York’s Financial District in Vintage Postcards.

Raphael Tuck & Sons was one of the leading postcard publishers, capturing images of New York City’s prettiest streets, tourist attractions, and ethnic neighborhoods. (The MCNY collection includes a Raphael Tuck postcard of Chinatown in 1908, among other sites.)

“Raphael Tuck & Sons is generally acknowledged as the greatest picture postcard publisher in the world,” states J.D. Weeks in the introduction to Raphael Tuck US Postcard List. “From the time they produced their first set of twelve postcards in 1899 until they ceased operations in 1962, their postcards have been among the most highly prized to collect.”

The company doesn’t exist anymore, but their postcards live on in archives like that of the MCNY. I’m not sure if these images are colorized photos or paintings they commissioned, but they are lovely and evocative—scenes of an immigrant neighborhood that’s almost entirely vanished.

[All postcards from the Collections Portal of the Museum of the City of New York. First image: X2011.34.2163; second image: X2011.34.2161; third image: X2011.34.2164; fourth image: X2011.34.2162; fifth image: X2011.34.2160; sixth image: X2011.34.2165]

A food vendor’s Christmas on 14th Street in 1904

December 14, 2020

Ashcan school painter Everett Shinn gravitated toward New York’s underdogs: the lonely, the lost, the dreamers, and those who appear to be battered by life’s elements.

This food vendor pushing his flimsy wood cart during the holiday season appears to fall into the latter category. Painted in 1904, “Fourteenth Street at Christmas Time” gives us a blustery, snowy street crowded with Christmas tree buyers and other shoppers beside the lights from store window displays.

Our vendor, however, stands away from everyone, his body crouched to avoid the frightful weather. His cart glows with the warmth of hot food cooking…but he has no buyers.

Don’t forget New York’s other November holiday

November 23, 2020

It’s been a good century or so since New Yorkers celebrated Evacuation Day. But in the late 18th and 19th centuries, this holiday—on November 25—was a major deal, marked by festive dinners, parades, and a deep appreciation of the role the city played in the Revolutionary War.

“Washington’s Grand Entry into New York, November 25, 1783,” Alphonse Bigot

Evacuation Day honors the day in 1783 when the British evacuated New York for good after occupying the city during the War.

“Evacuation Day and Washington’s Triumphal Entry in New York City,” Edmund P. Restein

Just hours after the Red Coats left, a Union Jack flag was taken down from a flagpole at Battery Park and replaced with the Stars and Stripes. George Washington returned to Manhattan, leading the Continental Army through the city and down Broadway flanked by cheering crowds.

[Images: Wikipedia]

The Pilgrim statue standing alone in Central Park

November 23, 2020

Central Park has 29 statues, some popular (like Balto, the hero sled dog) and others more obscure (Fitz-Greene Halleck, anyone?)

But standing high and alone on eponymously named Pilgrim Hill is a statue of a Pilgrim, one of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 from England seeking religious freedom in the New World.

“An early American settler stands confidently with one hand leaning on the muzzle of a flintlock musket,” writes Centralparknyc.org, describing the statue. “On the pedestal beneath him are four bas reliefs referencing the era—including the Mayflower—as well as an inscription: “To commemorate the Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers on Plymouth Rock: December 21, 1620.”

The bronze statue, by John Quincy Adams Ward, was commissioned and dedicated here in July 1885 by the New England Society to mark the group’s 75th anniversary, according to NYC Parks. (A procession heading to the site passed President Grant’s house on East 66th Street, and an ill Grant saluted from his window, newspaper accounts noted.)

Whatever one thinks about early settlers to America these days, it’s worth noting that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims.

With Thanksgiving days away, consider heading over the Pilgrim Hill and seeing this mostly forgotten figure. The bas reliefs of the Mayflower and other symbols tell more of the Pilgrims’ story.

[Top photo: centralpark.com]

A lovely view of Trinity Church from Wall Street

November 9, 2020

In the shadowy canyons of the Financial District are two New York City icons. Most recognizable is Trinity Church, whose 281-foot spire was the tallest structure in the city until 1890.

There’s also Federal Hall, built in 1842 on Wall Street, which has had this George Washington statue out front since 1882.

View of Trinity Church From Wall Street, undated

This view was painted by Elizabeth Weber-Fulop. Born in Budapest in 1886, she lived in Europe before moving to Charleston, South Carolina and then Tennessee.

To my knowledge, she never lived in New York. But it’s hard not to see why she was struck by what she saw one sunny, early 20th century day in Lower Manhattan.