Archive for the ‘art’ Category

The solitary walkers across the Depression-era Manhattan Bridge

May 16, 2022

Social realist artist Reginald Marsh has painted Coney Island burlesque performers, sailors and soldiers, forgotten men at lonely docks and Bowery dives, sideshow gawkers, subway riders, and sexily dressed men and women carousing and enjoying the playground that is 1920s and 1930s Manhattan after dark.

But “Manhattan Bridge,” from 1938, is different. It’s a portrait of a muscular bridge and the ordinary, solitary New Yorkers who walk across it—figures not with Marsh’s usual exaggerated expressions but with their backs turned toward us, unglamorous and getting to where they are going.

This Art Deco skyscraper on 57th Street rightfully celebrates itself

May 9, 2022

The Fuller Building, on Madison Avenue and 57th Street, has racked up some impressive accomplishments.

Topping out at 40 floors, this 1929 masterpiece was one of New York’ first “mixed use” buildings, with the lower floors boasting high ceilings and a distinct design to attract galleries to 57th Street’s active Jazz Age art scene, according to The City Review.

Art is outside the building as well. Above the entrance is a sculpture of workmen framed around a clock and a relief of the cityscape. Construction themes are reflected on the elevators, and the upper floors feature geometric patterns on the facade.

With so much to boast about, why shouldn’t the Fuller Building have large mosaic medallions of itself embossed in the lobby?

Sure “AD 1929” sounds like the owners expect the tower to be in a museum someday. But this icon has every reason to honor itself and decorate the lobby floor with love letters to its own greatness.

[Second image: structurae.net]

A painter’s dazzling mosaic of energy and color in 1901 Madison Square

April 28, 2022

Painter Maurice Prendergast has been described as a “post-Impressionist.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but he has a unique, early 1900s style that turns city spaces into dazzling mosaics and perfectly captures the kaleidoscopic vitality of New York’s streets and parks.

The painting above, “Madison Square,” is from 1901 and is part of the collection at the Whitney Museum.

I can’t make out the words in the sign below “Buffalo NY,” but I can feel the women and girls and drivers and strollers, all out for a day in a park that was much more elite a generation earlier but has been ceded to the masses. Judging by all the umbrellas shielding female faces, the sun must be quite warm.

Prendergast seemed to like scenes of leisure and play, like these—also in New York City parks.

Three mythological Art Deco figures on a 57th Street apartment building

April 25, 2022

Walk along 57th Street, and you’ll see many examples of Art Deco architecture and ornamentation: geometrical shapes, zigzags, and even sculptures of mighty male figures toiling in the modern city. That last one is part of the facade of the 40-story Fuller Building.

Farther east, where office towers recede and elegant apartment buildings line quieter stretches of East Midtown, there’s a different example of Art Deco artistry on one specific residence.

The building is 320 East 57th Street. Take a look at the images above the entrance: three nude women hold hands in a kind of dance, surrounded by floral motifs. Helpful Ephemeral New York readers pointed out that these are the Three Graces, the goddess daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology. Each daughter bestows a particular gift on humanity: mirth, elegance, and youth and beauty.

The bas relief appears to be modeled after this sculpture by Antonio Canova from 1814-1817, which is currently housed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I imagine the Three Graces has been here since the building was completed in 1926, according to Streeteasy—which attributes the ironwork in the lobby to French ironworker Edgar Brandt, a giant of Art Deco design.

Could Brandt be the sculptor behind the figures? I saw no attribution in the building, which only has a plaque outside noting that Paulette Goddard and Erich Maria Remarque resided there.

What John Sloan saw on the night before Easter

April 18, 2022

Easter Sunday has just passed, so I wish I came across this painting earlier this week in time to write about it. But maybe it doesn’t matter, because through the eyes and Impressionist brush of John Sloan, this 1907 work is a timeless nocturne of a seemingly ordinary transaction.

We’re probably in Greenwich Village, where Sloan lived and worked. Easter lilies are laid out in front of a shop for passersby to inspect, pick through, and make their selection. These sidewalk shoppers are shrouded in darkness, practically obscured by the black umbrella one carries.

But as they touch the flowers, you can feel the softness of the petals and sense how bright they must have looked illuminated by the artificial light of the store window. The rain-slicked sidewalk and the warm light from the cafe next door makes it an even more potent, sensuous image of the simple act of purchasing flowers on a rainy spring night.

Two decades later, Sloan painted another scene of spring flowers and a wet sidewalk that is equally evocative.

A midcentury printmaker celebrates machine age New York City

April 11, 2022

As the machine age took hold in the United States in the early 20th century, some artists took a darker view of the mechanization of urban society—seeing isolation and alienation amid skyscrapers, automobiles, and steel bridges. Painter and printmaker Louis Lozowick, however, found something to celebrate.

“Allen Street,” 1929

Lozowick isn’t a household name, but his backstory will sound familiar. Born in Ukraine in 1892, he immigrated to New York City in the early 1900s, according to Artnet. He took classes at the National Academy of Design, studying with Leon Kroll, a painter and lithographer who often depicted the industry of Manhattan from the city’s bridges and rivers.

“Through Brooklyn Bridge Cables,” 1938

After traveling in Europe, Lozowick returned to New York in 1926 and worked as an illustrator for the leftist social reform periodical, New Masses. Influenced by Bauhaus and precisionist artists, he was also producing his own photorealistic, sometimes Art Deco style works—many of which heralded “the power of men and machines,” as the National Gallery of Art put it.

“Backyards of Broadway,” 1926

Lozowick spoke about this theme in 1947. “From the innumerable choices which our complex and tradition-laden civilization presents to the artist, I have chosen one which seems to suit my training and temperament,” he said in a publication called 100 Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art website).

“Third Avenue,” 1929

“I might characterize it thus: Industry harnessed by Man for the Benefit of Mankind,” he continued.

Rather than isolation or alienation, there’s a sense of optimism in Lozowick’s wondrous, finely drawn images. His urbanscapes of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, many of which feature Manhattan, are dynamic and active. Might and power seem to be in the air.

“Slum Clearance,” 1939

Lozowick gives us a majestic city from soaring vantage points—the Brooklyn Bridge and the Third Avenue El—as well as forgotten pockets and corners under elevated tracks and along Manhattan’s industrial edges, where the new and old New York sometimes collide.

Though his focus is on how machines transformed the look and feel of the city, Lozowick doesn’t lose sight of the humanity driving the trucks and trains, powering the factories, and building the skyscrapers.

“57th Street,” 1929

“Following the advent of the Great Depression, Lozowick increasingly incorporated figures of laborers into his compositions—focusing less on the utopic promise of the machine and more on its impact on and relationship to the worker,” stated Emma Acker in a writeup about Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, a 2018 exhibit in San Francisco and Dallas that included Lozowick’s work.

“Traffic,” 1930

Of all the images in this post, only “Third Avenue” includes no human form. But humanity is there; someone is at the controls of the train.

A painter captures humanity amid the dirt and darkness of a New York alley

March 28, 2022

Canada-born Impressionist artist Ernest Lawson made his name at the turn of the 20th century as a landscape painter—often depicting the still-rural Washington Heights neighborhood where he lived from roughly 1898 to 1908.

Yet when he turned his eye to the grit of city streets, he captured something equally evocative.

The 1910 painting he called “New York Street Scene” reveals the dirt and darkness of a narrow lane or alley, the discolored backs of buildings made uglier by the fire escapes hanging off them.

But we also see horse-pulled carts, vendor stalls, and vague figures on the sidewalk on the left—bits and pieces of humanity in the hidden pockets of the urban, industrial city.

[Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]

Springtime in New York City once meant horse-drawn flower carts

March 21, 2022

If you want potted flowers in contemporary New York City, you head to a garden center or farmers market. In an earlier Gotham, however, you waited for the flower carts to come, laden with petunias and begonias and other beautiful varieties for replanting in front yards, back yards, and on terraces.

Artist Henry Ives Cobb Jr. was moved enough to capture this scene, somewhere on Fifth Avenue. The date is unclear, but it looks like the flower cart is the only vehicle still pulled by a horse.

[Kaminski Auctions]

The favorite way the Gilded Age elite enjoyed Central Park in the 1860s

February 28, 2022

Central Park was conceived as a respite from the noise and pollution of the industrial city—a tranquil landscape where New Yorkers could relax and refresh in a natural environment.

But in the first years of the park’s existence in the 1860s, it was the wealthy who enjoyed it the most. After all, in the early Gilded Age, they were the ones who had the leisure time to spare and the vehicles to bring them to this green space far from the center of the city.

So how did they use the park? By driving—or being driven. With fancy carriages and a coachman or two handling the road, New York ladies and gentlemen spent late afternoons traversing the park’s many drives. Sometimes a Gilded Age sportsman would take the reins on his own trotting horse.

“Another notable feature of former days was the driving in Central Park,” according to the book Fifth Avenue, from 1915. “Here might be seen old Commodore Vanderbilt, driving his famous trotter, ‘Dexter’; Robert Bonner, speeding ‘Maude S.’; Thomas Kilpatrick, Frank Work, Russell Sage, and other horsemen driving to their private quarter- or half-mile courses in Harlem; leaders of society or dowagers in their gilded coaches; and even maidens of the ‘Four Hundred’ driving their phaetons.”

[Image: Currier & Ives after Thomas Worth]

A lost East Village alley on a 1963 downtown map

February 28, 2022

Old maps tell us a lot about the subtle changes to New York’s streetscape. Take this illustrated map of the Village that’s almost 60 years old, for example.

Published in August 1963 by the Village Voice, the map covers not just Greenwich Village but a portion of the Meatpacking District (see “Little West 12th Street” in very small print), a slice of Chelsea, and a bit Gramercy Park, with that sliver of Irving Place at the top right.

The map extends all the way east to First Avenue. Makes sense; the newly christened East Village was at the time becoming a hipster alternative to pricey Greenwich Village, with its own clubs, bars, theaters, and head shops. The new, young residents here would likely be Village Voice readers.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” by Armin Landeck, 1940

Much of the Village Voice map aligns with the streetscape today. But there’s something missing in the contemporary East Village—it’s a place name on the map between Third and Second Avenues and East 11th and 12th Streets.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” the map says, marking a slender lane in the middle of the block. Okay, but there’s no Stuyvesant Alley anymore. So what happened to it?

Stuyvesant Alley, not named on this 1868 map

First, let’s see what the backstory is. The “Stuyvesant” name is obvious; the alley was created on land once part of the farm Peter Stuyvesant established for himself and his descendants in the 17th century. Parcels of his “bouwerie” were sold off for development in later centuries, but the Stuyvesant name stuck.

Stuyvesant Alley appears in several 19th century neighborhood maps, like the one above, from 1868. The alley isn’t named, but it runs through East 11th to East 12th Street. It also seems to have some small buildings lining it—perhaps stables?

By 1879, the alley’s name made it on the map (above), along with other places in the heavily developed neighborhood, like the Astor Place Hotel and Tivoli Theatre.

In the 1920s, Stuyvesant Alley showed up in an article in the New York Herald. An art exhibit was to be held at One Stuyvesant Alley in November 1922, the paper reported, hosted by a group of painters who called themselves the Co-Arts Club.

“The Co-Arts Club has established themselves in Stuyvesant Alley, the last frontier of Bohemianism on the East Side,” the Herald stated wistfully. “The ruthless march of tenements and factories has left only the alley untouched and the light bathes the studios there with an undimmed purposefulness.”

The painting of the alley as a narrow driveway surrounded by red brick and stone buildings (second image above) is the work of Armin Landeck in 1940. Whether Landeck’s depiction was true to life is hard to know; it’s also unclear which end of the alley he’s looking down.

His view is different from that of this 1934 photo of Third Avenue and East 11th Street (above), which shows the buildings on either side of the entrance to Stuyvesant Alley.

The alley made it into the 1960s, since it’s on the Village Voice map. But the trail goes cold after that.

To explain its undocumented disappearance, I’m going with what the Village Preservation’s Off the Grid blog concluded in 2014, when they took a closer look at Stuyvesant Alley: “The alley appears to have been wiped from the map in the 1980s when NYU built their large dorm on the corner of Third Avenue and East 11th Street.”

Thanks to Mick Dementiuk for sending the link to the map my way.

[Top image: Village Voice map via The Copa Room; second image: Brooklyn Museum; third image: fourth, fifth, and sixth images: NYPL]