Archive for the ‘art’ Category

A painter’s stormy view of the Flatiron Building

November 4, 2019

Born during the Civil War in Chicago, Frank Coburn made a name for himself after the turn of the century as an Impressionist landscape painter, known for his moody scenes of Los Angeles and the desert and mountains of Southern California.

But Coburn also painted New York as well. In 1921, he depicted the Flatiron Building, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and the edge of Madison Square Park during a rainstorm: slick streets, bare tree branches, a lone figure under an umbrella…and a sky glowing yellow.

“New York, a Landscape,” is at the Bowers Museum in Orange County, California.

The melancholy feel of Central Park in autumn

October 7, 2019

At the turn of the 20th century, social realism was all the rage among New York’s painters, who created masterpieces inspired by the city’s tenements, saloons, and gritty waterfront.

Impressionist artist Paul Cornoyer was different. Cornoyer painted New York’s blurred edges, bathing buildings and trees and people and puddles of water in somber tones or reflective streaks of rain or snow.

At first glance “Central Park Autumn,” from 1910, seems placid and benign; we’re at the boat pond close to East 73rd Street, a favorite of parkgoers then and now.

But the autumn leaves and subdued bench sitters create a sense of melancholy stillness. Cornoyer “has painted for us the New York that he felt,” one critic wrote in 1909, a year before this painting was completed.

The tidy tenements of Williamsburg in the 1940s

September 30, 2019

Working class Brooklyn looks like a diorama of tidy townhouses and tenements in this painting by Russian American artist Maurice Kish, completed in the 1940s, according to Live Auctioneers.

It’s a uniformly cozy scene on the industrial side of the East River. Snow covers the slender streets and sidewalks, and neat reddish houses with their rooftop water towers and smoking chimneys give Williamsburg an intimate feel.

Looming far in the background is the skyscraper city in Manhattan, shrouded in darkness.

The fantasy of window shopping in New York City

September 23, 2019

When Ashcan artist Everett Shinn painted this woman seemingly spellbound by the stylish mannequins behind a department store window, the concept of “window shopping” was a relatively new phenomenon.

Shinn completed the painting, simply titled “Window Shopping,” in 1903. It perfectly captures the consumerism ushered in by the rise of the Gilded Age city’s magnificent emporiums, where the latest fashions were on display on the Flatiron and Chelsea streets that once made up Ladies Mile.

“Shinn may have appreciated the way shop windows, like the vaudeville stage, created a fantasy space that functioned also as a site of cultural exchange,” art consultant Janay Wong explained on a Sotheby’s page focusing on the painting.

“Moreover, he may have been drawn to the ‘modernity’ of the shop window, which had only recently come into being, the result of new technologies that made possible the production of plate glass, colored glass, and electric light.”

A postcard view of the last J.P. Morgan mansion

September 23, 2019

The fence is gone, as is the blanket of ivy and red paint. But the brownstone mansion on Madison Avenue and 37th Street remains, one of the buildings that today makes up the Morgan Library and Museum.

Interestingly, this surviving mansion, built in 1852-1853 as part of a trio of identical impressive houses, was never the financier’s home.

J.P. Morgan resided at 219 Madison Avenue, the southernmost mansion on the corner of 36th Street, from 1881 to his death in 1913, according to The Morgan Library and Museum website.

His house was demolished in 1928. Before it met the wrecking ball, Morgan had architect Charles McKim design his library, the white marble building in the center of the postcard (and in the bottom photo), completed in 1906.

The mansion on the corner of 37th Street, number 231 Madison? That was the home of J.P.’s son, Jack, purchased by his dad.

“Morgan bought the central brownstone in 1903, which was then razed to make space for a garden, and a year later he purchased the northernmost house, at 231 Madison, for his son, Jack Morgan,” the site states.

“With forty-five rooms, including twelve bathrooms, the house was one of the most impressive residences of its day.”

J.P. Morgan’s mansion was distinctive as well; it’s thought to be the first private home powered by electricity in the early 1880s.

Carrying out his father’s wishes, Jack Morgan created the Morgan Library and gave his father’s incredible art and rare book collection to the new institution—which has been open to the public ever since.

[Second photo: Morgan Library and Museum; fourth photo: MCNY, 1920, X2010.11.5391]

A Village painter’s dynamic 1930s street scene

September 2, 2019

You can practically feel the energy and vitality in painter Alfred S. Mira’s depiction of the daily rhythms of a New York street.

Shops are open, trucks make deliveries, a couple crosses the street, a mother pushes a baby carriage, a father walks with his daughter while a woman walks her dog, and presumably the next day and every day after that, this corner hummed with the same life and dynamism.

But what colorful tenement corner are we on in the the New York of the 1930s or 1940s? (The date of the painting isn’t clear.)

Born in Italy, Mira called Greenwich Village home and tended to paint gritty to enchanting street scenes from his neighborhood.

Though this painting is titled “Greenwich Village New York” by Questroyal Fine Art LLC, a 1943 Los Angeles Times article covering an exhibit of Mira’s in LA printed the painting and called it “Greenwich Ave. and 11th Street.”

The butcher cart comes to the downtown slums

January 21, 2019

Gritty, virile street scenes, tender portraits of humanity, iridescent landscapes: George Luks depicted early 20th century New York with astonishing versatility.

But if there’s one Luks painting that combines all three artistic strengths, it might be The Butcher Cart, which this social realist Ashcan artist completed in 1901.

“George Luks is known for his unromanticized depictions of the slums and crowded market streets of lower Manhattan,” explains the Art Institute of Chicago, which owns the painting.

“In The Butcher Cart, he portrayed a dark view of New York street life, frankly acknowledging modern technology and class stratification,” “An old-fashioned horse-drawn cart packed with butchered pigs lumbers down a slushy street, steered by a man hunched over the reins.”

An artist paints the end of rural Upper Manhattan

October 1, 2018

Upper Manhattan was the last part of the island to be developed, and well into the late 19th and even early 20th century, large swaths of Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood still retained a rural character—with woods, fishing boats, even cow pastures.

That unspoiled, bucolic feel is apparently what drew Gustav Wolff to the upper reaches of the city.

Wolff, a German-born landscape painter who studied in St. Louis with Impressionist Paul Cornoyer, arrived in New York in 1917, according to the St. Louis Historical Art Project.

His turned his eye toward “grittier scenes of industrial and urban landscapes,” according to the SLHAP. But it’s his landscapes of a more natural Upper Manhattan that stand out.

The painting at top, “Close of Day, Harlem,” gives us a snow-covered tract of land, with a row of new, encroaching tenements not far behind.

The second image, “Harlem River Factories, New York,” dates to 1894, likely done during an early visit to Gotham. On the eve of the 20th century, Wolff captured a few smokestacks and warehouses amid tugboats and small houses dotting the shoreline.

The steel arch Washington Bridge is clearly recognizable in the next painting, “Washington Heights Bridge, New York.” Opened in 1888, it still stands, linking 181st Street to Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.

Dyckman Street was a country road in colonial New York—named after the Dyckman family, the Dutch farmers who built the sandstone Dyckman Farmhouse on Broadway and 204th Street, now a museum.

In Wolff’s painting above, “Dyckman Street Docks, Manhattan,” the farms are gone, but urbanization hasn’t yet arrived.

Fort Tryon Park is one of the last vestiges of Upper Manhattan’s rural past. Here, Wolff painted what appear to be children on the rock outcroppings at the Overlook, with tenements and creeping industrialization in the distance.

The overlook lent its name to Overlook Terrace in Hudson Heights, and thanks to the Fort Tryon Park Trust, you can experience it without getting up from your screen.

An old house and the “human comedy” around it

September 17, 2018

I wish I knew exactly where this old wood house once stood.

All I know is that it was somewhere in today’s Lower East Side, and in 1915 captured the eye of painter Jerome Myers, a Virginia native who moved to New York in the 1880s.

Myers focused his attention on the city’s worst slums, and what he called the “human comedy” that inspired and riveted him.

“Curiously enough, my contemplation of these humble lives opened to me the doors of fancy,” he wrote in 1940. “The factory clothes, the anxious faces disappeared; they came to me in gorgeous raiment of another world—a decorative world of fancy, like an abstract vision. I was led to paint pictures in which these East Side scenes are lost in a tapestry of romance. Reality faded in a vault of dreams…”

The apartment rooftop that hosted Henri Matisse

August 13, 2018

French Modernist painter Henri Matisse has many of his still lifes, figures, and landscapes on display in New York’s most distinguished museums.

But there’s only one place in Manhattan where a little-known framed photo of Matisse is always on display, with the Depression-era city skyline behind him.

You can see it yourself if the doorman decides to give you a peek.

The black and white photo, from 1930, is in the small lobby of 10 Mitchell Place, a charming 13-story prewar apartment house built in 1928 that was originally called Stewart Hall.

Never heard of Mitchell Place? It’s a secret sliver of a street running from First Avenue to Beekman Place in a quiet neighborhood of old world charm—perfect for an artist more accustomed to Nice than New York.

In the photo, Matisse is sitting in a chair on the building’s brick roof terrace. With his left hand holding his bearded chin, the artist looks contemplative amid a backdrop of apartment buildings, water towers, and the Queensboro Bridge.

What brought Matisse to Mitchell Place? I wonder if he’s in New York visiting his son.

Pierre Matisse moved to New York in the 1920s to become an art dealer and opened a renowned art gallery in the Fuller Building on East 57th Street.

Apparently Matisse came to Mitchell Place often, according to a 2014 New York Times article on one-block streets.

“The painter Henri Matisse was a frequent visitor to the charming roof deck at 10 Mitchell Place, a.k.a. Stewart Hall. There, a framed 1930 photograph in the 1928 co-op’s equally charming lobby, which has a large fireplace, shows him resting on a canvas deck chair, pondering the East River views.”