Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at Washington Market in the 1870s

November 22, 2021

“Washington Market, New York, Thanksgiving Time” is the straightforward name of this hand colored wood engraving. Drawn by French artist Jules Tavernier, the richly detailed image ran in Harper’s Weekly in 1872.

What does Tavernier’s image tell us? Basically, food shopping at Thanksgiving time was just as crowded and harried in the 1870s as it is today.

Instead of visiting Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, New Yorkers could head to the shoddy wood stalls and wagons at the massive old Washington Market, in today’s Tribeca—where produce sellers hawked their goods from 1812 until the 1960s, when it gave way to redevelopment.

[Image: Philographikon.com]

The Gilded Age painter devoted to ‘scenes of every-day life around him’

October 11, 2021

“I believe the man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” Childe Hassam said in 1892, three years after this Boston-born Impressionist painter settled permanently in New York City.

“New York Winter,” 1900

Painting scenes of everyday life around him is exactly what Hassam did for the next four decades. From his first studio at Fifth Avenue and 17th Street, he began depicting random moments in the Gilded Age city. His Impressionist style brilliantly captured light and color: of gaslit lamps, snowy sidewalks, rain-slicked umbrellas, and the sky at the “blue hour” just before twilight.

“Messenger Boy,” 1900

Perhaps his best-known works are urban landscapes near Washington Square, Union Square, and Madison Square, and Ephemeral New York has posted many examples over the years. But ultimately, Hassam was interested in what he termed “humanity in motion.”

“The Manhattan Club,” 1891

“‘There is nothing so interesting to me as people,’ he remarked in 1892,” according to an article from Smithsonian Magazine. “’I am never tired of observing them in every-day life, as they hurry through the streets on business or saunter down the promenade on pleasure. Humanity in motion is a continual study to me.’”

“Broadway and 42nd Street,” 1902

Hassam’s subjects engage in habits and rituals New Yorkers still take part in, and they occupy a city that looks familiar to us today. Despite transportation options like elevated trains, streetcars, and horse-drawn cabs, Gotham was a city of walkers, then and now.

“Old Bottleman,” 1892

New York was also a class-structured city in Hassam’s era, as it remains today. Elegant men and women enjoy leisure time while cab drivers, messengers, doormen, vendors, and other workers earn a living around them.

“View of Broadway and Fifth Avenue,” 1890

Critics then and now have pointed out that Hassam’s work lacks the rough edges and raw social realist energy of many of his contemporaries. “In New York, for example, he ignored the new heterogeneity and hardships, romanticized symbols of modernism such as skyscrapers, and emphasized fast-fading Gilded Age gentility,” states Boston’s Gardner Museum.

“Rainy Day, Fifth Avenue,” 1893

Hassam had a simple answer for his critics and those in the art world who latched onto trends. According to the Smithsonian Magazine article, he told a critic in 1901: “I can only paint as I do and be myself. Subjects suggest to me a color scheme and I just paint.”

When rich New Yorkers and their horses took to Central Park’s new carriage drive

September 20, 2021

Central Park was a work in progress when Winslow Homer produced this richly detailed scene in 1860. But that didn’t stop New York’s fashionable set from coming out to the park in stylish carriages to see and be seen in a daily ritual known as the “carriage parade.”

Every afternoon between 4-5 p.m., the east side carriage drive from 59th Street to the Mall came alive, explained Lloyd Morris in Incredible New York. “In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Perhaps Homer isn’t capturing just the carriage parade but the various ways Gotham’s wealthy and their horses used new park. Take the woman in the foreground, for example. Thanks to the carriage drive, riding was now socially acceptable for ladies, according to Morris.

“The fashionable hour for equestriennes was before breakfast,” he wrote. “You could see them elegantly togged out in silk hat draped with a flying veil, tight buttoned bodice and flowing skirts….A lady riding alone was invariably attended by a liveried groom or a riding master.”

Men in positions of power indulged in the trotting fad, riding expensive fast horses to Harlem Lane and back to the park. “When General Grant visited the city at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to be taken out to Harlem Lane,” stated Morris. “He shared New York’s passion for trotters, and agreed that ‘the road’ of a late afternoon was one of the most thrilling sights in the country.”

[Lithograph: up for auction at Invaluable]

The mystery location of a hillside landscape in Harlem

September 12, 2021

In the 1920s and 1930s, Aaron Douglas was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance, developing his signature style of painting two-dimensional graphic images of Black men and women that revealed “self-determination and defiance,” as The Art Story described them.

At an unknown date, he also painted this moody landscape of Harlem. In a departure from his better-known work, Douglas depicts a row of dramatic buildings high on a hillside, the riverfront dotted with modest dwellings below.

But where exactly is this scene?

Douglas and his wife lived at 409 Edgecombe Avenue, a 13-story apartment house in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem with a commanding view of the Harlem River Valley, according to a 1994 article by Christopher Gray in the New York Times. Other elite tenants included Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, and Walter White.

Though none of the hillside buildings in the painting resemble number 409, I wonder if this scene isn’t farther north on Edgecombe (officially in Washington Heights), where the avenue overlooks Coogan’s Bluff and the Polo Ground Towers, former home of the Polo Grounds.

The topography there is steep and thick with trees. Then again, this could be West Harlem overlooking an entirely different river, the Hudson. The derrick in the water is another mystery, perhaps it’s for drilling a subway tunnel.

A painter’s evocative look at an empty street beside the Manhattan Bridge

August 16, 2021

Anthony Springer was a lawyer-turned-artist who painted the energy and vitality of various downtown New York City neighborhoods until his death in 1995.

His work has been featured on this site before—rich, colorful images of quiet streets and empty stretches of Greenwich Village before the 1990s revitalization breathed new life into fading storefronts and forgotten corners…and in many cases changed the fabric of the neighborhood.

Here’s a Springer painting that offers a look at a slender street alongside the Manhattan Bridge. It calls up a time when you could find deserted streets like this downtown—populated by pigeons, a lone parked car (or stolen one ditched?), an industrial building not turned into lofts, a glorious bridge empty of the pedestrians and bikers seen today.

I’m not sure if we’re on the Manhattan or Brooklyn side, but it’s an evocative reminder of a different city.

[Invaluable]

The castles and villages of 1914 Lower Manhattan

August 9, 2021

For a painting with such a perfunctory name, “Municipal and Woolworth Buildings, Lower Manhattan,” by Lionel S. Reiss, gives us a stunning look at a two-tiered city.

In the distance is the New York of concrete canyons and tall buildings reaching toward the heavens, ethereal and dreamlike. In the foreground are the the tenements of the people, in hearty earth tones that reflect the life and activity happening inside them.

Born in 1894 in Jaroslaw Poland, Reiss grew up on the Lower East Side; he would have had a front-row seat to the changing landscape around City Hall and the Financial District in the early 1900s. After working as a commercial artist in the 1920s, he traveled through Europe and North Africa, returning to New York City before World War II.

“One of the central themes of Reiss’ art was that of every day street life, replete with its class distinctions and social strata,” stated one source, a Jewish research archive that includes his work. In this 1914 painting, Reiss seems to be depicting class distinction by painting two skyscrapers as Medieval castles and the tenements as the village surrounding them.

Departing the ferry across the monolith of Lower Manhattan

August 2, 2021

Born in Michigan in 1865, William Samuel Horton was a prolific Impressionist painter of many landscapes and water scenes, especially in Europe and his adopted country of France, where he died in 1936.

But Horton did spend some time in New York City. He studied at the Art Students League and National Academy of Design, left for Europe, and returned to New York for an unknown period of time in 1924, according to Cincinnati Art Galleries, Inc.

It was during his return in the mid-1920s when he likely painted “Departing the Ferry, New York,” depicting the urban landscape of Lower Manhattan and the hordes of mostly men in straw hats with obscured faces as they empty out of a commuter from the gangplank.

By the 1920s, New York had built several steel bridges crossing the East River. But ferries were still plying the waters, especially to Staten Island and New Jersey. These massive vessels delivered people to and from an office tower city that looks like a monolith. It’s tough to know where we are along New York’s waterways…perhaps Horton didn’t think the exact location mattered.

What a hot night looked like on an East Side tenement block in 1899

July 29, 2021

First of all, almost everyone is outside—on the street, the sidewalk, fire escapes. If you’ve ever lived in a tenement apartment without an air conditioner, you know how stifling those rooms can get, and they force you to seek relief outdoors.

The other thing is, people don’t look as miserable as you’d expect for a street scene in the summer heat. Kids are playing; groups of adults are talking. Lone men and women sit on the sidewalk or stoops and watch. Tempers don’t seem to be flaring; no one appears to be looking for a fight.

The moon is bright. What looks like an arc light in the background illuminates the street. People gather at tables by torchlight. As the caption says, it’s one of hundreds of similar scenes enacted at the same time all over the city.

[NYPL]

A painter in Astoria captures what he saw across the East River

July 26, 2021

When painters depict the East River, it’s usually from the Manhattan side: a steel bridge, choppy waters, and a Brooklyn or Queens waterfront either thick with factories or quaint and almost rural.

But when Richard Hayley Lever decided to paint the river in 1936, he did it from Astoria. What he captured in “Queensboro Bridge and New York From Astoria” (above) is a scene that on one hand comes across as quiet and serene—is that a horse and carriage in the foreground?—but with the business and industry of Manhattan looming behind.

This Impressionist artist gives us a view at about 60th Street; the bridge crosses at 59th, of course, and that gas tank sat at the foot of 61st Street through much of the 20th century.

Is the horse and carriage actually on Roosevelt Island or even still in Queens? Often these details can be found on museum and art or auction websites. Lever came to New York City from Australia in 1911 and taught at the Art Students League from 1919-1931, establishing a studio in the 1930s and teaching at other schools. But aside from this, I couldn’t find many details about his work.

He did paint the Queensboro Bridge and East River again though, as well as the High Bridge over the Harlem River and West 66th Street, among other New York locations. The title and date of the second image of the two ships is unknown right now. “Ship Under Brooklyn Bridge” (third image) is from 1958, the year he died after a life of artistic recognition and then financial difficulties, per this biography from Questroyal.

A painter captures the last years of these East Village tenements

July 12, 2021

A New Yorker since his birth in 1928, Arthur Morris Cohen studied at Cooper Union from 1948 to 1950, according to askart.com. So he knew the neighborhood when he decided to paint what looks like the southeast or southwest tenement corner at Third Avenue and 9th Street in 1961.

Cohen’s version of the corner would be similar to what it probably actually looked like in the early 1960s. The East Village was not even the East Village yet; it would be a few years before the tenement neighborhood was rebranded from the Lower East Side, which was on the decline economically.

1941 tax photo of 111-113 East Ninth Street

None of these walkups exist today. In fact, all four corners at Third and Ninth are occupied by postwar buildings. On the southwest corner is a 1960s-era white brick apartment building called the St. Mark, which likely took the place of these low rises in 1965, when the building was completed. Or maybe the row stood where a huge NYU dorm has been since the 1980s, with Stuyvesant Place running alongside it.

This 1941 tax photo from the NYC Department of Records and Information Services at the southwest corner gives some idea of what Cohen painted.