Posts Tagged ‘Art Students League’

The curious el train in the nocturnal 1930s city

April 5, 2021

When this lithograph was made by Leonard Pytlak in 1935, Manhattan’s elevated train lines were still screeching and lurching up and down the city’s major avenues.

Already made obsolete by subways and buses and soon to be dismantled, the el trains were noisy pieces of machinery that operated high above sidewalks yet helped transform late 19th century Gotham from a horse-powered town to a mighty metropolis of steel tracks.

But if the trains were emblems of the modern machine age, why is the lone figure crossing the nighttime street below the tracks so much larger than the train itself? And why is the street no wider than an alley?

My guess is that Pytlak might be trying to humanize the el train, giving us a Modernist scene of out of proportion shapes with the soft light of Post-Impressionism. There’s also the influence of Ashcan social realism here: a Belgian block city street lined with a hotel and tenements.

Born in 1910, Pytlak was a lithographer who studied at the Art Students League and worked for the New York City WPA Graphics Program from 1934 to 1941, according to the Illinois State Museum. The museum has this strangely alluring lithograph, titled “Uptown,” in its collection.

A winter twilight in the snow on 57th Street

February 12, 2018

This is 57th Street in 1902, painted by Robert Henri, whose Ashcan School work depicted a moody New York in all of its grit and glory.

Could the cross street with the elevated train be Sixth Avenue? It would have been close to the Art Students League, where Henri taught.

Wooden phone booths hiding on 57th Street

June 24, 2011

The Art Students League has been offering art classes and exhibits in a landmark building on West 57th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue since 1892.

Of course, these twin phone booths just inside the entrance probably aren’t quite that old.

But the details—wooden stools, glass doors, and fan switches (hey, it probably got hot quickly in a wooden booth, especially if you were having a tempestuous argument with the door shut tight)—have got to be midcentury.

The phones themselves? Hmm, maybe 1990? The phone books to the left look pretty ancient as well.

More charming relics from the pre-cell phone era can be found here.

“Summer Electric Storm”

July 16, 2009

Painter and Greenwich Village resident Cecil Bell captures a moody lightning storm on a New York summer night in 1938.

It may have been painted from his own apartment at 19 East Ninth Street. Bell, who studied under John Sloan at the Art Students League, liked to work from his rooftop, according to biographical information provided by the Museum of the City of New York, which owns the painting.

Stormovermanhattan

The tall apartment building on the left dwarfing the Village’s tenements and churches is One Fifth Avenue, erected in 1929 at the foot of Washington Square Park.