Posts Tagged ‘Martin Lewis prints’

The mysterious woman on the “little penthouse” of a 1930s tenement roof

October 3, 2022

Martin Lewis had a thing for New York City rooftops. They made excellent vantage points for this Australia-born artist’s drypoint prints, allowing him to depict nuanced moments on the streets of the 1920s and 1930s city: kids at play under the glow of shop lights, young women on the town illuminated by street lamps, and New Yorkers going about their lives unaware that someone is watching.

But Lewis also looked to roofs as if they were theater stages, capturing the cryptic scenes that played out on them. Case in point is the mysterious woman in a print he titled “Little Penthouse,” from 1931.

The little penthouse appears to be the stubby rooftop structure many tenements had that led to an interior staircase. The penthouse as a place of luxury was a new concept in the 1920s, but this rooftop is anything but luxurious.

The woman stands before it, stylishly but plainly dressed. Layers of the wider city are all around her: the brick fortress-like wall of a neighboring building , another row of low-rise dwellings, taller modern structures, even a skyscraper with a pinnacle or antenna illuminating the night sky.

The layers lend the scene great depth, and combined with the shades and tones of the print emphasize her aloneness. She’s the only person in the image, elevated on a rooftop but perhaps not elevated according to the society she lived in—she’s on a tenement roof in the dark, after all.

She seems to be hesitating to go inside and down the stairs into the building. Is she actually alone, or is she addressing another person out of view? Does the little penthouse lead to safety, or is she in danger? She could be a maid, perhaps, ending her day by bringing something to the roof for her employers.

Like so many of Lewis’ masterful scenes of Gotham’s dark corners and shadows, he leaves us with more questions than answers.

A rainy day in Murray Hill in 1928

November 19, 2012

This Martin Lewis etching captures the slick sidewalks and belching smoke on a gray and dreary stretch of the East 30s.

“The Thirty-fourth Street Armory at Park Avenue, now demolished, is shown in the print at right,” states Paul McCarron in The Prints of Martin Lewis. “It was a few blocks from Lewis’s studio at 145 East Thirty-Fourth Street.”

It’s the same armory depicted in Quarter of Nine, Saturday’s Children, a Martin Lewis etching from 1929.

What became of the chateau-like structure on the corner?

A rainy day in Queens in 1931

October 3, 2011

Martin Lewis’ drypoint print, “Rainy Day, Queens,” captures light behind cloudy skies and in slick sidewalk puddles on a grim city day.

Does anyone have an idea where this is?

It’s moody and enchanting—and it sold at Christie’s for $23,750! I hope it’s not sitting in a closet somewhere.

A twilight shadow dance on Park Avenue

July 15, 2011

Women stroll down Park Avenue at 34th Street—the evening sun illuminating their sheer dresses—in Martin Lewis’ 1930 drypoint print “Shadow Dance.”

It’s a scene played out on city streets every warm summer night.

And hey, if you have $50,000, this lovely example of Lewis’ work can hang in your home.