Posts Tagged ‘New York City 1930s’

A portrait painter’s shadowy figure on a nighttime city street

November 15, 2021

History has given John Bentz a low profile.

Born in 1853 in Ohio, Bentz may be best known as a portraitist and art restorer. He painted the rich and socially connected, and four years before his death at age 97, he was hired to clean paintings in City Hall, per a 1946 New York Daily News article.

But Bentz also painted landscapes, and one, titled “Journey to the End of the Night,” is this WPA-era nocturne of the cityscape—showing us a bedraggled, whiskered man, his hands in his front pockets looking straight ahead. The rough forms of pedestrians can be seen in the light in the background, around the corner but worlds away from the man.

Could this be a self-portrait of the artist, who would have been well into old age when the painting was completed in the 1930s or 1940s? With a dark sliver of a Gothic church on the left across from the well-lit figure stopped in his tracks under a modern red awning, is it a comment of sorts on death and immortality?

Or perhaps it’s an allegory on the passing of time: the revelers in the background on the sidewalk and on top of a double decker bus oblivious to the fact that one day, they will be the old whiskered man shuffling alone along a New York street.


The painter who captured the soul of New York

May 4, 2020

New York right now feels like it’s at a crossroads. People are fearful of walking the streets with the threat of a virus literally in the air. Subway problems, homelessness…the city doesn’t always seem to be working.

To restore your faith in Gotham, take a look at these paintings by Alfred S. Mira, whose vivid street scenes of the 1930s and 1940s city capture the life, passion, and activity inherent in New York’s soul.

Mira wasn’t a native New Yorker. Born in Italy in 1900, he came to New York as a boy with an “insatiable desire to draw,” as he put it.

Despite his parents’ misgivings, he embarked on a long career as an artist, painting cityscapes (many of his own neighborhood, Greenwich Village) depicting the day-to-day street life New Yorkers relate to and thrive on.

His style is sometimes Impressionist, but his vision of New York was one of realism. He painted the city “the way busy people see it…None of those breathtaking shots cameramen contrive of towers and infinity, which no New Yorker sees in actuality,” he said.

Mira’s paintings capture something real and remarkable about city life—the stunning palette of colors from buildings and roads, the hidden views from el trains and windows, the ordinary exchanges New Yorkers have on sidewalks with one another.

“The lure of the outdoors always attracted me, especially the city streets with their movements, color and depth—they were the things that inspired me and which I painted as they looked and as I felt them,” he said.

This site has featured Mira’s work before, and it’s the right time to present him again. Let his work remind you of what makes New York great and why you don’t ever want to leave.

Dreaming on the elevated tracks at 47th Street

July 2, 2018

New York is a city of dreamers. But I wonder what the girl in John J. Soble’s 1936 painting is thinking about.

We see her on the edge of what looks like a tenement roof, staring out onto the (soon to be demolished) Sixth Avenue elevated tracks and to Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and beyond.

Her leg is kicked up in a youthful pose, while the woman holding the chair behind her seems older. A train is coming down the tracks as laundry hangs from a roof in the distance. She might be a neighborhood girl, but big city dreams beckon.