Posts Tagged ‘paintings of old New York’

Mystery and misery in a forgotten painter’s city

February 22, 2016

John R. Grabach didn’t just paint scenes of working-class life—he was the working class. [Below, “New York Street Scene: Man Made Canyons”]

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Born in 1886, Grabach grew up in blue collar Newark. Set on becoming an artist, he held various jobs—die cutter, freelance illustrator, greeting card designer—while taking classes in Newark and at the Art Students League in Manhattan.

[“Sidewalks of New York,” 1920s, Lower East Side]

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“Inspired by Ash Can school artists, Grabach became fascinated with the urban landscape,” the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) wrote on their website.

[“The Lone House,” 1929]

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Like Ash Can artists George Bellows and Robert Henri, he began working in New York in the 1920s, where he painted everyday images of tenements, clotheslines, skyscrapers, and city streets.

Grabach’s work reflected the beauty and mystery of contemporary urban life, as well as its disorienting loneliness and despair.

[“New York East Side,” 1924]

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“Toward the end of the decade his lighthearted treatment changed as he became more concerned with social conditions, and consequently during the Great Depression his urban images developed a stronger, satirical tone, and the figures were made larger and dominated the scene,” stated LACMA.

[“The Fifth Year,” 1934]

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By now, he’d won awards and recognition, and he became a beloved teacher of drawing at the now-defunct Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art (a casualty of Newark’s budget woes in the 1990s).

JohnGheadshotBut like so many other artists, Grabach gradually lost prominence and never became a household name. He died in relative obscurity in 1981.

He may not have been a trailblazer in the art world, but his work reflects an unappreciated sensitivity to the urban experience.

“The Green Car” in Washington Square, 1910

December 22, 2011

Painter William Glackens didn’t have to go far to create this depiction of Washington Square at the turn of the last century.

He and his wife moved to 3 Washington Square North in 1904, and he had a studio at 50 Washington Square South.

“In The Green Car, a view to the north from his studio window, Glackens suggests this transition from old to new,” states the caption to this painting at metmuseum.org.

“In the background is a glimpse of “The Row,” the elegant red-brick, Greek Revival houses that had been built along Washington Square North in the 1830s and 1840s for some of New York’s most prominent old families.”

“In the foreground, a fashionably dressed young woman hails a streetcar, powered by underground electrical cables, which was emblematic of modern developments.”