Posts Tagged ‘Social Realist painters’

Painting prewar New York from the outside in

September 11, 2017

Art that captures a single moment of beauty and activity on New York’s streets is always captivating. But there’s something to be said for images that reveal something about Manhattan from a far away vantage point, showing a city not in the center but on the sidelines.

Leon Kroll, born in New York in 1884 and a contemporary of George Bellows, Robert Henri, and other social realists, gives us that sidelined city.

Kroll, who studied at the Art Students League and exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show, was known for his nudes and country or seaside landscapes, and he also painted Central Park, Broadway, and other city locations.

But he also depicted New York in the early 20th century from the outside in, illustrating the city’s rhythms from across the East and Hudson Rivers.

“Queensboro Bridge,” from 1912, the painting at the top of the page, is one such example. The majesty of the relatively new bridge (only three years old here) takes center stage, but the monolithic city looms behind it.

I’m not exactly sure where Kroll was when he painted the second image, 1920’s “Manhattan Rhythms,” the second image.

He presents us with a solid, impenetrable city high above the wharves and docks of the river, a metropolis that dwarfs the men who work there.

“View of Manhattan Terminal Yards From Weehawken” (1913) puts industry and commerce on display. The train tracks may be on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, but they and the boats sending smoke into the sky work to enrich Manhattan across the water.

“Terminal Yards,” the fourth painting (also 1913) gives us another, snow-covered view.

I love that the city skyline is barely in “Manhattan From Hoboken” (1915), another painting of the metropolis from the heights of New Jersey.

The vibrant colors and web of tree branches—not to mention the thick clouds and smoke coming from boats and trains beside the river—almost obscure the Empire State Building and the rest of the cityscape.

If you’re not there in the middle of it, New York is far enough away to feel like another country.

A 1930s painter’s gentle, downtrodden New York

August 9, 2014

New York artist Raphael Soyer’s style of painting was seriously out of fashion during his lifetime.

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[“Nocturne,” from 1935, inspired by Soyer’s “Bowery Nocturne” lithograph done two years earlier]

Born in Russia in 1899, his family arrived in the Bronx in 1912.

Soyer soon went to work, holding menial jobs. But throughout the teens, he also studied art, taking free classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.

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[“Employment Agency,” from the 1930s]

Rather than the abstract style that was popular in the 1930s and beyond, his work was realistic—he cast his eye on the lonely and downtrodden working-class New Yorkers he saw in bars, employment agencies, and on city streets.

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[“Office Girls,” from 1936]

With his twin brother Moses and another sibling, Isaac, he was a leading Social Realist.

Soyer sketched and painted compassionate images of lonely and dispossessed Bowery bums, shopgirls, and secretaries going about their lives and appearing ordinary, unheroic, yet deeply human.

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[“Sixth Avenue,” 1930-1935]

His 1987 New York Times obituary contains an exchange Soyer once had with Jackson Pollack, which Soyer recounted in an article in Art & Antiques magazine:

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[“Cafe Scene,” 1940]

“Without greeting me he rudely said, ‘Soyer, why do you paint like you do?’ ” Mr. Soyer wrote. ”He pointed to an airplane. ‘There are planes flying, and you still paint realistically. You don’t belong to our time.’ ”

”I could have said to Jackson, ‘If I don’t like the art of our time, must I belong to our time?’ But I did not say that. I merely said that I paint the way I like to.”