Posts Tagged ‘WPA Painters NYC’

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.