Scenes of the City: Prints, Drawings & Paintings of New York

Scenes of the City: Prints, Drawings & Paintings of New York is an important collection of some of the finest and most significant examples of 19th and 20th century New York-centric art. Shawna Brickley writes that “this collection reflects the remarkable art and social history of the citizens and the great city that we call home.”

Martin Lewis, Shadow Dance, drypoint and sandpaper ground, 1930.

If it can be said that the soul of a place is largely measured by the artistic gifts it has inspired and imbued on the world, there is perhaps no more soulful place than New York. No other modern city has galvanized a greater cross section of the world to create. The heroism of industry, the cool stoic beauty of a great machine, the pride of human union through labor, the grace and strength of individuality and the simple appreciation of everyday life have served as a most dynamic and provocative set of inspirations. It is a city whose history, at its roots, is a celebration of potential and, from its sub-terrain to its shining architectural apexes, it is a living museum and monument to human ingenuity. 

Childe Hassam, Fifth Avenue, Noon, etching, 1916.

Artists living and working in New York in the late 19th/early 20th century, like Childe Hassam, took on the current innovations in European art at a time of entrenched artistic tradition and national insecurity. Hassam and his contemporaries proved that American Impressionism could earn respect and recognition regardless of its pedigree or the broad acceptance of connoisseurs.

The groundbreaking attitude of going against tradition for tradition’s sake gave rise to the realism of the Ash Can School and artists like John Sloan and George Bellows. New York served as a backdrop of natural wonders for the Ash Can artists, who were encouraged to freely express themselves and portray life the way it existed—the absurd, ugly and sublime were treated with equal measure. This philosophical shift would soon spawn a new Realism and inspire artists like Martin Lewis, Raphael Soyer, Armin Landeck, Isabel Bishop and Reginald Marsh to further the distinction between romanticism and reality.

John Sloan, Night Windows, etching, 1910.

The desire and demand for experimentation bred Modernism, which meant to be free from classification. Today’s Postmodern era reflects on the transitions of the previous century, as New York’s art scene both then and now produces art bound only by its unique brand of individuality.