Library of Congress
Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948
A sense of change and a spirit of rebellion both figured prominently in the American art world in the early twentieth century. City living was a constant theme as artists found in the nation's burgeoning metropolitan areas an apt visual metaphor for the modern age. New York City, in particular, became both subject and symbol to the numerous artists who flocked there to teach and train. By 1900 it was the artistic center of the country, superseding Boston and Philadelphia, which earlier had held sway, and even upstart Chicago, which had hosted the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The National Academy of Design, the Art Students League, and the Pratt Institute were among the city's institutions offering art courses taught by Robert Henri, Harry Sternberg, and John Sloan, among other urban realists who inspired their students to explore the city's streetscapes and sketch its citizens, from Harlem to the Lower East Side.
Adolf Dehn left his native Minnesota for New York City in 1917 and ultimately settled there after years of intermittent travel. Of Central Park at Night, he said, "My lithographic problem was to try to get the velvet blacks of the foreground, the intense glow of light and the dull glow of the sky with the skyscrapers towering, and yet marching across the format of my paper. This I tried to do by combining pure washes with rubbed tones, scratching and scraping these down to light grays and pure whites, and then drawing strong blacks over the rubbed and washed tones."
George Bellows imbibed the realist teachings of Robert Henri and John Sloan as a student in New York. Although best known for his paintings, Bellows installed a lithography press in his studio in 1916 and his contributions in that medium are largely responsible for the growth of lithography as a fine art in America. Between 1921 and 1924 he collaborated with master printer Bolton Brown on more than a hundred images, including In the Subway.
Russian-born Saul Kovner, who typically dropped his surname when signing prints, captured the surprisingly rural, small-town atmosphere of a Harlem neighborhood in this print produced for the New York City WPA Federal Art Project. During the 1920s and 1930s, following his early training at the Pratt Institute and National Academy of Design, he maintained a studio near Central Park, taught art classes, and created paintings, prints, and drawings of the city streets and their denizens.
During World War II, Kyra Markham and many other artists in the United States contributed to the war effort by creating images that stirred patriotic sentiments and feelings of contentment toward life in America. Born Elaine Hyman, she quit high school at age sixteen to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1916 she joined the Provincetown Players theatrical troupe in Massachusetts, supplementing her acting income by painting murals and working as an illustrator. In 1930 she returned to the study of art at the Art Students League in New York, enrolling in the WPA Federal Art Project between 1935 and 1937.
Realism and abstraction blend brilliantly in Guts of Manhattan, in which Louis Lozowick sketched the underground work he could see through the scaffolding during the construction of subway lines along Sixth and Eighth Avenues. During the Depression, Lozowick took advantage of the unprecedented opportunity offered by the WPA Federal Art Project, joining the Graphic Arts Division between 1938 and 1940.
In Dies Irae ("Day of Wrath"), James Rosenberg created an expressionist nightmare of teetering skyscrapers, suicidal stockbrokers, storm clouds, and maddened crowds to convey the sense of panic that overwhelmed Wall Street and the nation in the last days of October 1929. A bankruptcy lawyer in Manhattan who also studied lithography under master printmaker George Miller, Rosenberg recalled: "In the afternoon of October 28, 1929, the terrible day when nine million shares were slaughtered on the New York Stock Exchange, I rushed to Miller's place and made my lithograph Dies Irae."
James Penney was just twenty-two years old when he produced this dynamic view of the hustle and bustle surrounding Columbus Circle in New York City, which he created while studying lithography under Charles Locke at the Art Students League.
In the early 1920s, Raphael Soyer applied the early academic training he had received at the National Academy of Design to the realism he found in the districts of New York City: "I wandered all over the city, from east to west with sketchbook and pencil. There were not yet the highways along the East and Hudson rivers. It was easy to get to the river's edge and draw, unobserved, people on docks and piers and naked boys diving into the water." Without being sentimental or moralizing, Soyer's Waterfront projects empathy for the victims of the Depression.
On the East River exudes the atmosphere of the piers of New York City during the Depression in a dispassionate manner that offers no illusions. Nicolai Cikovsky emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1923, a mature artist with years of training behind him. In 1929, he befriended with Raphael Soyer, who had left Russia as a teenager, and shared with him a desire to express through art the experience of the common man.
Hollywood came of age during the 1920s, and Mabel Dwight's gentle satire, The Clinch, Movie Theatre, exhibits the subtle humor reflected in much of her work as she suggests the irritation felt by moviegoers trying to watch a romantic scene projected on the silver screen. The American Federation of Arts selected this image for an exhibition of modern American printmaking at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1928.
Glenn Coleman's lithographs teem with the city's inhabitants and, like Hurdy Gurdy Ballet, explode with urban energy and vitality. Born in Ohio, Coleman worked as an apprentice newspaper illustrator before moving to New York City in 1905 to study painting with Robert Henri and Everett Shinn. A classmate of George Bellows, he assisted in organizing the first Independent Exhibition in 1910, exhibited his work in the 1913 Armory Show, and contributed to The Masses.
New York's Lower East Side was a bustling haven for European immigrants and provided a wealth of vital urban imagery for Albert Potter and his fellow artists. Born in Russia, Potter grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where he attended the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1936, following years of art study in New York City and abroad, he joined the Rhode Island WPA Federal Art Project. His work spans less than a decade for his life was cut short in 1937 by a fall from a cliff while he was sketching.
Lawrence Beall Smith began his career as a portrait painter, but a turn toward lithography to create such animated compositions as The Skaters, in which he captures the spirit of a city neighborhood and the youthful exuberance of children in a fluid realist style. Born in Washington, D.C., Smith studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and received a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1931 from the University of Chicago.