Catherine Burns Fine Art

Spirit of the American City - An interactive catalogue

Spirit of the American City - An interactive catalogue

Spirit of the American City (https:/catherineburns.com/spirit) is an online show inviting viewers to imaginatively explore early 20th century prints through the perspective of period photography. See what the artist saw. Understand the inspiration. View it as a social time capsule while admiring the mastery of these revered printmakers.

What makes this show special? This is the first time that original prints have been paired with related videos and historic photographs. From a private east coast collection, these outstanding prints are by a wide range of well-known WPA period printmakers, including Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Charles Sheeler, Benton Spruance and Childe Hassam. Every print has been researched in detail and is accompanied by a mix of vintage photos, historic videos and news articles that give hints to what led the artist to capture that specific image in time.

Experience the interactive catalogue at https://catherineburns.com/spirit

Image Credit:

Benton Spruance, Traffic Control, 1936

“This interactive catalogue is astonishing; itself, a work of art as a showcase. This is such a contribution to our understanding of our urban culture and the artists that captured moments we have all experienced, albeit in a more modern setting.”

R. Reinis, collector

Benton Spruance

Traffic Control, 1936

In Traffic Control, Spruance portrays the pulsating rhythm of speeding cars in traffic. Beneath a pair of directional lights, a mass of speeding vehicles in profile fill the composition, the lines of simplified vehicular forms overlapping and blending one into the other with no space between. The impossible stacking of cars and trucks is a claustrophobic vision of motor traffic.

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Christopher Nevinson

The Great White Way, 1920

Nevinson’s first visit to New York was in 1919 for an exhibition of his war prints. In contrast to London at that time, New York City inspired amazement and awe with its fifty to sixty story skyscrapers and electric lights that brought after-hour streets alive with activity. During his visit, Nevinson created many drawings of the new architecture, including nocturnal images capturing the bright radiating lights, unique to the city. These included preparatory sketches for the Great White Way. This stretch of city street was given its nickname by a journalist in 1902 when he penned an article “Found on the Great White Way,“ meant to inspire tourists from around the world to experience the breathtaking site for themselves.

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Edward Hopper

East Side Interior, 1922

In 1956, Hopper wrote about the inspiration for this etching as “memories of glimpses of rooms seen from the streets in the eastside in my walks in that part of the city. No implication was intended with any ideology concerning the poor and oppressed. The interior itself was my main interest—simply a piece of New York, the city that interests me so much. . ."

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Martin Lewis

Rainy Day, Queens, 1931

A master of intaglio, Martin Lewis’s prints are characterized by his dramatic use of dark and light, which captured the mood and energy of New York in the 1930s and foreshadowed film noir, in vogue a decade later. His etchings elevated mundane city scenes and portrayed both moments of solitude and bustling crowds. Lewis and his lifelong friend, Edward Hopper, were two of the best-known artists specializing in nocturnes and isolated figures.

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Gerald Geerlings

Civic Insomnia, 1932

Looking back from Brooklyn to Manhattan at evening, Geerlings was intrigued by the glowing lights of the budding skyline. This special proof is printed in green ink with the background in a subtle warmer tone, unlike the brown ink of the regular edition. Civic Insomnia is a tour-de-force of aquatint, a difficult printmaking technique in which Geerlings excelled. “To achieve the atmospheric effect in the view of the night skyline from across the river, Geerlings used a large watercolor brush to spread the acid and vary the length of acid biting time for each degree of blackness. The lovely dark night with beautiful gradations is unique to his work.” (Hersh Cohen, The Grolier Club)

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Earl Horter

Chrysler Building, ca. 1935

Originally trained as a draftsman, Horter made a career as an advertising illustrator. Horter’s deep appreciation for geometric Precisionism was reflected in his famous collection of modern art, which included works by Charles Sheeler. A master of aquatint, the exceptionally rare Chrysler Building is his finest achievement in printmaking. Unlike his predecessors, Horter chose to place the Chrysler Building in the background, yet it is a focal point bathed in the bright morning sun. The dark buildings in shadow bring your eye down to the people in the foreground rushing by on their way to work.

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Harbor Skyline, 1930

Howard Cook

Howard Cook was captivated by the bustling Manhattan harbor, animated by dancing plumes of steam. Perhaps he was aware that the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in 1930 publicly acknowledged the need to address a growing issue of pollution in the harbor waters. The pollution was due in large part to the influx of cargo ships bearing coal, billowing out soot and smog from their own coal-powered steam engines, as well as an increasing number of tugboats to guide them into dock. The extent of the pollution in NYC was not duplicated until the 1960s.

Louis Lozowick

Hanover Square, 1929

Drawing from the real world, Lozowick was known to carry sketchbooks with him on daily outings, a small one for quick sketches and a larger one for more finished studies. Perhaps one morning in 1929, Lozowick made his way from his apartment on Lexington and 61st to the 3rd Avenue El. Imagine he hopped on for a 21-minute ride to Hanover Square, where he was inspired by the bold geometric patterns made by the tracks and shadows.

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Benton Spruance

Road from the Shore, 1936

The unavoidable certainty of a collision is featured in Spruance’s Road from the Shore. From a bird’s-eye view looking at a filling station at night, elongated cars are shown with directional lines streaming off them to indicate high rates of speed. The automobiles are exaggeratedly crammed together on the roadway, with two appearing to race toward one another, a split second from a head-on collision. Hovering over the scene with its arms spread wide is the caped, skeletal figure of Death. The composition is a stark warning to motorists about the dangers associated with automobiles of the time.

Samuel Margolies

Builders of Babylon, 1937

Margolies was known to have used the construction of the Empire State Building as a subject for his etchings. This was probably due in part to the unique bird’s eye view he had from his studio on the 25th floor of the World’s Tower Building located in midtown.

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Artists featured in the catalogue are: James Allen, George Bellows, Margaret Bourke-White, Howard Cook,Gerald Geerlings, Jolan Gross Bettelheim, George Grosz, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, Earl Horter, Eli Jacobi, Martin Lewis, Louis Lozowick, Samuel Margolies, Christopher Nevinson, Arnold Ronnebeck, Charles Sheeler, Benton Spruance, and John Taylor Arms.

Get in touch with

Catherine Burns Fine Art

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

510-654-7910