A year or two ago Henri Matisse, the eminent French painter, entering New York harbor on a visit to the United States, was so impressed by the unique skyline of the metropolis, that he exclaimed:â€””Why do American artists go to Europe to paint?”
Had the exhibition the Whitney Museun is sponsoring nowâ€”Twentieth Century New York in American Artâ€”taken place at the time of his arrival, I am sure that Matisse would not have asked the above question, for it shows that American artists are aware of their great city. They have painted it from almost every conceivable angle, exploiting its magnificent harbor and busy waterfronts, its skyscrapers, its tremendous bridges, its various strata of society, the sumptuous dwellings of the rich and the congested poverty-stricken ghettos of the poor.
The eight galleries of the Whitney Museum are filled with paintings, water colors and prints each of them having some phase or aspect of New York as its theme. They range from the ultra-modern to the most conservative. It is amusing to note that a number of paintings done at the turn of the century by the American “Old Masters” (Luks, Sloan, Bellows, Henri) have somehow already taken on an aspect of quaintness. The gaiety and hilarity, however, of the derbied and bewhiskered men and of the women, all frills and laces and wide-brimmed hats, in John Sloan’s “Election Night” are not dated. Bellows is represented with his “Waterfront,” a canvas glorifying youth; boys everywhere, boys running, wrestling, diving, rolling dice; boys stretched out on the hot wooden planks; long lanky adolescent bodies, lazy, languorous, active. The picture is lit by the harsh hot mid-day sun.
Max Weber is here with a gray, melancholy “Sullivan Slip”, a winter study, desolate and moody.
Space does not permit me to describe individually the paintings which remain longest with me. I must therefore content myself with mentioning the names of the following artists: A. Walkowitz, Morris Kantor (his amazing “Good-bye to Union Square”), Ben Shahn, Bertram Hartman, Marsh, Glackens, Saul Berman, Saul, Foshko, who has a scene in an East Side setting, and others.
It is an exhibition worth while seeing.